Bullying Research Taps into Technology

The popularity of social media as an outlet for communication is central to new research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison that may lead to a deeper understanding of bullying behaviors.  The study uses algorithms and a language-analyzing computer to scan millions of posts from the social media platform Twitter, looking for certain words and language patterns that indicate discussion of, or actual, bullying situations.  This method has advantages over traditional surveying of school-age youth as it expands upon the number of data collection points (typically survey data is a one-shot deal) and may limit self reporting bias on such a sensitive topic.

To date, the study has found that posts about or conversations relating to bullying are not at all uncommon, with comments ranging from the general to the event-specific adding up to approximately 15,000 Tweets a day. The ability to analyze ongoing interactions , even at the group level,  has led to the identification of a new role in bullying besides victim and victimizer – the reporter.  The researchers hope to expand their work to include additional social network platforms in the near future.

This kind of research is exactly what is needed to inform innovative early intervention strategies for adolescents and promote resilience factors against social and familial stressors that may lead to high-risk behaviors.  Social media has only begun to influence the nonprofit sector, albeit mostly  through marketing and fundraising, but targeted outreach and intervention are not far behind.



Social Media and Education

If you are interested in the impact of social media upon student learning, check out the paper  How Blogs, Social Media, and Video Games Improve Education by Darrell M. West (Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute) that discusses the positive impacts of new media, Web 2.0 and even interactive gaming on individual learning and the collective classroom experience.

The rise of digital media (and all the nifty tools it has brought us) have lead to increased communication and ease of information dissemination among groups, resulting in a lesser role of the traditional subject expert. The expert is no longer the gatekeeper to a topic area as enormous amounts of data from legitimate sources are just a few quick keystrokes away for nearly any of us with an internet connection.  Granted,  nowadays  s/he could just start a blog and be right back in the running as “expert”.  Web 2.0 laid the groundwork for the challenge to traditional hierarchical communication in organizations, with some of  the more innovative companies creating in-house social media platforms to enhance and encourage collaborative communication among staff.  Is the classroom next?

Will the current generation growing up using  peer-to-peer learning  and crowd sourcing (albeit informally) on a daily basis truly learn in a traditional classroom? How can social media and networking platforms be used to enhance learning at all ages?



Social Media as a Component of Recovery

Last year, the report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the National Survey of American  Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parents, suggested a link between regular use of social media and drug and alcohol use among teenagers. Researchers found that teens who used social media as part of their daily routine were more apt to use tobacco (10 percent compared to two percent), alcohol (26 percent compared to nine percent) and marijuana (13 percent compared seven percent).   This data could be used to classify social media itself a risk factor for youth substance use, although a more nuanced view of the correlation may view it as another avenue of media messaging and peer interaction, rife with the potential for positive or negative outcomes.

A paper recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association focused on this duality in reporting preliminary findings on the potential of social media to influence drug and alcohol use in adolescents and teenagers.  Survey data from the small sample of youth in substance abuse treatment showed the majority (66 percent) reporting that social media content regarding drugs stimulated their desire to use them. However, less than ¼ of the sample had accessed or posted content on Facebook or related social networking sites related to recovery or sobriety – a telling gap in the use of social media to promote and facilitate recovery.

Youth drug treatment programs must move to harness the power of social networking and digital media as a part of the recovery process and culture – innovative use of technology in the behavioral health and social service sectors should not be limited to donor cultivation and marketing. 


Most Tweets Judged Unreadable. Do You Care?

If you are attune to the social media blogs I am sure you have read the findings from the Carnegie Mellon study that state only about 36 percent of tweets are worthy of being read. According to data gathered via their website, researchers from the aforementioned Pittsburgh university as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology, suggest that use of this social media outlet for blanket statements, personal details or to reply to another user diminishes the tweet’s (and the tweeter’s?) worth in the eyes of other users. In fact, data show that one quarter of all tweets are outright unreadable.

I don’t mean to sound snarkish but in the end, all of those supposedly unreadable tweets were read, right?

The plainly meant-to-drain-the-blood-from-the-faces-of-communications-professionals-everywhere bottom line of the study is that most tweets are lacking, somehow. Well, I can only speak for my simple Twitter-using self but thank goodness for that! If the majority of tweets were highly rated my stream might read, “refinance Youtube hotel consolidation fares Facebook student loans kittens porn” because apparently that is what a good chunk of internet users are interested in of late (or perhaps for always, SEO is not my forte).

The authors of the report recommend that Tweeters improve their worth by never revisiting old information, keeping “pedestrian details” to themselves, adding facts to tweets and ending the whines while engaging in lots of teasing. I am hardly a social media guru but I find myself sighing heavily when reading this advice. Luckily, there has already been some decent push-back on the study from people who are social media experts, Kelvin (KC) Claveria and Miranda Miller, who state their cases (here and here) rather eloquently. Personally, I am interested in hearing from nonprofit communication and marketing folk — what are your thoughts on this study?

Will you take these suggested improvements to heart? Do you have specific criteria for what makes a tweet worthy or unworthy? What, in your view, makes a (legitimate, not spambot) tweet unreadable?