Why Twitter could be the worst kind of public sphere

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

There have been many positive predictions regarding the social media microblogging tool Twitter. Clay Shirky has long been an exponent of the idea that such social forms of communication will reinvigorate public debate, expanding participation in an informed and influential public sphere. Similarly, Robert Cox argues such tools allow marginalized voices and perspectives to have a public outlet.

Yet a darker side to Twitter is emerging that suggests that use of the tool can be both ill-informed, with no intention of stimulating debate and in some high profile cases for deeply disturbing forms of discourse.

While some used Twitter hashtags around the party conferences to make political comments on the promises made by the respective party leaders, reading through the #labconf feed during Ed Miliband’s speech, many seemed to be only interested in contributing the line ‘Shut up beaker’.

A comment which likened Miliband to a character from the Muppets and which targeted his own Twitter account to make it visible not only to other Twitter users but the Miliband as well. Similarly one poster repeatedly directed the message ‘F*** Off Cheesehead’ at David Cameron during his conference speech. While the politicians may well shrug this off, and the tweets themselves represent little more than some online form of graffiti, it does counter more positive predictions about the platform’s use.

More concerning is that a number of Twitter users, most notably Peter Nunn, jailed this week for 18 weeks, think it is appropriate to go one step worse than calling political leaders cheeseheads or beaker, but threatening them with rape. For no greater crime than running a campaign to have Jane Austen on the back of a UK bank note, MP Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez were subjected to some of the most vile threats imaginable. The BBC refused to quote them so Criado-Perez published them on her blog instead.

Criado-Perez levels criticism at Twitter, arguing the tool is optimized for trolling. But is it practical for Twitter to self-censor? The sheer number of tweets per minute means that any form of censorship would have to be automatic. So how does a computer differentiate between the threat of rape and, a comment on rape, or revelations about rape in conflicts? Sadly it probably couldn’t. If a dictionary were to be created of words that need to be assessed independently prior to posting, there would no longer be any immediacy.

Perhaps then the only solution for Twitter is to ensure all users are identifiable, and so liable to prosecution, rather than using anonymous names and single usage email addresses when setting up their account.

There remains a punitive alternative. Tough sentences for anyone found guilty of threatening behavior, so treating this form of abuse in the same way as face-to-face threats. But perhaps also there is an educational alternative.

What makes an otherwise respectable father like Peter Nunn feel it is appropriate to threaten to rape MPs if they disagree? What makes anyone feel they can say things on social media they would be too afraid or embarrassed to say face-to-face. Perhaps there needs to be a final button asking, ‘Are you sure you want to say this publicly?’. Or perhaps more needs to be done to show how this sort of behavior is equivalent to offline behaviour. Posting on Twitter is not the same shouting at a television and drunk tweets are not only read by fellow drunks in the same way as a comment in the pub or bar might be. What seems to be required is self-awareness when using these tools in order for them to have any chance of meeting their potential in society.

While there are still those who would use Twitter without thought for themselves or others, there seems to be far weightier arguments for ignoring Twitter and the like. Perhaps avoiding them is the solution and treating it as the sort of pub you just never want to go into, the one where you are never sure if you will come out unscathed and with your sanity intact.

Students: New social media policy announcement

social-mediaStudents: A social media guidance document has been created to encourage and promote responsible use of social media at Bournemouth University.

This document is designed to support, protect and encourage your use of social media. All students should familiarise themselves with the document, which can be found on the Student Portal under the Conduct and Welfare tab of the Rules and Regulations page.

If you have any questions about social media procedures at Bournemouth University, please refer to your Programme Administrator in the first instance.

Beyond the crisis of political engagement

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

There is a crisis of political engagement. Academics, journalists, political NGOs, even now celebrities tell us there is: with Russell Brand being given a stage to call for abstentionism from the democratic process to highlight the disconnections between government and the governed. The features of the crisis are low trust in politicians, parties and the governments they form; low levels of feeling informed; lower still levels of feeling connected to ‘politics’; and consequent low levels of interest and participation. These are not new, perhaps not wholly unhealthy, and also not particularly surprising.

To start on a positive note, we should not desire blind trust in politicians. Scepticism is healthy, even a degree of cynicism is healthy, blindly following and supporting politicians is dangerous. We also need a critical media, which can breed scepticism and cynicism by questioning the motives of politicians. The problem in many modern, post-industrial democracies is that the balance has tipped to almost complete mistrust, only around 20% of the EU population have any trust in politicians: to represent them, to act of the good of the nation, to follow ethical codes of behaviour. The question is why?

