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In addition to the training sessions run by Conversation editors throughout the year, they have now created four new asynchronous online courses to help you learn more about working with The Conversation and what they are looking for from pitches and articles.
Four short courses are now available for you to complete online at your leisure:
The courses are open to all BU academics and PhD candidates who are interested in finding out more about working with The Conversation. They will help you to understand how The Conversation works, the editorial support provided, and develop the skills to write for non-academic audiences.
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The Conversation is a great way to share research and informed comment on topical issues. Academics work with editors to write pieces, which can then be republished via a creative commons license.
Since we first partnered with The Conversation, articles by BU authors have had over 9.5 million reads and been republished by the likes of The i, Metro,National Geographic Indonesia and the Washington Post.
“I don’t listen to adults when it comes to this sort of thing”, a 17-year-old told me.
We were discussing how digital technology affects his life, as part of a long-term project in the west of England that I carried out with colleagues to explore young people’s mental health – including the impact of digital technology on their emotional wellbeing.
There is a widespread perception that being online is bad for young people’s mental health. But when we began the project, we quickly realised that there was very little evidence to back this up. The few in-depth studies around social media use and children’s mental health state that impacts are small and it is difficult to draw clear conclusions.
We wanted to find out if and how young people’s wellbeing was actually being affected in order to produce resources to help them. We talked to around 1,000 young people as part of our project. What we found was that there was a disconnect between what young people were worried about when it came to their online lives, and the worries their parents and other adults had.
One of the things young people told us was that adults tended to talk down to them about online harms, and had a tendency to “freak out” about these issues. Young people told us that adults’ views about online harms rarely reflected their own. They felt frustrated that they were being told what was harmful, rather than being asked what their experiences were.
The concerns the young people told us they had included bullying and other forms of online conflict. They were afraid of missing out on both online group interactions and real-life experiences others were showing in their social media posts. They worried that their posts were not getting as many likes as someone else’s.
But these concerns are rarely reflected in the media presentation of the harsher side of online harms. This has a tendency to explore the criminal side of online abuse, such as grooming, the prevalence of online pornography. It also tends to describe social media use in similar language to that used to talk about addiction.
It is no surprise, therefore, that parents might approach conversations with young people with excessive concern and an assumption their children are being approached by predators or are accessing harmful or illegal content.
We have run a survey with young people for several years on their online experiences. Our latest analysis was based on 8,223 responses. One of the questions we ask is: “Have you ever been upset by something that has happened online?”. While there are differences between age groups, we found the percentage of those young people who say “yes” is around 30%. Or, to put it another way, more than two-thirds of the young people surveyed had never had an upsetting experience online.
Meanwhile, the online experiences reported by the 30% who reported being upset often didn’t tally with the extreme cases reporting in the media. Our analysis of responses showed that this upset is far more likely to come from abusive comments by peers and news stories about current affairs.
This disconnect means that young people are reluctant to talk to adults about their concerns. They are afraid of being told off, that the adult will overreact, or that talking to an adult might make the issue worse. The adults they might turn to need to make it clear this won’t happen and that they can help.
How to help
There are three things that young people have consistently told us over the duration of the project, and in our previous work, that adults can do to help. They are: listen and understand – don’t judge.
Conversations are important, as is showing an interest in young people’s online lives. However, those conversations do not have to be confrontational. If a media story about young people and online harms causes parents concern or alarm, the conversation does not have to start with: “Do you do this?” This can result in a defensive response and the conversation being shut down. It would be far better to introduce the topic with: “Have you seen this story? What do you think of this?”
Working in partnership with others, such as schools, is also important. If a parent has concerns, having a conversation with tutors can be a useful way of supporting the young person. The tutor might also be aware that the young person is not acting like themselves, or might have noticed changes in group dynamics among their peer group.
But, even if they are not aware of anything, raising concerns with them – and discussing from where those concerns arise – will mean both parents and school are focused in the same direction. It is important that young people receive both consistent messages and support. And schools will also be able to link up with other support services if they are needed.
