Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Social Media: Reputation, risk and relationships

To share or not to share? Why? With/For Whom?

This post was written in in Porto at the 2ndEuropean Conference on Social Media, where I presented my work on professional online presence and learning networks, and publicised our CFP for the Twitter in Education special issue. Time to share a few key messages from the two-day conference, further details of which can be traced on Twitter via #ECSM2015

The conference opened with a keynote from Dr Luis Borges Gouveia relating to security issues and human relationships in social media. Among other matters, Luis invited us to consider FaceBook (FB) as a room in which all of our past and current acquaintances, family, close friends, romantic partners and professional colleagues meet and mix. How would we feel about this occurring in any other social setting?!

While some regard this as a time bomb and advocate establishing separate profiles for personal/professional use, others question the integrity of splitting identity online, and regard separate groups as a more authentic response to communicating with diverse parties. Whether we separate people into rooms or groups, key concerns are audience, privacy and purpose. This reflects the challenge students often face when shifting from socialising on FB to using a wider range of social media tools for learning and professional purposes.

Audience is also about influence and reach. A number of speakers at ECSM15 tackled the problem of measuring social media influence (de Marcellis-Warin, Alshawaf & Le Wen)In education, social media enables reach beyond the VLE to connect with an extended audience. For example, Hogg & Ritchie presented how they used course narratives via blogs and FB to inspire and encourage prospective students. 

Interestingly, recent research looks at disclosure and risk perception online. I had the privilege of chairing a session at ECSM, incorporating work by recent masters graduates in this field, and it is clear that the factors determining what and how much users of social media disclose online, correlated with their perceptions of the risks of disclosure, are areas of emerging research. The extent to which young people are risk aware and savvy about privacy issues appears to be a bone of contention. 

A further point made by Luis Borges Gouveia is that only the rich can afford privacy. However it seems to me that riches very often lead to fame that is incompatible with anonymity, and famous people are targets for those who hunt private detail and seek to breach security. If we are all in the same boat, do we sacrifice a degree of privacy in order to work with (rather than against) our reputations, by proactively cultivating, rather than leaving this to chance or in someone else’s hands? Fundamentally, this is about our identity and sovereignty in terms of control of our data, ownership and self-determination.

Of the shorter sessions to follow, I found Nicola Osborne’s presentation most relevant to my current preoccupations with professional online presence and learning networks, or in Osborne and Connelly’s terms "eProfessionalism". This concerns how students manage (or neglect to manage) their digital footprints, and how tertiary institutions might provide guidance in this area to build student competence.

A related and highly creative articulation of guides to social media netiquette (SMetiquette?) is Elaine Garcia’s wild west poster, proposing that cowboy codes centred on notions of hospitality, fair play, loyalty and respect, could well be applied to the wild frontier of social media.

More on this in another post, as I think Elaine and Nicola’s work will continue to inspire my teaching and research practices.

On day two of the conference, Batista on social media in higher education, looked at issues and challenges, all of which coalesced around:

  • privacy and security
  • institutional frontiers
  • copyright and authoring

Drilling down, all of these are about Reputation. Privacy is about guarding what you want to keep to yourself; security is similar, particularly about safety and data protection. Institutional frontiers involve protecting a university’s wares and this in turn  relate to intellectual property and then to copyright and authoring. Essentially, we are happy to share freely if this is in our interest and positively enhances our reputation without causing us harm or loss (our co-authored book Digital Smarts is a case in point).

Overall, the key messages here are about being thoughtful and intentional about what we share on social media, while maintaining integrity, managing risk and sustaining positive relationships with those who matter.

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