Politicians exist in the eye of a perfect storm. The media express few partisan affiliations and are readier to expose scandal than a positive story. The voters no longer hold strong affiliations to parties; hence they are no longer part of a local conversation with other members. Hence exposure to politics is mediated for the vast majority, who also rely on television news which few watch habitually and sporadic reading of newspapers. So of course there is low information and it is the scandals, the big news items, Plebgate, Expenses, to which most will get the most exposure.

But this is not the full explanation. Politicians now exist largely within what many describe as a bubble, Westminster for example. They largely moved away from community politics, offering sporadic surgeries only, public meetings are now undertaken via television which focus on the minority of top party leaders. Local politics is included by public service broadcasters, but is not the staple diet of many household’s Sunday viewing. The divorce of the representative and the community has been gradual, pushed by party centralisation, the erosion of local activists, clubs, the practice of parachuting in candidates, the pressures of Westminster duties etc.

Some politicians have, however, built new connections. Many politicians (MPs and MEPs) have begun to colonise Facebook and Twitter. Some hold online surgeries. Some request video footage from smartphones to highlight issues. Some seek the views of their constituents. Some inform about their activities at Westminster and locally. Some seek help with local campaigns. The best, and this is an unashamedly normative statement, do all of those.

What is the impact? Party politics, or at least perceptions of leaders, dominate voter choices. But, even when the tide turns towards one party, research shows a local MP can earn 5-12% of the vote based on their service. They can also enhance the image of their party, earn trust, earn interest, and mobilise citizens who feel disenfranchised. And they themselves feed off their constituents, the more they do the more constituents connect with them and so the more they connect with the community they represent.

The crisis of engagement is often seen to begin and end with voting. It is a crisis when the majority do not vote, and a protest against the system to abstain. But largely all this leads to is further disenfranchisement: why would any organisation seeking votes need the thoughts of those who do not participate.

We need a more interactive politics. Where demands of citizens are heard, where representatives interact with a broad swathe of citizens and where there is greater citizen input into and understanding of political processes. Disengagement results from feelings of personal irrelevance, disconnection, insecurity and uncertainty. Politicians need to reduce these feelings and make politics relevant, connected to communities so reducing insecurity in society and uncertainty over political processes and their outcomes. But citizens need to also push for a more active representative, withdrawing is not the answer.


Dr Lilleker has conducted research into a number of aspects of engagement and disengagement, in particular around the communication and campaigning activities of parties and candidates in the UK. The impacts of political communication is a key interest, and he has explored this using theories of psychology in his latest work Political Communication and Cognition (Palgrave, 2014). 

Blue mind charts our link with water, but what about Twitter streams and net surfing?

By Sue Thomas, Visiting Fellow, The Media School

Riding the digital wave.

“Water makes you happier, more connected and better at what you do,” says Wallace J Nichols, a marine biologist and wild water advocate based at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. On 11-12 June 2014 he is sharing this philosophy with a small invited audience at the 4th Blue Mind Summit, held this year at the wild coastal location of Bedruthan Steps in Cornwall.

Green is the colour usually associated with environmental well-being. Trees, parks, and verdant landscapes of all kinds, are advocated by urban planners seeking to improve public health. But, until recently, less attention has been paid to “blue” areas such as beaches, lakes, rivers and the ocean. But study of the impact of blue space on human health and well-being is growing, and it lies behind Nichols’ BLUEMIND research project. The concept of Blue Mind, Nichols says, is about the “human-ocean connection”, an emotional bond whose roots may in the future be charted by neuroscientists.

Researchers of all hues are interested in blue.
Wjklos, CC BY

This kind of research is attracting marine biologists, conservationists, artists, urban planners – indeed, anyone interested in the relationship between humanity and our watery planet. One of the UK research groups hosting the Cornwall event, the interdisciplinary Blue Gym project at the University of Exeter Medical School, has been investigating the psychological and physical health benefits of exposure to natural water environments. They have found, for example, that the stress levels of people living in coastal communities may be lower than normal simply because they spend more of their leisure time near, or even in, the sea.

Some have looked for physical explanations, for example there has been research into the role and abundance of negative ions – atoms with more than the usual number of electrons – in increasing serotonin levels and improving mood where air and water collide. But not all of us live near water, so how can we get a similar fix?

Although the real experience can never be matched, you might at least have access to some of the benefits of being near water by simply looking at it on your computer, tablet or phone. This impact of digital nature is something I’ve been exploring.

