‘Debating differences’ is a scheme run by Criminology Lecturer Laura Kelly-Corless, which joins together third-year Criminology and Law students from UCLan and male prisoners from HMP Kirkham, as a way to break down the barriers between those who reside in prison and the rest of society. This scheme is made up of four sessions which all take place within the prison, whereby debates surrounding various controversial issues are executed between a mixture of both groups. Prisoners and students are both encouraged to share their views and opinions on these topics, as a way to learn from each other whilst developing debating techniques and social skills. The third session which took place on the 28th November 2018 focused on the topic of ‘is social media a force for good in society’.
Prior to the debate, all students and all prisoners were given two articles to read regarding social media which provided us with information from both perspectives which would be useful on the day. As I was still unsure how I felt, I did some extra research and managed to come up with a lot more reasons for why social media was NOT a force for good in modern society. However, I still had not made up my mind. I was particularly excited for this debate as it was my suggestion, which was selected following a vote during the previous session!
Once we were in the visiting centre, the prisoners arrived accompanied by the prison’s librarian Michelle, who would be co-judging the debate alongside guest judge Abi Stark. Everybody was happy to see each other which was a really satisfying feeling, as it showed that everyone was keen to take part and were really glad to be there! As it was the third session, we wasted no time in getting started as we all knew each other by name (no labels were needed) and we were all familiar with what was expected of us. Laura divided us into two groups which consisted of a mixture of students and prisoners and we were then assigned a perspective from which to argue. We excitably separated ourselves into our two groups and got started straight away!
I was assigned to team B, providing arguments for reasons why social media is NOT a force for good in modern society. The first task was to choose who would be the chair for our team and then contribute our top two points each. Everybody in the group had completed the preparation work, which meant we were well on our way to selecting our strongest six points! All members participated and shared their opinions on each of the points we suggested, which only made our arguments stronger. It was interesting to see how students and prisoners interacted so easily with each other, with nobody focusing on the fact that we were in a prison.
Once we returned to a whole group, Team A delivered their first three arguments stating reasons why social media IS a force for good, followed by Team B’s counter-arguments regarding why social media is NOT a force for good. We then returned to our separate groups to formulate responses to these first three points and then gathered as a whole to present them. Then, it was time for Team B to present the second half of their points, followed by Team A’s remaining points, and then once more, responses to both teams. After a quick reflection, the chair of each team delivered the closing remarks in one final attempt to put our argument across that social media is NOT a force for good.
The main argument presented by Team A focused on how social media is a useful tool for communication, connecting people from all over the world whether this be with friends and family or with vulnerable people seeking support. This was accompanied by statements which argued that social media can assist in catching criminals via posting CCTV footage on particular sites, that social media is a platform to help promote yourself in order to find employment and that people are able to engage in learning using social media through tutorials and educational videos which are posted. Team B’s arguments began with an interactive introduction, whereby one member shook hands with the opposing team members to demonstrate real social interaction – from this I thought we would win! We also argued how social media can become addictive which is damaging to all age groups, as well as pointing out that there are privacy issues surrounding these sites. One of the most important issues for me was that children can be targeted online and be subject to grooming, unaware of who they are talking to. However, Team A fought back by arguing that this can take place anywhere and everywhere and that social media is not to blame.
Abi and Michelle took a few minutes to make a judgment regarding who provided the most convincing argument during the debate and announced that team A were the winners – social media IS a force for good in modern society! Despite this, both teams were praised for the contributions they made, as each and every member participated in the creation and execution of the points during the session. By the end of the debate, there was one main point which made me form an opinion on whether social media is a force for good – social media is not the issue, it’s the people who abuse it. Social media is actually a very useful tool for communication and enhances everybody’s lives, but sadly it is people within society who take advantage and cause all of the negative issues which we mentioned.
Overall, I feel that ‘debating differences’ is an excellent scheme to take part in and after only four visits I am disappointed that it has come to an end. This has surprised me, as I was originally unsure of whether to apply due to my lack of confidence. I decided to push myself and take the opportunity and I am so glad I did! I overcame my fear of speaking out within a group which was shown by increasing the number of contributions I made each session – one prisoner even pointed out that he has seen me grow in confidence, which was really good to hear. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take part in this scheme to go for it, as it has been the highlight of my time at university!
Roxy Bland – Criminology and Criminal Justice student, UCLan.