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Crystal ball gazing 101: Media Club event triggers flashback to 1995

By MARK PEARSON

Huffington Post Australia CEO Chris Janz addressed the Gold Coast Media Club at Griffith University yesterday (17/6/16) and offered fascinating insights into how the leading international news brand is forging success in an ever-changing mediascape.

My Griffith University journalism and public relations colleagues and I quizzed him on the implications for our students and programs. His essential toolkit for the journalism graduate in the new era?  All the basics of good reporting (fairness, accuracy, fact-checking etc) plus a good measure of curiosity, enthusiasm and the ability to cope with change.

The event and topic triggered a flashback to my own address to what was then the Gold Coast Media Industry Club way back in 1995 when the “Net” was first taking off as a mainstream medium. As I recall, only the Melbourne Age had an online version. Amazingly, I just found an ancient text file of that speech in my backups folder, and thought I would reproduce it here for those interested in checking whether my  crystal ball gazing was accurate – or way off beam – two decades ago. (You’ll see how early it was in the growth of the Internet at the time, with fewer than 9,000 commercial websites in existence internationally.)

Apologies for the missing graphics. I’m not sure I had access to Powerpoint back then, and my ‘slides’ were transparencies displayed on an overhead projector [OHPs/OHTs] .

I hope you enjoy the journey back in time and would love to hear your reactions.

—-

“The Media and the Internet: Threat or Opportunity?”

Gold Coast Media Industry Club address by Mark Pearson

Gold Coast Arts Centre, July 14, 1995

Where do you think you’d find these things if you really needed to access them?

  • The share price for Zeolite
  • The weather in Nairobi
  • Program details for a Croatian film
  • Photographs of women in G-strings and in steamy shower scenes.
  • The value of the Cyprus pound
  • The world mosquito-killing record, as set in Finland.

The Internet? … No, actually all those things appeared in this issue of the Gold Coast Bulletin.

It’s amazing what you’ll find in your daily newspaper.

I’m a great fan of newspapers. My whole career has been built upon them. Production-wise it’s easy to see why they’re called the ‘daily miracle’. I still can’t fathom how those two rolls of paper arrive on my front lawn every morning… the human and physical resources that have gone into them … the efforts of correspondents in Finland relayed to news agencies, where sub-editors process copy and send it thousands of kilometres to other news agencies who forward it to newspapers where it is selected, edited and placed alongside photographs and advertisements which have been through equally complex processes. And somehow it’s all printed and transported and passed through many more hands before it arrives next to my letterbox and I have to fight my wife and 14 year old son to read it.

But that still doesn’t mean I’m interested in the weather in Nairobi or the value of the Cyprus pound. I find enough in the newspaper to keep me buying it and its advertisers must find enough buyers in the newspaper to keep sponsoring it.

There are a few lessons for us here when we start to think about a new technology like the Internet. And this talk’s devoted to three of those lessons:

  1. The value of information is relative. What’s trivia to me might be important to you. What’s fun to me might offend you.We can’t impose our own values on other people’s information.
  2. All media have their advantages and disadvantages.
  3. No matter what the medium, the audience comes first.

And I’m going to apply all of that to the Internet: discuss the material we find on it, talk about its pros and cons; and take a look at the demographics of its audience.

I’m going to try to do all that without using the hype that’s being bandied about when it is discussed. We’ll assess it as a medium, decide whether it’s useful to us, and have a bit of fun along the way.

  1. The Internet as a Medium

Technological developments such as the telegraph, radio and television prompted changes in both the gathering and distribution of news. But only the advent of the computer and advances in telecommunications have redefined mass communication. The convergence of media, computing and telecommunications is allowing audiences a degree of independence and interactivity not possible with traditional media.

Newspapers, magazines, radio and television were all one-to-many communication media, with single products or programs being distributed to mass audiences. Presenting news to such audiences was a matter of determining the topics of greatest interest to the largest number of readers, listeners and viewers. Audience choice was limited to the selection of the medium and the news product. From that point on audiences had to take what they were offered. The new media allow for a significantly greater degree of choice and interactivity, prompting questions about the suitability of mass media techniques of reportage and distribution.

