Social media to the rescue: YouTube project to help bullied gay teenagers

An Indiana teenage boy committed suicide earlier this month, after being bullied in school for being gay. Sad, sad, sad, sad.

I will refrain from comments, opinions, and things I think we should do. I’m writing this post to draw attention to this YouTube project – an effort to reach out to kids in rural parts of the country who may not have access to in-person support: the It Gets Better Project. Gay adults can post videos telling teenagers that… it gets better.

Although I can’t claim to be able to relate to the experience (I grew up in Romania, where bullying wasn’t the norm, as far as I know; I’m not gay) – if I can help, let me know. I live in Indiana – if you’re a teenager happening upon this post, and if you need help or just companionship – send me an email. I’d feel privileged to be your friend.

And for those who are wondering about the relevance of this post to the mission of the blog (well, you know what, it’s my blog, I can post whatever I want) – this is an interesting case study about social media being used to help people.

Note: Don’t even bother to post homophobic comments, I’m telling you upfront that I won’t publish them.

Please tell me this isn’t true

Please tell me this isn’t true…

Northwestern University (very, very good and well-respected university in the U.S.) teaches the first course on viral videos. OK, I get it. Viral videos are an important phenomenon in today’s media landscape & contemporary culture, and they should be studied. This is wonderful news.

Except that, according to a Northwestern press release, they teach astroturfing as a technique to help a video become viral.

Please tell me this isn’t true!

Please?

No, really, I can’t imagine ANY university teaching students to lie and use unethical tactics.

Please tell me they teach ABOUT astroturfing, but do not recommend it as a promotional tactic. Somebody, please, tell me this isn’t true…

Learning happens

I’ve been trying to practice more mindfulness lately and one of the things I’ve noticed as a result is how often informal learning happens. It made me think that we should create more opportunities for that – after all, isn’t a teacher one who creates opportunities for learning?

A few examples:

  • At an informal PRSSA get-together, we were sitting around a table munching on chips & salsa, and students were exchanging interview experiences. People would tell stories, share advice and resources. It hit how much the students were learning about job interviewing during that relaxed, informal conversation.
  • ***
  • When I was a graduate student at Purdue and had first started teaching, other grad. students and I would often get together and “bitch” about students and teaching. I’m now realizing that those bitching sessions were actually learning sessions – we learned a lot from each other about classroom management, assignments, and new exercises to use in our classes.
  • ***
  • I was sitting in my office with a couple of students earlier today talking about a report they have to write about Career Launch Day. One of the students interrupted me to ask “Where did you learn this? How do you know so much?” Compliment aside, I realize her question marked an instance of learning. She was learning something new during our informal conversation.

My previous employer, the University of Dayton, had launched this program to encourage informal interaction between faculty and students. For example, I could host a book club at my house, and the university would pay for pizza. I left UD before I got a chance to take advantage of that program, but I now understand they were on to something: Creating opportunities for informal learning.

The Clemson culture is more formal than UD, where it was usual for faculty to go out to lunch with undergraduate students – so, other than PRSSA meetings, I don’t see many opportunities for informal learning here.

How can educators create more opportunities for informal learning? Or should we? Will students count it as “real” learning? Will administrators?

Even outside academia, I hope we’ll take that second to acknowledge and appreciate when learning happens – many times not at formal lectures and conferences, but on the beach or over a beer…

Do you have any informal learning stories? Care to share?

The economy of attention

The phrase that keeps coming to mind as I make sense of the way U.S. society is going is the economy of attention.

These are times of information overload, cacophony of voices, pluralism, multitasking, fragmentation, community, and isolation -to name a few.

It has become an established fact in social psychology that people need attention. Children need attention to develop into healthy, balanced adults.

Everything and everybody is fighting for your attention: your children, your pets, your friends, your twitter friends, mass-media, individual-media, TV, employees.

People and pets will do strange things to get attention: Start a fight, act up.

I’ve been working long hours lately so my cat Pooky gets quite possessive when I come back home. I can’t have a phone conversation without him acting up – the other day, running across the dining table as I was eating and talking on the phone, just to make a point, I’m sure!