Ultimately, we want young people to feel confident that they can ask for help and receive it. This is particularly important, because if they do not feel they can ask for help, it is far less likely the issue they are facing will be resolved – and there is a chance things might become worse without support.
Congratulations to Dr. Orlanda Harvey and Dr. Margarete Parrish in the Department of Social Sciences & Social Work on the publication of our article “Using a Range of Communication Tools to Interview a Hard-to-Reach Population” in Sociological Research Online . The paper highlights that online communication tools are increasingly being used by researchers; hence it is timely to reflect on the differences when using a broad range of data collection methods. Using a case study with a potentially hard-to-reach substance-using population who are often distrustful of researchers, this article explores the use of a variety of different platforms for interviews. It highlights both the advantages and disadvantages of each method. Face-to-face interviews and online videos offer more opportunity to build rapport, but lack anonymity. Live Webchat and audio-only interviews offer a high level of anonymity, but both may incur a loss of non-verbal communication, and in the Webchat a potential loss of personal narrative. This article is intended for sociologists who wish to broaden their methods for conducting research interviews.
This methods article was developed based on the recruitment issues faced during Orlanda’s PhD research from which she has published several previous papers [2-6].
Harvey, O., Parrish, M., van Teijlingen, E., Trenoweth, S. (2020) Support for non-prescribed Anabolic Androgenic Steroids users: A qualitative exploration of their needs Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy27:5, 377-386. doi 10.1080/09687637.2019.1705763
A free online event from Analema Group, involving BU researcher Oliver Gingrich.
KIMA: Noise is a new art film by Analema Group, which explores how urban noise affects our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and asks – what can we do about it?
You are invited to the online premiere of KIMA: Noise, a live viewing followed by a discussion about the film and your experiences of urban noise, together with the artists and researchers who have worked on this project.
The KIMA: Noise project has so far taken in an exhibition and workshops at Tate Modern, involving noise expert Prof. Stephen Stansfeld, community groups such as Better Bankside, residents, and researchers in the field of urban noise.
The film will premiere on Analema Group’s YouTube channel, after which we’ll move to Zoom for our discussion. Sign up to keep up to date and receive all the necessary details.
Yesterday we had a conference paper accepted by the EUPHA (European Public Health Association) International Conference. When the paper was originally submitted to the EUPHA Health Workforce Research Section Mid-term Conference we had opted for an oral presentation in person at the conference in Romania this summer. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic travelling to Romania to attend this conference is not an option for many (if not most) academics. Therefore the organising committee took the initiative to re-arrange it as a virtual meeting. Further good news for us is that participation will be free.
Of course, I am aware that some of the strengths of attending conferences include having unexpected discussions (often in the bar) with fellow academics and being away from the day job. At the moment being forced to choose between postponing or cancelling a conference or changing to a virtual meeting conference organisers may want to reflect on “… ask how conferences make a difference.” This question was originally raised in the book Academic Conferences as Neoliberal Commodities by Donald Nicholson .
We should have moved to more virtual meetings and online conferences much sooner, but it is easy to say with hindsight! The COVID-19 crisis has thought us that virtual classrooms, internet-based tutorials, Zoom meetings and online conferences can work, albeit with their limitations. It is worth considering the return of investment of a conference  not just for the conference organisers (and funders) but also individual academics as less travel will be saving time and society as reducing travel, especially international flights, will improve our carbon foot print.
Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen
Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH)
The World Health Organisation is to include “gaming disorder”, the inability to stop gaming, into the International Classification of Diseases. By doing so, the WHO is recognising the serious and growing problem of digital addiction. The problem has also been acknowledged by Google, which recently announced that it will begin focusing on “Digital Well-being”.
Although there is a growing recognition of the problem, users are still not aware of exactly how digital technology is designed to facilitate addiction. We’re part of a research team that focuses on digital addiction and here are some of the techniques and mechanisms that digital media use to keep you hooked.