What are the new media? Obviously, the “new” media will change with time. Newspapers comprised the “new medium” of the 18th century; television the “new medium” of the 1950s. To me, the new media are those which involve some convergence of traditional media to offer audiences a greater level of choice and interactivity. Examples include the Internet and its permutations (such as the World Wide Web and on-line discussion groups); broadband distribution services providing interactive television services in homes; and virtual reality technology offering the user some electronic experience which appears real.

The Internet is the linking of computers at thousands of academic, governmental and commercial institutions worldwide into a wide area computing network (WAN). Figures are in dispute, but conservative estimates put full Internet access at more than 30 million and simple electronic mail access at 120 million world-wide.

But it’s built on chaos. The whole system – originally a US defence initiative – was premised on the notion that no single link would be crucial to the network, so that if any single computer was taken out by a military strike the other nodes could still communicate. It’s this interconnectivity that makes the whole network so difficult to count – and just as difficult to regulate.

The most exciting part of the Internet today is the world wide web of computers using a common language to publish material to computers with different architectures throughout the world. Hundreds of traditional media outlets – newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations – are now producing Web versions of their products.

Other new players are creating tailor-made services for Web presentation. And hundreds of thousands of individuals are publishing their own Web pages as a hobby.

Whereas a newspaper might have previously been competing on the news stand against a handful of other newspapers and scores of magazines, on the Internet it is competing against hundreds, perhaps thousands of other newspapers and magazines and millions of independently initiated documents and multi-media presentations, each of which has varying relevance to its separate readers’ needs.

This makes the function and purpose of a traditional media provider problematic from both a communication and an economic perspective. For example, how useful and viable is the entity known as The Age newspaper when published in an electronic form on the World Wide Web? At the same time, how useful and viable does the print version of the same newspaper continue to be to its traditional audience? Such questions strike at the heart of the dilemma facing traditional providers as they confront the ramifications of a large-scale move towards the new media.

At the same time, traditional journalism can be enhanced by adept use of new technologies in reportage. New resources are now at the finger tips of the journalist wanting to use the Internet for reporting. Computer aided reporting involves electronic access to government documents, court reports, articles, and specialist opinions, adding to the depth of coverage of an issue and the discovery of angles on stories which might never have been contemplated. So, while new media might represent a threat to the medium in which the journalist currently works, the journalism itself can be enriched by using the new media proficiently.

Newspapers and the journalism which evolved through their pages owe their very existence to a technological innovation which, when harnessed by the intellectual pursuits of modern humanity, has provided the catalyst for the spread of knowledge. That invention was the printing press. The evolution of the printing process from the archaic machinery of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, through the era of hot metal type to computer typesetting and finally to electronic pagination and distribution has affected the time frames within which newspaper journalism has been expected to be conducted and the audiences which it has been able to reach.

The introduction of the telegraph, radio and television each brought their own challenges to media practices.

The fleeting 1980s technologies of videotext/teletext news services were a flop because they expected audiences to sit in front of television sets and read text over which they had no control.

The new media make no such mistakes. They are premised on interactivity and user choice. The theory is you get the information or entertainment you request … when and where you want it. The mass media is becoming individually tailored. That’s the main point of difference of both the Internet and the broadband interactive services promised with the next phase of digital television.

So, what does it look like?

Here’s a new publication I started with my students last week: the first daily journalism student production targeted exclusively at a Web audience…

Explain background to Bond student project. (OHPs1-3) (explain how it beat SMH with main news by 16 hours and television stations by 4 hours). People in Anchorage can be reading our news hours before Australians are accessing the mainstream media.

Ours is one site of more than 2000 Australian sites on the World Wide Web. There are more than 5 million of them internationally. Just like the daily newspaper, there’s a lot of guff out there in cyberspace. There’s the trivial and the bizarre…

(Read two from .net directory)

(Explain toilet one.)

There are entertaining sites: (Sound and video clips from the latest movies, fan club pages, even interactive chess – Daniel).

There are educational sites, places to do courses and research material for projects and essays. (Ancient Egypt page, Library catalogues, interactive classrooms.)

But is it useful???

Explain my usage: checking references, politicians’ names/contact numbers, multi-media course outline.

But for Mrs Allen over the road … probably not just yet. As the sites build up locally I could see her accessing catalogues, getting quotes and ordering products by email, downloading and printing a map of Fraser Island for her next trip, booking her camping permit there, and dragging some puzzles off the Net to entertain her kids on the long drive there.

