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Understanding Disengagement from Social Media: A Research Agenda

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Digital disengagement presentation for the Alfred Deakin Institute International Conference, Recovery, reconfiguration, and repair
Mobilising the social sciences and humanities for a post-pandemic world
11–12 November 2021

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Understanding Disengagement from Social Media: A Research Agenda

  1. 1. Understanding Disengagement from Social Media: A Research Agenda Justine Humphry, Olga Boichak Jonathon Hutchinson, Mahli-Ann Butt Alfred Deakin Institute International Conference Recovery, reconfiguration, and repair Mobilising the social sciences and humanities for a post-pandemic world 11–12 November 2021
  2. 2. We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for Country.
  3. 3. The University of Sydney “We are all in this together”
  4. 4. Covid-19 and vulnerable/marginalised groups Disproportionately disadvantaged: o social isolated o older adults o penal system subjects o digitally disadvantaged students o gig workers o last-mile workers (Robinson et al., 2020) Unequal distribution of risks Missing: racialised attacks, online harassment
  5. 5. COVID-19 and Sinophobia • “Negative attitudes and prejudice toward Asian Americans” (Croucher et al., 2020) • Sinophobia as a cross-platform phenomenon with emerging forms of racialised practices (Tahmasbi et al., 2021) • STOP AAPI Hate campaign – over 1,700 reports of anti-Asian racism over a 6-months period • Social media: a tool for spreading hate and a means to fight racism
  6. 6. COVID-19 Racism Incident Report Survey ● Asian Australian Alliance & Per Capita think tank: 410 reports of COVID-19-related racism (2020) ● Pattern of racialised attacks against Asians and Asian Australians ● Facebook - a key source of reported incidents (43% out of all online cases (10%) ● antisemitism of Orthodox Jewish Community ● young Asian Australians ● Asian women who experience domestic violence Intersections with vulnerable and marginalized groups:
  7. 7. Digital disconnection emerging area of scholarship related to the Techlash and digital detox movement has a longer history ● media non-use/refusal ● digital divide ● digital non-use
  8. 8. Digital engagement, literacy, ability vs. platform architecture & regulatory frameworks; Not always a choice -> sometimes a privilege Heterogeneous effects on groups Impact of external events such as covid-19 Need for nuanced approaches
  9. 9. Need for nuanced approaches “Users practice disconnection at may nested levels of vernacular affordances” (Baym, Wagman & Persaud, 2020) Disconnective affordances of mobile messaging apps (Mannell, 2019) Journalists use a range of disconnective practices to prevent SM fatigue/burnout (Bossio & Holton, 2021) Ideologies that “rest on and reinforce self- optimisation, responsibilitsation, and commodification” (Syvertsen & Elin, 2020)
  10. 10. Disconnection experienced by groups differently <-> different responses to disconnection Little understanding of the effects of disconnection. What is the connection between digital disconnection and engagement/disengagement? How do particular events like covid-19 impact disconnection/disengagement practices and effects? Some limits and gaps in scholarship:
  11. 11. Digital disengagement as a continuum Social engagement ≠ digital engagement (and vice versa) Practices of digital disengagement are rarely total and unidirectional Digital disengagement occurs across time and space and is dynamic and situational Digital disengagement involves both human and non-human actors (Kuntsman & Miyake, 2019)
  12. 12. Our research: patterns dynamics consequences role of platform affordances, regulation and algorithms
  13. 13. ● The frequency of search for ‘Stop Asian Hate’ was at its highest point around March 2021 ● This could represent either those wanting to exit the conversation, or those in solidarity with the conversation ● The graph below if Facebook, but the pattern is exactly the same on Reddit and Instagram Social Media Conversations: #StopAsianHate
  14. 14. Social Media Conversations: #LockdownDelivery ● While disconnection may be a choice for some, it is a privilege for others ● There are also some similarities between #StopAsianHate and #LockdownDelivery in patterns of use during the pandemic ● The challenge is identifying when users disengage
  15. 15. Our approach Sampling research - for identifying case Analysis of social media with an aim to identify digital disengagement patterns and practices Stage the research - observational and quantitative followed by qualitative Multi-platform - focusing on Twitter and Facebook (though recognise other platforms relevant too for further research)
  16. 16. Sampling research
  17. 17. • We are looking for times when these once active groups suddenly stop communicating online • Not a complete disengagement, but rather a pivot to other areas (new groups/platforms/ etc.) • Strong connection with food: racial slurs, group activity • We have identified a sample of social media groups that we would like to engage with further... Sampling research
  18. 18. Going forward • Chapter in edited collection Opting Out of Pandemic Digitalities edited by Adi Kuntsman, Sam Martin and Esperanza Miyake • Article in the Journal of Communication Special Issue – Social Media: the good, the bad, the ugly • Emerging online safety issues: co-creating social media education with young people (eSafety Commissioner Online Safety Grants)
  19. 19. Connect with us Department of Media and Communications, University of Sydney Justine Humphry Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures justine.humphry@sydney.edu.au @justinehumphry Jonathon Hutchinson Senior Lecturer in Online Media jonathon.hutchinson@sydney.edu.au @dhutchman Olga Boichak Lecturer in Digital Cultures olga.boichak@sydney.edu.au @olgarithmic Mahli-Ann Butt PhD Candidate mahli-ann.butt@sydney.edu.au @MahliAnn