Digital technologies, such as social networks, online shopping, and games, use a set of persuasive and motivational techniques to keep users returning. These include “scarcity” (a snap or status is only temporarily available, encouraging you to get online quickly); “social proof” (20,000 users retweeted an article so you should go online and read it); “personalisation” (your news feed is designed to filter and display news based on your interest); and “reciprocity” (invite more friends to get extra points, and once your friends are part of the network it becomes much more difficult for you or them to leave).
Technology is designed to utilise the basic human need to feel a sense of belonging and connection with others. So, a fear of missing out, commonly known as FoMO, is at the heart of many features of social media design.
Groups and forums in social media promote active participation. Notifications and “presence features” keep people notified of each others’ availability and activities in real-time so that some start to become compulsive checkers. This includes “two ticks” on instant messaging tools, such as Whatsapp. Users can see whether their message has been delivered and read. This creates pressure on each person to respond quickly to the other.
The concepts of reward and infotainment, material which is both entertaining and informative, are also crucial for “addictive” designs. In social networks, it is said that “no news is not good news”. So, their design strives always to provide content and prevent disappointment. The seconds of anticipation for the “pull to refresh” mechanism on smartphone apps, such as Twitter, is similar to pulling the lever of a slot machine and waiting for the win.
Most of the features mentioned above have roots in our non-tech world. Social networking sites have not created any new or fundamentally different styles of interaction between humans. Instead they have vastly amplified the speed and ease with which these interactions can occur, taking them to a higher speed, and scale.
Addiction and awareness
People using digital media do exhibit symptoms of behavioural addiction. These include salience, conflict, and mood modification when they check their online profiles regularly. Often people feel the need to engage with digital devices even if it is inappropriate or dangerous for them to do so. If disconnected or unable to interact as desired, they become preoccupied with missing opportunities to engage with their online social networks.
According to the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom, 15m UK internet users (around 34% of all internet users) have tried a “digital detox”. After being offline, 33% of participants reported feeling an increase in productivity, 27% felt a sense of liberation, and 25% enjoyed life more. But the report also highlighted that 16% of participants experienced the fear of missing out, 15% felt lost and 14% “cut-off”. These figures suggest that people want to spend less time online, but they may need help to do so.
At the moment, tools that enable people to be in control of their online experience, presence and online interaction remain very primitive. There seem to be unwritten expectations for users to adhere to social norms of cyberspace once they accept participation.
But unlike other mediums for addiction, such as alcohol, technology can play a role in making its usage more informed and conscious. It is possible to detect whether someone is using a phone or social network in an anxious, uncontrolled manner. Similar to online gambling, users should have available help if they wish. This could be a self-exclusion and lock-out scheme. Users can allow software to alert them when their usage pattern indicates risk.
The borderline between software which is legitimately immersive and software which can be seen as “exploitation-ware” remains an open question. Transparency of digital persuasion design and education about critical digital literacy could be potential solutions.
Our BU briefing papers are designed to make our research outputs accessible and easily digestible so that our research findings can quickly be applied – whether to society, culture, public policy, services, the environment or to improve quality of life. They have been created to highlight research findings and their potential impact within their field.
Sports concussion has been the subject of much discourse in the scientific literature and mainstream media for many years. Major national and international sporting events are extensively covered by the media, with vast numbers of column inches and webpages dedicated to summarising these events. The frequency of concussion in some of the world’s biggest sports such as soccer, football, and rugby means that many of these concussive events which occur in high-profile competitions are also the focus of this reporting.
This paper analyses the descriptions of online sports concussion news on a global scale, using a search engine to retrieve news stories, and evaluates the media’s role in shaping public perception and misconception regarding concussion in sport. Further analysis sought to identify geographical patterns associated with different descriptions of sports concussion.
Development of Production Projects (including animation, creative documentaries and drama): One of the objectives of the programme is to promote, by providing financial support, the development of production projects intended for European and international markets presented by independent European production companies in the following categories: animation, creative documentary and drama. Deadlines are 25.11.11 and 13.04.12.
Development of Online and Offline Interactive Works: One of the objectives of the programme is to promote, by providing financial support, the development of production projects intended for European and international markets presented by independent European production companies. Deadlines are 25.11.11 and 13.04.12
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