For Mrs Allen, it will be a matter of being educated as to its possibilities. For her children, it or some version of it will be second nature.

You’ve seen our fairly modest news production. Here’s the kind of product being produced exclusively for Web distribution…

[OHP: Hotwired home page.]

  1. Commercial potential

Commercial use of the World Wide Web can take three main forms:

  • Passive presence

A Web site used for PR or low-key corporate presence. This might simply give information about the company and its activities and structure.

  • Spot advertising

Actual display advertising on someone else’s Web site. (OHP: MacMillan site).

(Explain Infoseek’s search page: Cathay Pacific giveaway, Alamo freeways online rentacar, Species, the sci-fi thriller from MGM/UA, Sun Microsystems, Metricom Wireless Data Technologies, MacMillan Information Superlibrary, Internet Shopping Network, NECX Direct computer products, Dealernet – the source of new car information)

  • Designated sales site

A whole Web site specifically designed to sell a product. (OHP: First National example.)

US market research group ActivMedia has produced one of the first reports on Internet marketing.

It reported there were 588 commercial World Wide Web (www) sites at the end of September 1994. Eight months later, the index listed more than 6,000, an average monthly growth rate of 34%. Even if growth slows considerably, 9,000 commercial websites will exist before the end of August, 1995. ActivMedia surveyed 195 of these active Internet marketers, and projected the responses to reveal an industry worth more than $300 million.

(OHP: Activmedia graph)

Interestingly, it showed that the average website was generating more than US$7000 per month in sales for the average active marketer, with 18 per cent reporting five figure turnover generated to their websites.

  1. Demographics

Cyberspace (Show William Gibson Neuromancer book cover).

Cyberspace…. A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…

Gibson’s cyberspace was an incredibly violent and masculine place, with the direct neural connection between humans and computers both exhilarating and painful.

The non-fiction cyberspace is rarely violent, often exhilarating, but is notably masculine.

The Graphics, Visualization, & Usability Center at the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology surveyed 13,000 Web users and came up with the following demographic data:

  • Average age across all users was 35.
  • More than 80% of users were men, but female use was increasing.
  • More than half of the users were married or had been.
  • 60% of users had no dependents.
  • Average income of users was US$69,000
  • 70% used their computers for “fun” for more than five hours per week. (Time they might otherwise be watching television.)
  • Women did less fun computing than men.
  • 30% had been on the Internet for less than 6 months.
  • Almost half owned only one computer.
  • Only 31% were in the computing profession, with the next largest occupational groups education, professional and management.
  • 22% said they would not pay fees to access Web sites.
  • 85% of users shared their computers with others.
  • About 20% use their computer for work for more than 30 hours per week.

The advertising and marketing people will know much more about that demographic than I do. I’ll make two blatantly obvious comments: They’re not all tech-heads, or nerds, as they have been portrayed, and they have money to spend. You can figure out the rest.

  1. Problems

[OHP] Load: technical difficulties of speed and quality.

Access: Information rich vs. information poor

Control: large vs. small players. Delphi on line within month. Microsoft to launch its exclusive Web access under the long awaited Windows 95 release.

Legal hazards: Copyright and stealing images, Defamation (WA academic who sued over Internet libel), trade practices (consumer fraud), and the common legal problem of trans-jurisdictional infringements.

Pornography

Down side – rape in cyberspace, child pornography arrest.

Fun side: ‘teledildonics’; erotica.

In conclusion ………………

Some say this whole Web thing is like the gold rush era: the only ones who’ll make any money out of it will be those who supply the miners with rations, rum and rump.

Others call it the ‘world’s largest zero billion dollar industry’.

Experts who claim to predict the future have only one thing in common – they’re always wrong.

But I’ve got a feeling there’s gold in them there hills for any media player with a good eye for an audience and the right product to market.

Just remember that audiences are human beings with their own problems and passions. Technology on its own holds no power. The power is in your ability to use it to help people solve their problems and to ignite their passions.

The Internet will prove to be a threat to those of you who don’t understand your audiences. And perhaps an opportunity to those who do.

