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Social Media & Society

This week our Director of Communications, Alicia Wanless, delivered a workshop based on our Brave New Journalism training at the Social Media & Society conference in Toronto. Below are her reflections on the event:

With more than 100 institutions represented from 28 countries, Social Media & Society is a lot to absorb. While it will take some time to mentally digest the 150 or so papers and presentations shared at the event, one thing was apparent throughout – just how much the internet has permeated the so-called real world.

In its sixth year, Social Media & Society is hosted by Ryerson University’s Social Media Lab. The event aims to gather leading social media researchers from around the world. Following the Lab’s participation in our recent #HackingConflict event, we were keen to support their conference by delivering a 3-hour workshop on verifying user-generated content for use in news.

The event featured a variety of research and experiences, presented by academics as well as practitioners. The keynote speaker, Dr. William H. Dutton, impressed upon participants the need to bridge divides between researchers and media to raise awareness for how the internet and online social networks are changing society. In this Digital Age, explained Dutton, we need to prioritize education “to help children and others learn how to use social media in more ethical, safe and effective ways”.  

Of particular interest to our work at The SecDev Foundation, were the shared experiences and understanding of how the internet can be used in fragile settings. Learning how organizations such as Doctors Without Borders used Twitter to raise awareness during the Ebola epidemic, for example, informs possibilities for how we might engage and support our beneficiaries caught in conflict situations, such as in Syria. Likewise, research on what people shared online during Hurricane Sandy or how journalists are using Twitter to source news stories helps keep our journalist/media activist training current for a very dynamic operating environment.  

This is a conference well worth attending to gain a better understanding of the internet’s role in our lives – not just in terms of what we do online, but how it shapes our offline worlds as well.

Social Media & Society will be on the road next year, taking place at Goldsmiths, University of London, July 11-13, 2016.

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