In his new book, Nichols also explains the benefits of simply looking at images of seas, lakes and rivers. For example, he describes an experiment at Plymouth University in 2010 where 40 adults were asked to rate pictures of different natural and urban environments. The researchers found that any picture containing water triggered higher ratings for positive mood, preference and perceived restorativeness, than those images with no water, no matter whether they were shown in a natural landscape or an urban setting. Other experiments have supported these findings.

Dude, it’s a metaphor.
Duncan Rawlinson, CC BY-NC

There seems little doubt that connotations of water, whether visual, aural or even text-based, can make us feel better. The relationship between computers and the blue mind first appeared in 1992 when net pioneer Jean Armour Polly was commissioned to write an article introducing the internet to her fellow librarians. The net was then already more than 20 years old, but few people had heard of it and she was unsure how to describe her online experiences. “I needed something that would evoke a sense of randomness, chaos, and even danger. I wanted something fishy, net-like, nautical,” she wrote later.

As Polly cast around for the right metaphor, her eye fell on the mousepad beneath her hand. Designed by Steve Cisler at the Apple Library User’s Group in Cupertino, California, it featured a picture of a surfer. For Polly, a land-locked librarian in Syracuse, New York, with no connections to surf culture and not even a keen swimmer, it made perfect sense. “Eureka”, she said, “I had my metaphor.”

The resulting article, “Surfing the Internet”, marked the first published use of the term and appeared in the Wilson Library Bulletin in June 1992.

There has since been competition for who really did say it first, including from Mark McCahill, an American programmer, who also apparently used the phrase that very same year, and from Tom Mandel, a San Franciscan futurist and a surfer himself.

Landlocked but still surfing.
Jared, CC BY

No matter who started it, the notion of surfing the internet has been picked up worldwide by people who have never mounted a board, perhaps never even seen a beach, yet their imaginations are fired by the idea of carefree riding in a sea of information.

It is not the only example of watery metaphor to be found in cyberspace. We swim in our Twitter streams, dive into torrent files, float on data clouds. Waterfalls, babbling brooks, and the ubiquitous ocean views can be found on many desktops and home screens. Try, for example, installing Beach Live Wallpaper on your mobile. “This wallpaper brings the sunny beach to you,” says the blurb. “The waves in summer time break on the shore right on your phone.” And relax. You have brought the blue mind into your digital life.

The Conversation

Sue Thomas does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Charities unite for Social Media strategy workshops

A project to help charities create a social media strategy has started at Bournemouth University.

BU’s Creative Enterprise Bureau (CEB) worked in collaboration with BU students, local charities and local digital agency Adido to combine skills and knowledge of social media.

The project started with a workshop delivered by social media experts to introduce the idea of having a social media strategy and the benefits of social media, as well as sharing some social media best practice.

A number of the students will then work with the charities as mentors to provide feedback and guidance on their social media strategy and content plans. Representatives from Adido and BU will also continue to be involved with the charities as they progress their social media content plans.

Dr Ana Adi, a lecturer in marketing and corporate communication at Bournemouth University, led on the project and said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase what we teach as a group as well as for the students to find an immediate avenue to implement what they have learned as part of our courses. The collaboration with the local agency brings us industry recognition for what we do as well.”

Charities involved in the project include Dorset Mind, Bournemouth Gateway Club, Dorset Blind Association, Diverse Abilities Plus, Dorset Mental Health Forum, and Streetwise & Safewise.

Dr Ana Adi discusses 10 years of Facebook on BBC Radio Solent

Dr Ana Adi, Lecturer in Corporate Marketing Communications at BU, was interviewed on BBC Radio Solent’s Drivetime programme on the 10th anniversary of Facebook.

Ana, who specialises in digital and social media, spoke to presenter Steve Harris about how the social networking site has influenced our lives, and what might happen to it in the future.

“Whether they’ll be around in the form that we know, ten years from now with the rapid change of the internet, that’s very tough to answer,” she said.

The site currently has over 1 billion users of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities, and when asked by Steve if the site could be all things to all people, Ana said: “If we look at the numbers last year, Facebook’s popularity with a younger demographic has been decreasing, it’s only this year that they somehow seem to have got back on trend with the youth.

“There are a lot of issues there – of course, Facebook is trying in this attempt to be popular for a lot of people, and at the same time trying to make money out of the business model.

“They are trying to be many things for many people and that’s very challenging.”

She added that she believed young people would, however, continue to sign up to the site – often because they have no choice in the matter.

“Most young people, very young people actually, have a Facebook account because their parents create one for them,” said Ana.