© Mark Pearson 1995 and 2016

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Techniques and challenges of new models for journalism: The Undercurrent

By MARK PEARSON

As legacy media outlets grapple with the challenges of retaining and engaging their audiences, new media entrepreneurs experiment with new forms of journalism and novel ways of winning funding.

My guest this week in our Introduction to Journalism class was Jen Dainer, Head Writer and Co-Producer at The Undercurrent
[Twitter: @TheUCNews | @jendainer ] who has developed with co-founder Dan Graetz a new model of satirical advocacy journalism drawing upon their considerable creativity, skill base, and life and work experience.

Our interview spanned a range of topics including Jen’s own background, the objectives of The Undercurrent, how it differs from other news and current affairs products, the importance of impeccable research in avoiding legal action, and how they plan to gain traction and financial support.

You can view the interview here:

[Aug 4, 2015 / 26 mins. Camera work: Bevan Bache ]

Please contact Jen Dainer direct @jendainer / jen@theundercurrent.com if you would like to be involved in the project or support it in some way.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Benefits of using Twitter from Day One in a news writing class

By MARK PEARSON

Almost 30 years ago my first colleague in journalism education – the late Charles Stuart – summarised the curriculum of a journalism degree.

“In the first year you teach them how to write an intro (lead),” he said.

“In year two you teach them how to write the body of the story.

“And in their final year you revise the intro.”

While Charles’ advice was delivered tongue in cheek, he certainly hit upon one of the greatest challenges facing students of basic news reporting – how to sum up the key elements of a story in an interesting way in just a few words.

I recalled that conversation as I set the in-class exercises for my Introduction to Journalism tutorials this week and turned to Twitter to help out.

Twitter has its pluses and minuses as a social medium, but there is no doubting its value as a platform for clear and concise expression.

Its 140 character format equates to 20-22 words and thus it lends itself to an exercise where students can try their hand at a basic news lead.

Our 300 first year students were prepped on the basics in their lecture and briefed on the importance of Twitter in modern day journalism as a means of communication with colleagues and sources, finding useful news angles, and in accessing contacts and basic information when a news event unfolds.

We decided the course code #1508HUM made a suitable class hashtag and assigned students to live tweet the lecture to reinforce its value.

As an example of an effective use of Twitter in journalism I showed them the Twitter feed from ABC PM presenter Mark Colvin’s to the 85,000 followers of his @Colvinius handle and explained that it was a badge of honour for Twitter users if Colvinius ever retweeted your tweets.

One of my live tweeters approached me in the lecture break to show me his dialogue with @Colvinius during my class.

Quite a coup. Clearly Jake gets it. (BTW, thanks @Colvinius).

Students who did not have Twitter accounts signed up for them prior to the tute and we started the session with an exercise requiring students to interview a classmate and introduce them to the group by spelling their name very clearly and stating an interesting fact about them.

We then talked about news values and what might make news for a campus community.

We embarked on our Twitter news hunt, wandering the campus in search of stories using our five normal senses plus the students’ evolving “news sense”.

Some of the stories came from noticeboards, although I explained a journalist would call to verify any information found there.

Others were based on interesting happenings around the campus during our 20 minute walk, including a cheerleader squad practice, an interview with a student events officer, and an array of photos and interviews from the student clubs sign-on stalls.

The exercise has the following benefits:

  • It teaches students the art of summing up a story in just a few words in an era when the attention span of news audiences is just a few seconds.
  • It introduces them to one use of social media in modern journalism.
  • It allows students to experiment with multi-media reportage if they attach photos, sound or vision.
  • It allows debate over the news value of campus-based stories.
  • And it does all of this within the comfort of a hashtag that allows them to experience publishing their first news story that technically all the world can see while in reality very few people other than their peers and tutors will actually view it.

You can see some highlights below, or even visit the #1508HUM hashtag if you are really interested.

I’d certainly recommend such an exercise to colleagues not already doing something similar in their first news writing classes.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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If #cyberbullying is up, why is youth #suicide down?

By MARK PEARSON

[Extracted from my public lecture ‘Social Media – Risks and Rewards’]

Administrators and parents are indeed concerned about social media – partly because the little they know about it has been informed via the lens of the news media and war stories like those I have related above. Their perceptions are also skewed by the new industry of cyber-safety – everything from net nanny systems for your IT system through to speakers and consultants ready to advise on the evils of trolls and cyber-predators. I am not suggesting such inputs are unnecessary, but I wonder about their impact on policy at a time when parents and administrators are already approaching Web 2.0 with trepidation.

