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The costs of self-presentation: dimensions of potential harm to content producers


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Historically, concerns about potential media-related harms and their mitigation in audience studies have focused almost exclusively on the need to protect audiences from harmful, misleading or offensive material. But as new digital technologies have democratised the process of public content creation, concerns have arisen about potential harms to producers that can arise, particularly when they deliberately or inadvertently reveal sensitive information about themselves. Qualitative research I have conducted into the personal webloggers (Brake 2009) and MySpace users (Brake 2008) provides empirical evidence of content producer practices and their consequences. This paper also draws on a review of the literature about risks of social network sites for young people (Livingstone and Brake in press) to summarise emerging approaches to mitigating harm to producers. I apply a predominantly symbolic interactionist theoretical framework - in particular drawing on the work of Goffman and Meyrowitz - to analyse and categorise the potential harms identified to producers of self-presentational content both on social network sites and elsewhere online. The resulting framework identifies several dimensions relevant to the assessment of risk and of harm arising from online practices. The combination of the new empirical evidence outlined above with the new analytical framework highlights areas of potential concern that appear to have been neglected by those seeking to mitigate harm and suggests avenues for future research.

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The costs of self-presentation: dimensions of potential harm to content producers

  1. 1. The costs of self-presentation: dimensions of potential harm to content producers By David Brake With the support of the Mediatized Stories Network 6 October 2009 David Brake
  2. 2. Outline of presentation <ul><li>Harm and the audience in a mass media context </li></ul><ul><li>New producers, new dangers </li></ul><ul><li>Agenda for media educators </li></ul>6 October 2009 David Brake
  3. 3. Traditional conceptions of media harm <ul><li>Risks of harm are a result of harmful or offensive mediated content consumption </li></ul><ul><li>Secondarily seen as a product of excessive media consumption itself </li></ul><ul><li>Only the audience side of the producer-audience relationship is normally considered </li></ul><ul><li>For an overview see: </li></ul><ul><li>A. M. Hargrave and S. Livingstone, (2007) Harm and offence in media content: updating the 2005 review </li></ul>6 October 2009 David Brake
  4. 4. New possibilities for production 06/10/09 David Brake
  5. 5. The massification of media production and distribution <ul><li>Producers of media content with potentially large circulation no longer a specialised, high status group but increasingly resemble the general public </li></ul><ul><li>Breakdown of regulations and conventions around suitable content </li></ul>6 October 2009 David Brake
  6. 6. New concerns from new media <ul><li>Some extensions of existing concerns </li></ul><ul><li>(too much screen time, exposure to porn) </li></ul><ul><li>Some new concerns </li></ul><ul><li>(sexting, online bullying, unwanted fame) </li></ul><ul><li>For a recent overview see: </li></ul><ul><li>Livingstone, S., & Brake, D. (2009). On the rapid rise of social networking sites: New findings and policy implications. Children and Society (early view) </li></ul><ul><li>doi:10.1111/j.1099-0860.2009.00243.x </li></ul>6 October 2009 David Brake
  7. 7. Under-examined dimensions of harm <ul><li>Differing understandings of audiences </li></ul><ul><li>Small-scale, interpersonal interactional risks </li></ul><ul><li>Exposure of others </li></ul><ul><li>Harms which emerge over time </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  8. 8. Differing understandings of audiences <ul><li>Self is presented to others but true nature of audience is often hidden </li></ul><ul><li>For those interviewed this doesn’t create anxiety or desire and doesn’t encourage desire to know more. </li></ul><ul><li>Audience is centrally imagined . </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  9. 9. <ul><li>Goffman: “ambiguities have to be resolved, lest the individual remain in doubt about the entire nature of the happenings around him” but in interviews: </li></ul><ul><li>Whether there’s 50 [readers] or 500 of them is neither here nor there for you? </li></ul><ul><li>No I’m pretty nonplussed. There could be 500 people reading for all I know but they don’t comment. Lurkers - that’s what we call them. </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  10. 10. Audience usually imagined as positive (even in mid-19 th C) <ul><li>When he casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author addresses, not the many who will fling aside his volume, or never take it up, but the few who will understand him, better than most of his schoolmates and life-mates. Some authors, indeed, do far more than this, and indulge themselves in such confidential depths of revelation as could fittingly be addressed, only and exclusively, to the one heart and mind of perfect sympathy; as if the printed book, thrown at large on the wide world, were certain to find out the divided segment of the writer’s own nature, and complete his circle of existence by bringing him into communion with it. </li></ul><ul><li>Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  11. 11. Audiences also assumed to share norms & cultural understandings <ul><li>“ One day I want to be a nurse and a part-time model for a magazine.” </li></ul><ul><li>(From research by Mark Evan Nelson presented at preconference) </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  12. 12. Interpersonal interactional risks <ul><li>Relationship harm (family, friends) </li></ul><ul><li>Career harm </li></ul><ul><li>Always possibly a problem with interactions but online texts are persistent, searchable, replicable and potentially distributed to unknown audiences (boyd) </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  13. 13. Exposure of others <ul><li>Professionals have training in libel, understand (even if they choose to ignore) consequences of mass exposure, are subject to regulation. </li></ul><ul><li>Social media users feel they have the right to say what they like about their lives but this includes others. </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  14. 14. In my feed because a friend ‘liked’ the picture 06/10/09 David Brake
  15. 15. Harms which may emerge over time <ul><li>We don’t know how messages will be read (and no availability of reactions ‘given off’) </li></ul><ul><li>Even more so we can’t fully know consequences of future readings of present messages. But focus of writers seems to be on present not future reading. </li></ul><ul><li>Views of self can change and societal norms change but online texts remain fixed (unless edited or deleted). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Howsoever the individual presents himself on any occasion before any audience, there will be other places, times and audiences when he quite properly conducts himself in a manner that would discredit this first performance were his other conduct to be vividly brought to light. – Goffman Frame Analysis </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Retrospective editing would seem to be a partial answer but there’s a commitment to ‘authenticity’ </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  16. 16. Recap <ul><li>Under-studied potential harms </li></ul><ul><li>Harms from small-scale circulation </li></ul><ul><li>Harms from unanticipated persistence through time </li></ul><ul><li>Harms from unanticipated reception by others </li></ul><ul><li>Harms from unanticipated peer depictions </li></ul><ul><li>Uncertainty about what the rules are and should be about production and reception. </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  17. 17. Some new issues to raise in media education <ul><li>Help understand privacy controls but also encourage understanding of need to use them </li></ul><ul><li>Encourage reflexive examination of norms around production and consumption, their consequences and how others’ norms might be different. </li></ul>06/10/09 David Brake
  18. 18. Further Questions? Comments? <ul><li>Contact details: </li></ul><ul><li>David Brake </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Thank you for your attention! </li></ul>6 October 2009 David Brake