Facebook as a Venue for Public Intellectualism

Posted On 5 Apr 2021 by religionmatters

Social media today is often used for a variety of purposes.  In particular, Facebook provides an opportunity for academics to engage in public intellectualism.  On Friday, April 9, 2021, Dr. Christopher Fici, Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall, and Dr. Tim Hall will present on a panel for the Northeast Regions of the American Academy of Religion on a panel entitled Facebook as a Venue for Public Intellectualism.  With this topic in mind, Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall provides a foundation for using Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism in this guest blog. 

A Foundation for Facebook as a Venue for Public Intellectualism

Guest Blogger: Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall

In 2018, Dr. Chistopher Fici, Dr. Jerry Vigna, and I edited the text Religious Studies Scholars as Public Intellectuals, which is published with the Routledge in Religion Series. As the lead editor, I developed the vision for the text to center on the Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Academy of Religion’s 2017 conference theme about public intellectualism.  In my Presidential Address that year, I spoke exclusively about religious studies scholars as public intellectuals who teach in a variety of pedagogical spaces, which was the focus of the abovementioned text.

My colleague, Dr. Christopher Fici and I continue to explore how we engage in public intellectualism as religious studies scholars specifically through Facebook.  We center attention on how we envision employing Facebook as an educational tool for research and teaching.  Before we continue our journey as public intellectuals on Facebook, I will specifically center attention on a foundation for the usage of Facebook in a manner that creates a space for public intellectualism.  To begin with, it is crucial to share a foundation for Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism.  Individuals should understand the purpose of posts, how to use tags appropriately, and engage in suitable commenting.  Following this, I will relate how I envision my usage of Facebook as an academic scholar who works in the intersecting fields of philosophy, religion, and education.

Basic Facebook Tools

Development of Posts

According to Facebook, the mission of Facebook “is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” (Facebook, 2019).

Individuals who develop posts on Facebook should create posts that will build a safe community.  Posts must not spread hate or target individuals.  When immoral activities occur in the world, posts may share the vices to raise awareness of the immorality.  People may choose to pray for the Supreme Being to guide immoral individuals towards morality instead of endorsing the hatred of these individuals.  Generally, people should not use Facebook posts to create animosity towards individuals or groups of people.

For instance, I see several posts from individuals who promote anti-education sentiments by discouraging scholars from pursuing a higher education degree or being proud of their degree.  Perhaps this is because some people feel academics are full of ego, which is frequently not the actual case.  At any rate, while we should not push a college for all norm and vocational jobs are just as important, people should not condemn those who pursue higher education.  Comments such as “A degree does not matter,” is insulting to academics who have pursued higher education.  Currently, I see an anti-PhD movement on Facebook that shows a lack of respect for academics and the journey that academics have endured.  Being an academic is a part of the identity of many academic scholars because their identities intertwine.  In other words, being an academic often does not consist of merely working a “job.”  Usually, for an academic, a path in academia is a way of life that blends a personal and professional identity.  Thus, targeting academics through posts based on their identity creates a community of hatred towards academics and a lack of harmony for the overall community.

Using Tags Appropriately

Too often, I see that individuals tag fifty plus people on a post.  Sometimes, the reasons are clear for the tags.  For example, an individual who creates a death announcement post may tag a number of family members.  Likewise, if an individual requests people to pray for a loved one who is ill, the individual may tag a majority of close family members and friends.  If a post mentions other individuals, then the author of the post may tag the other individuals. However, sometimes, it is unclear why some people tag fifty plus people on a post.  On the one hand, it seems that some people simply wish to use family and Facebook friends for popularity and fame.  On the other hand, some individuals tag fifty plus people when they know that those individuals will certainly wish to share the developed post.  For instance, people who are a part of a particular group, such as a mandir (Hindu temple) may tag several members of the group because they evidently have a strong, common interest.  If you tag someone, your post will appear on that individual’s profile, which means that the individual’s Facebook friends will see your post.  Thus, one must ask what is the purpose of having your post appear on someone else’s profile?

There is a way to avoid being tagged on another individual’s post without your permission.  Facebook provides you with the chance to review tags.  First, click the drop-down arrow in the top right corner when logged into Facebook.  Go to settings and privacy.  Click on settings.  Click on timeline and tagging.  Click on review tags people add.  Click edit.  Click enabled.  You will then receive a notification if someone tags you in a post.  You can either accept or dismiss the tag.

Appropriate Commenting

The commenting tool on Facebook provides the chance to engage with a post.  While personal posts, such as posts about birthdays or anniversaries, may warrant a simple “Happy birthday” or “Happy anniversary” response, other posts may provoke one to move deep into critical thought.

When an individual offers comments on Facebook, the individual should aim to create a safe, non-combative, non-threatening, inclusive space.  Sadly, I observe passive-aggressive comments that praise an individual or a group of individuals while putting down another individual or another group of individuals.  There is no need to judge others while praising someone else.  For example, someone posts an inspirational quote.  Another person offers a comment such as, “This is inspiring.  Some people will never understand or get this.”  That comment is passive-aggressive.  It praises the author for being inspirational but also puts down a group of people for essentially lacking the intelligence to understand.  It almost makes the commenter seem full of an ego that views the self as superior to others because of the so-called knowledge that the commenter has.  The commenter may not even realize that this is passive-aggressive commenting.  Nevertheless, it is crucial to draw attention to comments such as these because these kinds of comments create a combative, unwelcoming space.