With all these resources committed to it, one might be excused for believing cyberbullying had driven young people to the depths of depression and anxiety and were consequently taking their own lives at an alarming rate. The fact is that in the decade 2000-2010 – a period during which both Internet and social media usage grew rapidly – youth suicide in Australia actually declined. It declined across the whole 15-24 year age group, with suicides among males in that age group decreasing by 34 per cent. That is not to say, however, that the rate of youth suicide is not alarming. The number of suicides is still far too high and like all stats this figure can have a range of explanations – better counselling, changes in media coverage, the efforts of campaigns like Beyond Blue and RU OK? (partly on social media),  and improved medicines for psychiatric conditions. …While it is tragic for any young person to take their life for such a reason, there seems to be no hard data that Internet and social media usage is driving more young people to this level of despair (ABS, 2012).

After all, social media is in many ways just a microcosm of our broader lives, and problems like bullying have always existed. These platforms present new channels for the demonstration of such behaviours, replacing or supplementing replacing the schoolyard taunts, the prank calls, the practical jokes and the toilet graffiti.

See the full lecture at: https://journlaw.com/2013/08/29/social-media-risks-and-rewards-journlaws-public-lecture/

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Social media risk and literacy in the new Australian civics curriculum

By MARK PEARSON

[Extracted from my public lecture ‘Social Media – Risks and Rewards’]

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 9.21.21 AMAt the very least an important foundational literacy one must have to empower one to assess social media risk – especially the legal risks involved – is an education in civics that explains the rights and responsibilities of individuals, the legal consequences of actions, and the systems in which these operate. Australia has lacked a consistent approach to civics education but fortunately the new Australian curriculum has a Civics and Citizenship component covering these kinds of issues at an allocated 20 hours per year throughout years 3-10 (ACARA, p. 11). It even specifies a competence in ‘limiting the risks to themselves and others in a digital environment’ (p.20). It aims to encourage young people to ‘act with moral and ethical integrity’ to ‘become responsible global and local citizens’ (p.3).

Frankly, this is where I believe the best approach lies. If we are going to reap the potential of new technologies we cannot become so risk averse that we ‘lock and block’ the opportunities as we try to minimise the dangers. The Gold Coast private school that recently banned its students from using social media on its grounds continues to allow its students to engage in contact sports with far greater potential risks to their minds and bodies than any Internet platform might present. They do so because they perceive the ongoing social and educational benefits of team sports as outweighing the very real risk of physical injuries. They invest in the expert staff to coach, they qualify them with first aid training, and they teach the children the code of behavior expected on a sporting field. And I would not for a moment suggest they should not. Yet they choose to ‘lock and block’ some of the most valuable communication tools developed in the history of human invention.

I suggest the answer is not in deprivation and censorship, but in sensible social media guidelines and foreshadowed consequences for misuse, accompanied by a foundation in moral and ethics education of citizenship presented in the new Australian curriculum. The educational theory of ‘reflective practice’ coined by Donald Schön two decades ago invokes a mindful approach to learning where professionals ‘reflect-in-action’ upon their learning as they face technical and ethical decisions in their working careers. There is no reason why a properly invoked civics and citizenship curriculum should not do the same for our pupils as they engage with new media as a laboratory for the greater challenges that real life presents.

See the full lecture at: https://journlaw.com/2013/08/29/social-media-risks-and-rewards-journlaws-public-lecture/

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Schools, social media and cyberbullying

By MARK PEARSON

[Extracted from my public lecture ‘Social Media – Risks and Rewards’]

We hear a great deal about the downside of social media use in schools. There have been well publicised examples of cyberbullying, defamation of teachers and principals, stalking of children by online sexual predators, and the dismissal of teachers for their own misuse of the medium. As a journalism academic, I can tell you that these make news because they involve deviant behavior, they result from important changes in society, they typically involve some sort of conflict or intrigue, and they are unusual enough to be interesting to audiences. They are not the norm, which explains their newsworthiness.

