Social Media for Academics – Mark Carringon

 

Mark Carrigan gave a talk titled ‘Social Media for Academics’, I attended expecting it to be about different ways in which researchers could use social media to conduct research. However it was more about the identity and integrity on social media and the invested interest from the companies who own social media platforms. Below is my summary of the themes and ideas explored by Carrigan in his lecture. The ideas explored by my writing have been inspired by Carrigan’s talk and I don’t take ownership for them – to find out more about his research, visit the following website.

http://markcarrigan.net/

Carrigon described the dictionary definition of integrity to mean ‘to be cold and undivided’ and explained that people like Mark Zuckerburg might find the concept of identity on social media to be uncomplicated. Zuckerburg once made the speculation that having more than one identity meant that you have less integrity, however he retracted this idea following a large outcry. For the everyday user of the Internet and social media, identity is a highly complex concept and one that requires constant maintenance. This constant maintenance is part of what being a human being is like on the Internet now, and Mark Zuckerburg is one of the people that has an invested interest in this idea.

Carrigon described that the Internet was once defined by anonymity, however we are moving towards a world where the right to be forgotten is something you have to demand in order to achieve it. The old concept of digital dualism; that the digital world is separate from the physical world is slowly disintegrating as digital devices are increasingly interwoven into everyday life. With the online world everywhere, the ability to go offline seems to be diminishing, with the individual constantly being switched on and connected. With an increasing engagement in the online world, concepts such as identity, community and integrity are being discussed more. However these discussions are being led by the heads of companies who stand to benefit from how these concepts are then shaped online. The main idea social media platforms are trying to establish is openness, there is an illusion that there is no place to hide in the world anymore. Whilst this may serve as a defence against hostile anonymous or pseudonym Internet users, the fact is that the heads of the companies who promote openness almost always have an option to hide whenever they want to. The idea of openness is being pushed onto users, along with the concept that only social media allows us to fulfil the desire to communicate and share.

The website  details that there are over three billion Internet users, so why are we all cooperating wilfully with this progressive change to openness? Social media offers the illusion of having complete control over identity and self presentation on the Internet, it satisfies our need to be hard. Otherwise how else would we have the opportunity to communicate our ideas to a potentially global audience? However with the opportunity, there is a fear that the Internet and technology will eventually replace us. Increasing occupational polarisation in the labour market demonstrates that there are diminishing numbers of middle tier jobs, perhaps because of the increase in automisation. With decreasing middle tier jobs, there is a struggle to seek high powered, high paid jobs to avoid being trapped in a low paid, insecure jobs; no one wants a zero hour contract. There has been a growth in technology resulting in the development of self driving cars and even the introduction of algorithmic journalism. There is also a push towards automation in higher education, creating video lectures instead of having the teacher present to deliver the content. There is a fear created that unless we commodify ourselves and engage with the process of self branding social media encourages, that we will get left jobless and forgotten.

Social media apparently gives users the power to create a career through this self branding process, there has been a recently massive growth in bloggers, vloggers and YouTubers rising to success and generating huge profits. These Internet celebrities are being talent spotted by companies who see an opportunity to get their products advertised to a global market. But with an increasing amount of people seeking this level of Internet fame, social media is likened to a digital X factor, with thousands of people jostling for fame and only a handful of people succeeding, because only a few people can actually be sustained by this career option. For those who seek fame through another option, there is always the concept of making your pet cat Internet famous, with owners making careers out of monetising their pets. The underlying formula for the success of social media, is attention, this is what keeps people coming back even if it is in a negative approach. Those people posting/blogging/tweeting/instagramming about Kim Kardashian’s latest nudes are satisfying social media’s need for attention to thrive. Identity therefore in social media and the Internet is a tricky concept to negotiate in relation to being authentic and demonstrating integrity. With more and more people shouting loudly and frequently in this growing process of self-branding, it becomes harder for individuals to stand out from the crowd. Self-branding on social media is not a new concept, but it has become ubiquitous to society, it’s become an everyday habit. Users are constantly engaging in a process of free work, in order to reap the valueless accomplishment of Internet recognition, with only very few actually receiving monetary  rewards.

In relation to the academic and social media, integrity and multiple identities is very complex. In higher education the academics have multiple audiences on social media including their students, other academics and their families. The academic would probably only want to present research material to other academics and the students, but they would want to share personal information with their family. However social media is contextless and what the individual shares on social media, is shared with all of their multiple audiences simultaneously. There is a constant conflict with what is appropriate online, should the academic self censor in the knowledge that not all content is appropriate for these multiple audiences? Or should there me a more developed understanding among the social media community that there are different versions of the self that we present in different spheres?

 

This talk turned out to be really quite useful, as I am looking at the concept of neoliberalism, authenticity and self branding in relation to celebrity practice on Instagram in my essay for the module Identity and Difference. Therefore I will definitely research Carrigan’s ideas in more depth and see the theories he considers in relation to these concepts. Neoliberalism and self branding is a concept that is very relevant for my dissertation as well, as the everyday individual is encouraged to engage with this process of self-branding in order to cultivate followers. The neoliberal idea of working and improving on the self is heavily encouraged on social media and I want to explore the influence of this concept in the images everyday Western users post on Instagram.

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