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On the Controversy: Cathryn Sloane's Social Media Article

by Connor Toohill | University of Notre Dame

F Posted in: College, News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: July 21, 2012
Connor Toohill Connor Toohill

On Friday, we published an opinion piece by recent University of Iowa grad and NextGen Contributor Cathryn Sloane entitled, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.” That opinion proved to be quite controversial, with thousands of Facebook shares, hundreds of Tweets and scores of angry comments. We’ve run thousands of pieces since NextGen Journal launched in September 2010, but nothing has generated quite this much fierce resistance. So we wanted to take this chance to clarify a couple important points.

Number one, a number of people have referred to this piece as the opinion of NextGen Journal, or a particular take that we endorse. That’s a simple misunderstanding of who we are and what we aim to do. NGJ is, above all, a platform: we vault the diverse voices, perspectives and priorities of our generation into the national dialogue. We don’t agree with every Op/Ed we run, and our goal isn’t to communicate an institutional stance. Our aim is to give a better understanding of where members of our generation stand, what we’ve experienced and what we believe.

Applying this to Cathryn’s article: whether you agree with her or not, she was describing a belief that a number of young people share. In conversations across college campuses and with young professionals, these ideas often come up: that young people naturally grasp social media more effectively, that members of our generation are best suited to fill positions in the rapidly expanding social media profession, and that employers too often value prior work experience above all else.

In a time when 1 in 2 recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, those sentiments are understandable. You may disagree — some members of our Editorial staff happen to disagree. But we don’t consider it a mistake to showcase Cathryn’s honest opinion, informed by her own experience as a recent graduate and shared by many other young Americans. We consider it as part of our mission.

Secondly, for those who disagree with Cathryn’s premise: we respect your opinions. Critics have already penned a number of compelling responses, and the comment section contains dozens of interesting rebuttals. Part of our goal is to spur conversation, and once again, to highlight diverse perspectives.

What’s unfortunate, though, is the amount of vitriol and hate contained as well. We’re referring to personal insults, direct badgering of Cathryn via her social media accounts, and allegations that this one opinion will preclude her from full employment. As one social media professional Tweeted yesterday, “I agree with some criticisms of Cathryn Sloane’s @nextgenjournal article, but it’s starting to look like adults cyber-bullying a kid.” Criticism and disagreement are absolutely legitimate and encouraged, but savage attacks are out of line.

One final point to address: many comments, Tweets and criticisms seemed to convey the idea that a given person’s opinions are worthless absent years of direct work experience. They referred to not just Cathryn, but our entire generation as arrogant, entitled, naïve and ignorant. They reflected back on their own days of “thinking they knew everything,” and proclaimed that maybe, one day, Cathryn and other young people will finally see the light.

We believe that these criticisms are absolutely off-base. Years of experience are valuable for individuals and essential for companies. People make mistakes, learn lessons, observe practices that work and others that don’t, and continue to improve their performance. We would never dispute that.

But the implicit premise of those criticisms is ageist in its own way: they condemn the opinions and ideas of all young people as “not worth listening to.” In the process, they utterly and completely ignore the many advantages that young people bring into any given situation: an energy and idealism, a sense of innovation and willingness to try new things, and a broader focus, among others.

All of the benefits of youth, and of the ‘next generation,’ are important to have in the national conversation. We don’t claim that they should dominate or supersede direct experience. But we do believe those benefits, and the voices of the ‘next generation’ overall, should be present. That’s especially true at a time of rapid transformational change, and when issues that are largely out of our control, from deficits to climate change, will impact us immensely.

Too often, though, we’re not present: the problem is not that we’re listening to too many young people but that we’re not listening to enough. That’s the problem that we, as a platform for our generation, aim to help solve.

So read the perspectives that we showcase, and engage with them. Feel free to disagree, as we occasionally do as well. But don’t fall into the trap of personal attacks or blanket condemnations of young people. If you keep up with us regularly enough, we think you’ll discover that millennials are a much more interesting generation than you might have previously assumed.

Co-signed: Managing Editors Kelsey Manning and Robert Casty. 

ALSO READ: Dear NextGen: A Rebuttal From the Social Media Old Folks.

Connor Toohill Connor Toohill Connor Toohill is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of NextGen Journal. He is a student at The University of Notre Dame.

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