The People versus The Institution – who wins?

The People versus The Institution – who wins?

What is the relationship between day-to-day practices by ordinary people in social media spaces and institutions? By institutions I mean structures of social order governing behaviours of sets of individuals in a community – in this instance, an NHS Trust or a professional body in healthcare. I’ve been mulling this over for some time… Remember when it was like the wild-west? When I first started my PhD research, a little under three years ago, I had become intrigued by everyday conversations in the blogosphere and on Twitter, which were either implicitly or explicitly contesting the dominant narratives of institutions.  There seemed to me to be a heady mix of people accessing mental health services and working in them (usually but not always anonymous) having conversations with a very different quality than those I was used to experiencing within the parameters of professional or institutional discourses. These seemed to me to be often bold, public conversations that challenged the status quo and at times felt wild and risky and exhilarating. The institution re-asserts itself During those three years I’ve noticed professional practices tiptoeing quietly but assuredly from the boardroom and the ward into social media spaces. This is exemplified by the plethora of guidance on use of social media for pretty much any professional group in the health sector. They are often defensively focused with a tendency to emphasise professionalism and boundaries over the affordances of public conversation to positively disrupt received relationships and effect change. I recall when I set up my blog in 2012 a colleague asked me how on earth I’d managed to get approval from my...
When is a troll not a troll and who decides?

When is a troll not a troll and who decides?

A few things have caught my attention in recent weeks about the labelling of unwanted behaviours on Twitter as trolling by people who don’t like those behaviours. But when does challenge or disagreement become trolling? and who decides? So first of all let’s define the verb to troll which is described in the Urban Dictionary as: The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue. Trolling does not mean just making rude remarks: shouting swear words at someone doesn’t count as trolling; it’s just flaming, and isn’t funny. Spam isn’t trolling either; it pisses people off, but it’s lame.  The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that either a) truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous, or b) give your victim malicious instructions, under the guise of help.Trolling requires deceiving; any trolling that doesn’t involve deceiving someone isn’t trolling at all; it’s just stupid. As such, your victim must not know that you are trolling; if he does, you are an unsuccessful troll. The online Cambridge Dictionary has a somewhat more measured definition: ‘to leave an insulting message on the internet in order to annoy someone’ and the online Oxford Dictionary definition is not dissimilar: ‘make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them’. So now we get in to trickiness – my tweet that I believe to be fair and justified might be perceived to be antagonistic and offensive by the recipient. The definitions above suggest that intent to annoy is what characterises trolling behaviour,...
From #FrankBruno to #FindMike – what makes a hashtag work?

From #FrankBruno to #FindMike – what makes a hashtag work?

Social media platforms create spaces for a bewildering array of conversations to take place on any manner of topics. And we each make sense of the social media spaces we occupy by creating an ecosystem that relates to our particular interests. Hashtags make it easy to search for or curate a particular topic and we use them to create some order or boundaries to what is possible to find. Twitter chats are another way in which we attempt to boundary the conversation – agreeing a set time to come together using a common hashtag to have a conversation on a particular theme. I’ve been wondering what the different qualities might be to hashtags which emerge unexpectedly and those which are pre-planned and used by organisations or campaigns to start a conversation. I’ve previously blogged about #mentalpatient – my favourite ever hashtag – emerging spontaneously as it did in protest at the now notorious offending Asda Halloween costume. But is that virality possible to replicate given that #mentalpatient was created by ordinary people in a particular moment rather than an orchestrated organisational campaign? #FrankBruno This week there are two particular hashtags in the mental health sphere that I stumbled upon in my timeline and which caught my attention. The first was a Twitter Chat with Frank Bruno @frankbrunoboxer which went on for a marathon two hours. I briefly jumped in and was rewarded with a nice tweet from the man himself. However, there was no consistent hashtag for the chat, which meant it was almost impossible to follow or curate either during or after the event. Whilst @TimeToChange promoted the...
#DearMentalHealthProfessionals – Twitter as a learning resource

#DearMentalHealthProfessionals – Twitter as a learning resource

There are all sorts of compelling reasons for health and social care practitioners to use social media, both as part of their professional development and in their day-to-day practice. But yesterday a Twitter conversation around the hashtag #DearMentalHealthProfessionals gave a visceral and powerful sense of the potential afforded by Twitter to be an invaluable learning tool for every mental health practitioner. You can find a storify of the tweets (so far) here. Amanda O’Connell set up the hashtag in the morning and started tweeting messages, from her own experience, to mental health professionals. The conversation grew and spread throughout the day with all sorts of different perspectives – from negative experiences through to appreciation and many in-between. In the NHS we spend a lot of time and effort organising events and groups and activities to ask people for their feedback and help improve services.  And it is important that we do so. But there is something about the spontaneity, the starting point and the ownership of this conversation which provides a most compelling argument for any mental health practitioner to engage with Twitter as a platform to learn, share and contribute. A big thank you and congratulations to Amanda, both for setting up the hashtag and for her encouragement when I asked if I could write a quick blog post about it 🙂...
Is the conference dead as a Dodo in the digital age?

Is the conference dead as a Dodo in the digital age?

This week I went to two conferences – the first one as an attendee and the second as co-organiser of Digital Innovation in Mental Health, an event delivered in partnership with Transform. The differences of style, format and tone between each event had some strong parallels with social versus mainstream media, and it got me wondering about whether the traditional conference format has had its day. I have found myself quite bored with the format of conferences recently – esteemed speakers, expert panels, questions invited from the floor. It majors on broadcast and hierarchy – people accorded status or expertise broadcasting information to a relatively passive audience. A conference hashtag attached to the event enables a bit of horizontal participation and you might be able to catch the speaker for a quick chat in the break.  But these are add-ons rather than core to the event itself. Sociability is around the perimeters and snatched at the margins. Much more interesting to me is an unconference format – a participant-led day where a framework and structure is offered for people to have the conversations that are important to them at that time. I say the structure is offered because people can opt out at any point and do their own thing – which some people chose to do at various times during our event. There we no presentations or power-points, just a welcome and a supportive facilitator to guide people through the day. An unconference format is nothing new but its potential is a world away from a traditional conference.  People gather together around areas of common interest, and if it’s not working...

#DigitalMH13 – who’s up for co-creating digital innovation in mental health?

Digital Innovation in Mental Health flyer The sort of events I enjoy most are ones that unfold organically, with minimal structure and maximum opportunity for people to share ideas, discuss challenges and come up with solutions together – even better if we can max out social media to engage with people before, during and after the event itself. For me this approach is based on an assumption that the answers are in the room, and the stimulus of bringing people together in a way which enables them to be resourceful, helps innovations to emerge. It works particularly well when focusing on digital innovation because if reflects the messiness, the haphazardness and the gems of connections that digital spaces routinely afford. I recently went to an event which was entire opposite of this. Even though it was about digital innovation in healthcare – panel of ‘experts’ with a passive audience speaking through the chair – I was bored within moments. I couldn’t even bring myself to tweet from it. The idea for this event came from a chance meeting with Charlie Young, whose company Transform has been working with the Department of Health on the Digital First agenda. I like the fact that the event has also emerged from a haphazard connection and a synergy of interest and enthusiasm. Cue our digital innovation in mental health event on 20 June in London – I envisage it being everything about the former experience and nothing of the latter – bringing a diverse group of people together with common interests and a common goal: sharing questions, ideas and experiences about how digital can support people...