So, to quote an Indian English phrase, What to do?!

If you’re in an attention-giving role: Give it. Make smart decisions about who and what needs your attention most. In the long run, in the big picture, is it your Blackberry or your kid?

If you’re in an attention-needing role: Ask for it. It’s OK, you don’t need to fight, act up, attack people just so they will notice you. There are plenty of kind people out there who will sit down to have a loving, heart-to-heart conversation with you. You don’t even have to pay them. You just need to get over your ego and open your heart enough so you can find them.

If you’re in the communication professions (PR, marketing, advertising): Be responsible. Don’t do society a disservice by adding to the cacophony unnecessarily. That’s not going to get you attention. Be smart, be judicious, imagine you have a limited “communication & messaging” account and use it wisely to communicate important, valuable, useful information. Sometimes being quiet will get you attention.

As a college student in Romania, once a year, I’d attend the International Advertising Festival. I’d pay half my monthly income on a ticket to sit and watch back-to-back commercials all night long (9 pm – 5 am). I’ve done this 2-3 years in a row, and guess what commercial got my attention and stayed with me to this day, more than 10 years later? This one stood out among the cacophony of voices, among the visual and auditory assault on the senses:

  • Blank white screen.
  • Line-drawn piglet shuffles on screeen.
  • Stops in the center, stares at you, blinks.
  • Oinks.
  • Text bubble: Why are you staring at me? Go to a museum.

I believe it was an ad paid for by the Serbian Art Federation.

Ghost writing

Ghost writing is, unfortunately a common practice in PR. It goes against the ethos of social media, and I personally believe it to be unethical, but unfortunately, it still happens a lot. PR people write blog posts, news articles and who knows what else on behalf of clients. But research articles????!!! Published in medical journals???!!!

Check out this story on my husband’s blog.

What do you think about ghost writing? Is it ethical? Acceptable? It depends? On what? What should I teach my students about it?

The Golden Wall

I’m reading The Discovery of Heaven, a novel of ideas by Dutch author Harry Mulisch. One of the main characters, Onno, after a stint in politics, meditates on the nature of power.

He claims that power exists because of the Golden Wall that separates the masses (the public) from decision makers. Government, in his example, is a mystery hidden behind this Golden Wall, regarded by the masses (the subject of power) in awe.

Once the Golden Wall falls (or becomes transparent), people see that behind it lies the same mess as outside it. There are people in there, too. Messy people, engaged in messy, imperfect decision making processes. The awe disappears. With it, the power.

What happens actually, with the fall of the Golden Wall, is higher accountability and a more equitable distribution of power. Oh, and the risk of anarchy.

But the Golden Wall must fall.

In the communication professions, social media is tearing huge holes in the Golden Wall. Just like in 1989 Europe, some are celebrating, others are paralyzed with fear.

In education, the Golden Wall stands. Secret meetings behind closed-door decide the curriculum, the professors’ yearly evaluations, tenure, lives, my life.

I talk to my students about squabbles in faculty meetings that result in curriculum changes. I want them to see behind the Golden Wall. To understand how decisions about their education are made. That we’re human, imperfect, and hopefully, possibly, subject to change. I haven’t seen undergraduate students involved in changing the curriculum. Nobody asks them. They don’t push. At Purdue, the Graduate Student Association had a representative sit in on faculty meetings. We did impact the curriculum. We were in, behind the Golden Wall.

In U.S. government, C-SPAN gets us glimpses behind the Golden Wall. But we don’t watch. We’re too busy. It’s too boring. (OK, there are exceptions.)

Look around you. Do you see Golden Walls? Tear them down.

Then come back here and tell the story in the comments section.

Advanced blogger relations lesson from Geoff Livingston

Loved this post by Geoff Livingston on unorthodox ways to woo bloggers – so I thought I’d pass it on. Not sure the ways are so unorthodox, because ultimately all the strategies translate into engagement. I guess what makes the approach unorthodox is that you engage with a blogger only because you’re representing a client, not because you are personally interested in the topic.

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