Social Media: Making Sense of Signals

Bonnie Stewart
Bonnie StewartAssistant Professor of Online Pedagogy & Workplace Learning at University of Windsor
Social Media:
Making Sense of Signals
Bonnie Stewart
University of Prince Edward Island
June 2014
Overwhelmed by Networks
Oversimplified Cultural Messages
…create black & white positions
“The truth about stories is
that’s all we are.”
Overwhelmed by Stories
Saturated with Signals
How do we make sense of this,
3 Stories
•  Technologies as culture
•  Social media signals
•  Making a difference
Stories of Culture
The dark side
of social media
Many of the stories were from 20+
years ago.
The Breakfast Club, 1985
Revenge of the Nerds, 1984
“Y” is for your sister
So. We have a problem.
But when we stick that problem in
a box called ‘cyberbullying,’ we
limit our capacity to understand
how deep and broad it is.
What we do with our technologies is a
symptom of culture
…at the same time it shapes culture
Social media, as a technology, enables
cyberbullying and MRA forums.
It also enables #yesallwomen, and other
forms of sharing and speaking back.
Stories of Signals
Social Media Broadcast Media
Social networks are not just for
consuming, but connecting.
…with the whole room.
And beyond.
To understand stories of social
media, we need to understand
Social networks are made
of people
Networks are not about
Social media signals are relational,
like oral culture,
but leave permanent traces,
like print culture
4 qualities of social media signals
• Persistence: online signals are automatically
recorded & archived.
• Replicability: signals made out of bits can be duplicated.
• Scalability: there is potential for massive visibility.
• Searchability: signals can be accessed through search.
- danah boyd, 2010
Digital Footprint
Built and sustained over time	
Good Lord. I think I’ll just opt out.
Don’t count on it.
Others can contribute to your footprint,
Small private signals can travel to
audiences never imagined
But the effects that damage
They are social. They are cultural.
They reflect the values *we* side
with, as a culture.
Going home to cry now.
How can we make a difference?
Stop pretending our problems are new
Learn to talk about privilege &
power relations
Talk. Signal. Model.
…if you decide to go online,
three things:
1. Your online signals need an identity
let’s be clear:
colleges & universities do NOT
need 23 separate
Twitter & Facebook accounts for
every single department on
but they totally need 23 – or 53 –
or 503 – caring people who want to
connect and contribute to a
changing campus culture by
engaging with students
online and off.
2. Your online signals need to be visible
Amplifying your intended audience
is a GREAT way to become more
visible to them
(saving others’ signals about you =
good too)
(warning: strong language incoming)
3. Your online signals need to be
signals you (and your institution)
can live with
It’s public. It’s people.
Always take the high road.
Social Media: Making Sense of Signals
Success = lather, rinse, repeat
Social media = part of the problem.
It can also be part of making it better.
What signals will you send?
Thank you.
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Social Media: Making Sense of Signals