The norm is actually the millions of social media postings that are either mundane – like YouTube clips of cats – or are actually performing some public good – providing online counseling and support to those in need; creating useful communication channels between children, peer groups and parents; and opening a wealth of learning opportunities if managed appropriately. Of course, none of this means that we should ignore the risks – only that we should take steps to manage them and work with the medium within a relatively safe environment.

One Gold Coast private school made the local television news earlier this month with its principal’s bold announcement that he was banning social media use by students while at school. The school’s published policy also prohibits mobile phones and other entertainment devices (ASAS, 2009). This policy is known in the literature as the ‘lock and block’ approach. It is clearly one option available to schools and is risk averse in that it reduces the likelihood of the misuse of social media platforms during school hours. But is it a little like the Mercer Hotel in New York banning the use of telephones because Russell Crowe happened to disconnect a faulty one and hurl it at a worker in the foyer?

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 9.20.43 AMIf we seek to assess the educational opportunity cost of such a policy measure, we can look to the academic literature tracking the teaching and learning benefits of social media platforms. The European eTwinning project was established in 2005 as the main action of the European Commission’s eLearning Programme. Its Central Support Service is operated by European Schoolnet, an international partnership of 33 European Ministries of Education developing learning for schools, and its portal has 170,000 members and over 5300 projects between two or more schools across Europe. Its profile states:

Whenever we talk about internet safety we must also talk about responsible use. Similarly, when we talk about the safe use of social media we must also talk about the responsible use of social media. Unfortunately some people still believe that the only way to keep children safe online is to ‘lock and block’ access to parts of the internet though web filtering. The reality of this is that this doesn’t remove the actual dangers (perceived or otherwise) and it also makes it almost impossible for educators to deliver key internet safety and responsible use messages. The fundamental requirement to keeping children and young people safe online is to make sure that they have received an appropriate education in how to use tools and services appropriately. (eTwinning, 2012).

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 9.20.54 AMSome teachers have become quite activist in their opposition to a ‘lock and block’ approach, with the arguments of UK schools challenging this approach articulated in the Cloud Learn Research Report. Their main points are:

–       social media allow stimulating collaboration between teachers and pupils internationally and across cultures

–       the wealth of free material accessible online and via social media can reduce equipment and resource budgets

–       social media and devices enhance independent learning

–       social media open up innovative new communication channels for teachers, parents and pupils

–       they can bring introverted and disabled students into communication circles, along with those home-bound by illness

–       there are too many creative classroom ideas making use of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, blogs and other social media platforms – to document (Heppell & Chapman, 2011).

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 9.21.03 AMEuropean Schoolnet’s SMILE (Social Media In Learning and Education) action research project offered some examples of effective in-class use of social media, including:

–       A Twitter snow lesson where a teacher’s Twitter network was asked where they lived and if it was snowing. The tweets were plotted on to Google Map and imported into Google Earth where real-time satellite imagery could be overlaid onto the map. The pattern that emerged provided an excellent context for discussing the weather, weather patterns and weather systems;

–       Google Plus in classrooms with a free ten-seat videoconference solution to allow face-to-face collaboration with peers and experts across geography and time zones;

–       YouTube used to create a school television station;

–       Developing research skills by collecting data using tools like SurveyMonkey and Facebook Polls;

–       Classroom blogs or blogs used as an ePortfolio used to generate audiences for young writers. (European Schoolnet, 2013).

This latter example raises the issue of the importance of written expression, particularly via blogs, for students. Writing in the journal The Psychiatrist, researchers Wuyts, Broome and McGuire (2011) cited several studies that demonstrated that keeping a personal blog could ‘have a therapeutic effect, by reducing stress and improving subjective well-being, and could be considered especially useful for people experiencing mental health problems’. This was because self-disclosure on a blog could impact on someone’s perception of their social integration and their so-called ‘bonding social capital’. The study focused on extended written blogs rather than social networking or ‘micro-blogging’ like Twitter and Facebook, but the sensible use of social media could have the same benefits, as found recently by a team of researchers from the Australian Catholic University here in Brisbane. They concluded:

“Facebook use may provide the opportunity to develop and maintain social connectedness in the online environment, and that Facebook connectedness is associated with lower depression and anxiety and greater satisfaction with life (Grieve et al, 2013).”