Here is another example that I observed in the Hindu community.  Hindus on Facebook often attend virtual satsanghs (religious gatherings) hosted by a variety of pandits.  As I write in my book, Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating Through Hindu Dance, the term pandit is problematic to translate.  A pandit is similar to a priest, minister, or pastor but yet none of these terms adequately describe a pandit.  Essentially, a pandit is a religious leader in Hinduism who officiates pujas (religious worship) and guides devotees through spiritual counsel.  I once saw a passive-aggressive comment from an individual demeaning pandits by accusing the majority of pandits of using Facebook for popularity because the pandits encourage devotees to share the virtual satsangh posts, especially during Livestreams.  In many cases, hundreds and thousands of devotees attend the virtual satsanghs that these pandits lead during Livestreams.  However, here sharing is not for popularity or fame in most of these cases.  On the contrary, during the virtual satsanghs, many of which I attend, pandits encourage virtual devotees to share the virtual satsangh posts that occur during a Livestream so that other devotees will be aware of the virtual satsangh and will join in the service for the purpose of receiving the darsan of the Supreme Being.  Darsan is a Sanskrit term that essentially means to attain a glimpse of the Supreme Being.  Knowing the pandits of the virtual satsanghs that I attend, I can say that I do not believe that they use Facebook as a tool for mere fame.  On the contrary, the life of a pandit necessitates a life of devotion and usually aims to share that devotion with the public to guide individuals towards moksha (liberation) upon death.  Moreover, many of these pandits express concern for their devotees because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many mandirs (temples) to remain closed to the public or open with a limited capacity.  Devotees frequently yearn to attend mandirs to engage in worship to the Supreme Being.  Some devotees may endure severe depression because of their inability to attend mandir.  Thus, pandits who reach a wide audience provide devotees with an opportunity to move away from depression and instead towards communal worship in a virtual, Livestream satsangh.

The point is that individuals should not use commenting passive-aggressively to scold an individual or a group of individuals.  Commenters should not use comments to judge others when commenters do not know with absolute certainty what someone’s motives or intentions are.  On the contrary, commenting should provide a safe, non-combative space that unwelcomes passive-aggressive behavior, which may eventually lead to cyber-bullying.  Those who receive passive-aggressive comments on their posts should consider removing the passive-aggressive comments because they create an unsafe, unwelcoming, combative environment that could eventually cause cyberbullying to occur.

To delete a passive-aggressive comment from your post, go to the comment.  If you are using a desktop device, click on the three dots that appear on the right of the comment.  Click delete from the menu.  From a mobile device, press on the passive-aggressive comment.  A menu will appear with the option to delete.

My Vison for Facebook

As an academic scholar, I aim to create a safe, non-combative space that builds community as I use Facebook.  This must be a respectful space where people feel welcomed and accepted as a part of the community.  I envision using Facebook as an academic space where I share my scholarly work as academic resources and also learn from the scholarly work that my friends, colleagues, and other academics share.

Overall, individuals use Facebook in a variety of ways.  Therefore, one should think about the following questions from a personal stance.

  • What is the purpose of using Facebook?
  • How should one develop posts?
  • What are the appropriate ways to use tags?
  • How should one engage in appropriate commenting?
  • How could one maximize the usage of Facebook in a manner that promotes a community of love and respect as opposed to a community of hatred and animosity?
  • How could one confront or deal with passive-aggressive behavior from others on Facebook?

My goal was to provide a basic foundation to consider when thinking of Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism.  I ask individuals to pay attention to how they use basic Facebook tools and how others use basic Facebook tools.  I request individuals to maintain an awareness if they see posts that build a community of hatred, or passive-aggressive comments.  Remove yourself from being tagged in these types of posts.  Delete passive-aggressive comments from your Facebook page.  Instead of condoning behaviors like this, let us work together to build a Facebook community of love and respect as we work towards harmonious relations.  This will help to provide a basic foundation to employ Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism that promotes a community of love.

With this basic foundational knowledge of Facebook in mind, Dr. Christopher Fici, Dr. Tim Hall, and I will engage in a discussion on how to use Facebook as a venue for public intellectualism when we present for the Northeast Regions of the American Academy of Religion.  We strive to promote a Facebook community that provides a safe, non-combative space for all individuals who aspire to employ Facebook as an educational tool.

Author Bio:

Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall is an editor at the Blog of the American Philosophical Association who currently teaches philosophy, religion, and education courses solely online for Montclair State University, Three Rivers Community College, and St. John’s University. She is a Kuchipudi Indian classical Hindu dancer who frequently presents and dances in higher education as she confronts Orientalism through a variety of pedagogical spaces. Aside from several journal publications, she published Confronting Orientalism: A Self-Study of Educating Through Hindu Dance, and also served as the lead editor for Religious Studies Scholars as Public Intellectuals, which is published in the Routledge in Religion Series.