On Social Networks

John Kasich was elected governor in Ohio in 2010 as a strong Tea Party advocate. One of his first legislative campaigns in 2011 (Senate Bill 5) was to restrict collective bargaining for public employees: police, firefighters, and teachers. After it passed the hue and cry was huge: before the year was out a referendum put its repeal on the ballot, where it was soundly rejected – and since then Kasich has been a more moderate governor.

From 2002 to 2012 I spent a lot of time in Columbus, Ohio, and played handball at an athletic club there, with mostly Republican members. One of the regulars there was a retired state policeman who was on Kasich’s security detail. I remember him saying to us, “We told him, don’t go after the police and fire, just the teachers,” because he assumed that it would be an easy win to focus on a mostly female profession.

This is no longer the case. The strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, coupled with the Parkland students’ activism, make me think about how social media has changed the way people organize – and that unions may be strengthened (or even superseded) by social networking, Facebook, and tweets. When a union calls a strike, it’s often a top-down decision. True, the leadership polls its membership to make that decision, but then it issues a proclamation. With social media involved in strikes it’s based on networking, which to my mind is a much more powerful way to rally support.

An additional note: it seems to be going worldwide. Today’s NY Times has articles about the Dalit (formerly “untouchables”) in India and physicians in Togo using social media to push for change. While we may deplore its use by Cambridge Analytica to promote lies and influence elections, it can also be used to foster positive change.

Author: Mike Maltz

Michael D. Maltz is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice and of Information and Decision Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently an adjunct professor of sociology at the Ohio State University His formal training is in electrical engineering (BEE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1959; MS & PhD Stanford University, 1961, 1963), and he spent seven years in that field. He then joined the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (now National Institute of Justice), where he became a criminologist of sorts. After three years with NIJ, he spent thirty years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, during which time he was a part-time Visiting Fellow at the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Maltz is the author of Recidivism, coauthor of Mapping Crime in Its Community Setting, and coeditor of Envisioning Criminology.

10 thoughts on “On Social Networks”

  1. Networking also means the persuasive message is repeated over and over again as it reaches new people, and those on the outskirts start to feel a sense of ownership of the message. In the "classic" union-called strike, the union members are aware of what the issue is and why the strike is called. The announcement is basically "we're going on strike starting on such-and-such a date." Presumably those associated with the strikers hear something about it, but unless they're the audience for messages about not crossing a picket line, that might be all they know. The current examples, such as the teachers' strikes, mean, as you noted, that not only do people well out of the school network but within individual teachers' networks hear about the issues, but that the "why" gets explained over and over again–what it comes down to is crowd-sourcing both the persuasive argumentation for support and the slogans that summarize the "why" and the goals.

  2. Wildcat strikes are as old as strikes. I don't see a lot new here except perhaps the scale, if that.

    Also, there seems to be an assumption here that the union strikes are justified. But a breach of contract is not something to be taken lightly, let alone rewarded, if we are wise.

    1. a breach of contract is not something to be taken lightly, let alone rewarded, if we are wise

      And as has been reported, these teachers are on record as saying they're prepared to all get fired. B/c their wages are *that* low. And really, the state would be hard-put to hire replacements. A contract is a contract, and I'm sure there are penalties for non-performance. Like getting fired. Doubt it's any more than that.

      As a believer in the strict adherence to contract, I assume you'd be 100%, nay 200% OK with teachers strictly adhering to their contracts, and for instance spending no time outside of working hours grading, tutoring, etc. I mean, a contract's a contract, right?

      1. If non-teaching work is not part of the contract, or is not a usual and customary part of the job, it should not be required.

        Something that is not discussed is the un-credentialed teachers that will lose their jobs if pay is raised to levels that attract certified teachers, whether they are actually better teachers or not.

        1. Suppose it -is- a usual and customary part of the job; bet it isn't written down in detail (N hours of grading per week, etc). Nor the quality of the grading — b/c stuff like that never can be. It's called "work to rule": obey every precise clause in the contract, with anal-retentive accuracy. Turns out (as Ronald Coase pointed out, so long ago) that is a recipe for organizational death. You and everyone else depend on people being willing to go beyond the letter of contracts, b/c otherwise nothing gets done, and nothing gets done right. In this case, the actual goal — educating the next generation — depends on teachers going beyond the letter of their contracts. But their monopsony employers don't feel compelled to do the same in any way, shape, or form. They count on the decency of teachers: a decency that the employers simply don't share.

          Per your last sentence: did you know that "the myocardium is a wall of muscle, surrounding and protecting the heart"[*] [that's a direct quote, and I remember it 37 years later as if it were yesterday]? I learned this from my "health" teacher in high school. who also happened to be a basketball coach. Most of my science&bio teachers were coaches. I'm sure they were all fully-accredited.

          [*] Also obviously false. But then, that teacher was par for the course in Weatherford, TX.

          1. I think I covered your first question already.

            "They count on the decency of teachers: a decency that the employers simply don't share." I doubt that a 5% raise will compensate for being mistreated or frustrated with working conditions. And teachers aren't doing students any favors by sacrificing their own happiness or well-being. In fact they are setting a poor example of how to manage one's life.

    2. "Wildcat strikes are as old as strikes. I don't see a lot new here except perhaps the scale, if that."

      It's not just scale, but the medium. In the past, to initiate a wildcat strike, one would have to communicate one-on-one with each employee, getting a yes or no, then go on to the next person. With social media, a call goes out to others in the network, and the frequency and enthusiasm of the "first responders" energizes others, even those who may have been lukewarm to the idea. So McLuhan has been proven right again!

  3. There's both a hope and a danger here. On the positive side, as you write (and per lcoleman6) social networking has morale & reinforcement effects on the participants that "following your union" does not. Or maybe the former has more of these than the latter. On the negative side, like all communication mechanisms, social media can be hacked, and one worries about the ways in which (say) monopsony employers will use social media campaigns to poison the movements against them.

    I sure don't know, and as a non-user of Facebook, I guess I can't find out, even if somebody wanted to target my ilk with disinformation.

    1. Ugh. And today I read that there's significant evidence that Facebook was used as a sort of "Radio Mille Collines" in the genocide in Myanmar. Ugh.

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