Editor's Notes

  • Robinson et al (2020) “New kinds of risk are emerging with the COVID-19 virus, and that these risks are unequally distributed”. These are the groups they identified as disproportionately disadvantaged:

    They equate these risks with exposure to the virus resulting from lack of control over physical and social interactional environments.
    Missing in this account is the impact of COVID-19 on groups targeted with racialised attacks and online harassment.
  • Sinophobia is a major feature of people’s reactions during COVID-19 with social media playing a key role as both a tool for hate and means to fight racism:
    Substantial evidence of increased prejudice and hate online and offline directed to particular groups e.g. study by Croucher, Nguyen & Rahmani (2020) found that “negative attitudes and prejudice toward Asian Americans” trended up with the increasing numbers of virus cases and deaths in the United States. They also found that social media has been used as tool for hate and as a means for Asian Americans to fight against prejudice.
    Tahmasbi et al. (2021) found that sinophobia has been driven by COVID-10 on social media and the Web and that it is a cross-platform phenomenon with particular kinds of racialised practices emerging e.g. blaming Chinese people for the virus and new kinds of sinophobic slurs.
    The STOP AAPI Hate campaign in the U.S. collected over 1700 reports of anti-asian racism over a 6 month period.
  • In Australia, The COVID-19 Racism Incident Report Survey delivered by Asian Australian Alliance in partnership with Per Capita Thinktank collected over 410 reports of COVID-19-related racism. They analysed 377 of these over two months (April and June in 2020). Of these, they found a clear pattern of racialised attacks against Asians and Asian Australians as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and that these were not isolated incidents.
    Facebook was found to be a key source of reported incidents.
    “Almost 10% of incidents occurred online, with 43% of these happening on Facebook”.
    Other groups also experienced heightened racism which manifested online e.g. anti-semitism of Orthodox Jewish Community and subgroups within groups e.g. young Asian Australians and Asian women who experience domestic violence (intersecting vulnerable & marginalised groups).
  • Early scholarship has led to more nuanced understandings of digital disconnection, recognising the tensions in its relationship to variations in digital engagement, literacy and ability, on the one hand, and the platform’s architecture and regulatory frameworks, on the other.
    Disconnection not always a choice: a choice for some but also a privilege for those who have other resources and ways to connect and communicate.
    Disconnection is an ideology that rests on self-optimisation and responsibilities of the individual user
    Platforms make a difference in terms of the specificity of architecture, regulation, cultures and algorithms
    Disconnection affects groups differently and there are different options for and responses to disconnection.
    Little understanding of the effects of disconnection.
    Impact of events like COVID-19 on disconnection practices and effects.
  • Baym, Wagman & Persuad (2020) found that “users practice disconnection at many nested levels of vernacular affordances”.
    These practices (one they call ‘mindfully scrolling’) are helpful for avoiding harmful or overused elements of Facebook but these are not transformative of the platform (avoid rather than change).
    Mannell (2019) found that young people use mobile messaging apps to limit connections with friends and family and that mobile messages have specific disconnective affordances: “the opportunities for disconnection facilitated by the material properties of messaging platforms and mobile devices”.
    Bossio & Holton (2021) found that journalists experience social media fatigue as a result of burn out and anxiety about harmful effects of social media and respond with a range of disconnective practices.
    Syvertsen & Elin (2020) argued that digital disconnection discourses are part of ideologies that “rest on and reinforce self-optimization, responsibiization and commodification”.
    Kaun (2021) sees digital disconnection as a condition of hyperconnectivity through the lens of ‘a negative sociology’ as: “a way to reproduce and sustain the social order that is increasingly built on digital technology.”
  • Kuntsman & Miyake (2019) propose that the term ‘digital disengagement’ should be thought of as a continuum and that:
    Social engagement does not always mean digital engagement (and vice versa)
    Practices of digital disengagement are rarely total and unidirectional
    Digital disengagement occurs across time and space and is dynamic and situational
    Digital disengagement involves both human and non-human actors.
    Digital engagement/disengagement has a relationship to measures of engagement/disengagement e.g. civic engagement indexes but is not well articulated.
    Similarly, digital engagement/disengagement has a relationship to digital inclusion/exclusion e.g. ADII is an index of inclusion along lines of access, affordability and ability, but is also not well understood. Where does engagement fit in?
  • What are the patterns of digital disengagement linked to increased online racialised harassment and hate of Asian Australians during COVID-19?
    What are the changes in user (dis)engagement resulting from online harassment and hate speech during COVID-19? How do groups respond to digital disengagement?
    What are the consequences of digital disengagement for Asian Australians and other groups who are particularly exposed to racism and harassment during COVID-19?
    What is the role of platform affordances, regulation and algorithms in the dynamics of digital (dis)engagement?
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