Listen to the BBC Radio Solent interview (55 minutes into the programme)

Professor Dimitrios Buhalis on Spain’s rising tourism levels

Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, Director of the E-Tourism lab at Bournemouth University, has commented on Spain’s record year for tourism.

His views went on to feature in 13 media outlets including Reuters, Yahoo News and CNBC Online.

Sunseekers avoiding the unrest in Egypt and Turkey flocked to Spain in record numbers last month, setting the country up for its best-ever year for visitors and giving a boost to its ailing economy.

Professor Buhalis put the rise of private rentals in Spain down to the economic crisis. He says that because people have less money they are choosing smaller accommodation and less established airlines for their holidays.

“What’s happening … because of the economic crisis is that people are preferring smaller airlines, smaller hotels and they are paying less,” he said.

Professor Buhalis’ work was also featured in the Business section of the Bournemouth Echo, with a feature on a social media seminar he will run in November.

The seminar will look at how social media is increasingly influencing consumer behaviour, with travellers relying on the guidance of others.

Professor Buhalis said: “Travellers will, more and more, rely on the advice of other travellers as against advertising, guidebooks and printed material” and suggests “marketers should use social media to try to stimulate conversation and encourage interaction”

Liisa Rohumaa shares her fears for the Royal baby’s privacy on BBC Radio Solent

By Dean Eastmond

Bournemouth University’s Liisa Rohumaa, a Lecturer in Online Journalism, featured on BBC Radio Solent talking about the arrival of the Royal baby.

Liisa explained how the newly born Royal baby will not have the same privileges with privacy that his father once did.

“If you think of the two big scandalous royal stories of recent years involving Harry and Katherine, one in Las Vegas and the other one showing pictures of Katherine semi-nude.”, she added. “Both of those stories didn’t actually emerge from mainstream media; one was a foreign press agency via a magazine and the other was social media.”

Liisa explained that the lack of privacy the royal family may get will most likely be down to factors such as social media instead of the traditional, almost archaic ways with mainstream print media.

Amateur photography taken on phones and then uploaded onto social media websites (such as Twitter or Facebook) will be the main privacy issues with the family.

Liisa explains that the royal media managers will have “a really tricky situation”.

“The first few weeks will be at the Middletons’ in their house. William and Katherine are keen to have some family time together and that will be the very first test of the embargo on pictures or information coming out or photographers hiding in bushes and all of those sorts of horrible things that people think about when they think about paparazzi.”

Dean is a student at Budmouth College in Weymouth, who is working at Bournemouth University in the Press and PR Department. He joined BU on a Sir Samuel Mico Scholarship, which provides 10 students from his college with essential work experience for four weeks over the summer.

BU Professor chairs international conference into technology and tourism


Technology and social media are becoming critically important tools for successful international tourism.

This has been recognised by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the Minister of Tourism in Costa Rica, who organised a Technical Seminar on Tourism and New Technologies.

Delegates came from 22 countries – including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the Bahamas – and the conference discussed how tourism has been influenced by the latest technological breakthroughs, as well as the opportunities that lie ahead.

Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, Director of the e-Tourism Lab at Bournemouth University (BU), chaired the seminar, which took place in Costa Rica.

A tourism marketing expert who specialises in e-tourism and technology, he chaired panels looking at the internet, social media and mobile marketing in relation to tourism.

He also trained delegates – who included 12 tourism ministers – on how to use technology and social media to increase the competitiveness of their tourism industry.

Professor Buhalis said: “It is gratifying that increasingly the international tourism industry and governments from around the world, as well as the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, recognise how technology can support the competitiveness of the tourism destinations and organisations.

“Cutting edge research and solutions we develop at Bournemouth University provide technological tools such as social media, augmented reality and gaming to enable organisations to dynamically engage with consumers and facilitate co-creation of products and value in the marketplace.”

Professor Buhalis added that social media is reversing tourism marketing strategies, with consumers becoming advocates and ambassadors for products around the world.

He believes that mobile technologies can make interaction between organisations and consumers dynamic and agile – revolutionising engagement and economic benefits.

“Only those organisations that are able and willing to use these tools in an agile way will be able to develop their competitiveness in the future and generate prosperity for their stakeholders,” he said.

“I am glad that Latin American countries are committed to develop their knowledge through our expertise, and innovate in order to maximise their benefits.”

Other speakers at the seminar included executives from Google, Trip Advisor and Expedia Latin America.

The seminar took place in San Jose, Costa Rica on May 14 and 15.