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 9.21.12 AMDespite the benefits, there is no disputing the sad fact that practices like cyberbullying continue. It is indeed that sensible or ‘mindful’ use of social media that should inform social media policies in schools, education departments, and in other government and corporate organisations. Cyberbullying has been a key point of focus and education systems have now developed policies in this area. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has an excellent ‘cyber(smart):’ site with a wealth of resources and lists the various education systems’ social media and cyberbullying policies (ACMA, 2013). For example, the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment features guides for parents, teachers and students at its Cybersafety site (DETE, 2012). At least the Education Department does not devolve the responsibility for cyber-safety to an automated Internet filter. Its site states: “Being cybersafe and a good cybercitizen is primarily about learning how to behave in the online environment. While technical solutions are part of ensuring safety and security, cybersafety in schools depends on people acting appropriately.” (DETE, 2012).

It is sage advice. Administrators and parents are indeed concerned about social media – partly because the little they know about it has been informed via the lens of the news media and war stories like those I have related above. Their perceptions are also skewed by the new industry of cyber-safety – everything from net nanny systems for your IT system through to speakers and consultants ready to advise on the evils of trolls and cyber-predators. I am not suggesting such inputs are unnecessary, but I wonder about their impact on policy at a time when parents and administrators are already approaching Web 2.0 with trepidation.

With all these resources committed to it, one might be excused for believing cyberbullying had driven young people to the depths of depression and anxiety and were consequently taking their own lives at an alarming rate. The fact is that in the decade 2000-2010 – a period during which both Internet and social media usage grew rapidly – youth suicide in Australia actually declined. It declined across the whole 15-24 year age group, with suicides among males in that age group decreasing by 34 per cent. That is not to say, however, that the rate of youth suicide is not alarming. The number of suicides is still far too high and like all stats this figure can have a range of explanations – better counselling, changes in media coverage, the efforts of campaigns like Beyond Blue and RU OK? (partly on social media),  and improved medicines for psychiatric conditions. Indeed, the policy measures noted above might well have helped save a few young lives. While it is tragic for any young person to take their life for such a reason, there seems to be no hard data that Internet and social media usage is driving more young people to this level of despair (ABS, 2012).

After all, social media is in many ways just a microcosm of our broader lives, and problems like bullying have always existed. These platforms present new channels for the demonstration of such behaviours, replacing or supplementing replacing the schoolyard taunts, the prank calls, the practical jokes and the toilet graffiti.

 

See the full lecture at: https://journlaw.com/2013/08/29/social-media-risks-and-rewards-journlaws-public-lecture/

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Filed under courts, media law, Media regulation, social media

Social media and drugs, alcohol and mental illness just don’t mix

By MARK PEARSON

[Extracted from my public lecture ‘Social Media – Risks and Rewards’]

Researchers internationally are attempting to fathom the crucial question of why people – particularly celebrities whose public images are so crucial to their sponsorship deals – continue to let down their guard and publish comments and images on social media that they would never offer publicly to the mainstream media.

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The cognitive factors inherent in this are for the behavioural science researchers to investigate. A strong hypothesis is that the very raison d’etre of the social media platform – gathering with friends to chat, gossip, joke and share just as you would in a pub or café – is so absorbing that it is difficult to remind oneself in the midst of an evolving conversation that you are likely publishing the material beyond the narrow friendship circle you imagine. Add to this mix the statistics on substance abuse and mental illness. According to the 2010 National Drug Strategy household survey, one in five Australians aged 14 years or over were categorised as ‘risky drinkers’ (AIHW, 2011, p.51) and one in 20 Australians reported having used an illicit drug in the past week (p. 85). Also, one fifth of adult Australians experience the symptoms of mental disorder every year according to another Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report (2010, p. iii). All this amounts to the statistical reality that at any moment on social media there will inevitably be people publishing material in a state not conducive to sober, reflective, considered authorship.

Once the psychologists have determined the factors contributing to this propensity to throw caution to the wind on social media it will be up to the educationalists to develop effective pedagogical techniques to teach children and adults how to pause and reflect before publishing on social media. And, of course, a warning not to engage in social media after imbibing in drugs or alcohol would be wise counsel.

See the full lecture at: https://journlaw.com/2013/08/29/social-media-risks-and-rewards-journlaws-public-lecture/

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Filed under courts, media law, Media regulation, social media