Research Seminar

Presentation (w @kierandhamilton): Morally High, Is Twitter being used as an online space to challenge dominant socio-political discourse around drug-use?

In my last post about writing goals, I said my February goal was to work on a paper with Kieran (who has just started a PhD in Alcohol and Drug Studies at UWS). Last Thursday, we were invited to present the work-in-progress at the UWS School of Education/Creative and Cultural Industries Research Showcase at the CCA in Glasgow. We are working towards a completed paper that has been accepted at the Leisure Studies conference that is hosted at UWS Paisley in July. I’m also on the organising committee for that.

This was a piece of research we had been discussing in the gap between me decided the future plans of my PhD and restarting, so it was nice to actually produce an outcome from that time away from my own research – and get to focus on some of the larger questions regarding social media ethics and public data using a subject such as perceptions of drug users and how people use social media as a socio-political device. We should have the full paper completed by July to be included in the proceeds. Slides and Abstracts are below.

Hamilton, K. & Jones, J. (2014) Morally high: Is Twitter being used as an online space to challenge dominant socio-political discourse around drug-use? 

Background: Current socio-political discourse around drug use delineates illegal drugs as “malevolent forces”, which “pathological” individuals succumb to as a result of moral or mental weakness (Tupper 2012). Drug users are designated as “outsiders” (Cohen 1956) with the result being that drug users are stigmatised as “disgusting” and “dirty” individuals (Tupper 2012) who pose a threat to the dominant normative values of society (Taylor2008). Although there is current debate around the “normalisation” of drug use within society, where it is argued that drug use has become an accepted leisure activity for “ordinary” people (Blackman 2004), the utilisation of simplistic and sensationalist portrayals of drug users by the news media elite has acted to reinforce negative stereotypes of drug users (Critcher 2003), contributing to issues of stigmatisation and consequently social exclusion and health-related problems (Taylor 2008, Butt, Paterson & McGuinness 2008). Emerging participatory transformations in digital communications, such as the ability to self publish through social media, blogs and virtual communities developed through online discussion forums, provide potential for the public to challenge existing socio-political discourse (Hands 2011), particularly around drug use and drug policy (Wax 2002).

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to assess the extent to which Twitter users utilised Twitter as an online space to either challenge or reproduce dominant socio-political discourse in response to the channel 4 documentary “Legally High”, which featured several individuals who use novel “legal” substances, as well as illegal substances.

Method: An algorithm was used to capture tweets which were published in response to the documentary “Legally High”, identified through the use of the hashtag “#LegallyHigh”. Discourse analysis will then performed on these tweets to assess the extent to which dominant discourse around drug use and users is either reproduced or challenged.


Blackman, S. (2004) Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Butt, G. Paterson, B, L. Mcguinness, L, K. (2008) Living with the Stigma of Hepatitis C. Western Journal of Nursing Research, Vol: 30 (2), pp. 204-221.
Cohen, A. (1956) Delinquent Boys: The Subculture of the Gang. London: Collier-Macmillan.
Critcher, C. (2003) Moral Panics and the Media. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Haas, T. (2005) From ‘‘Public Journalism’’ to the ‘‘Public’s Journalism’’? Rhetoric and Reality in the Discourse on Weblogs.  Journalism Studies, Vol: 6 (3), pp. 387-396.
Hands, J. (2011) @ is for Activism: Dissent, Resistance and Rebellion in a Digital Culture. London: Pluto Press.
Taylor, S. (2008) Outside the Outsiders: Media Representations of Drug Use. Probation Journal, Vol: 55 (4), pp. 369-388.
Tupper, K, W. (2012) Psychoactive Substances and the English Language: “Drugs”, Discourse and Public Policy. Contemporary Drug Problems, Vol: 39, pp. 461-492.
Wax, P, M. (2002) Just a Click Away: Recreational Drug Websites on the Internet. Paediatrics, Vol: 109 (6), pp. 1-4.

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#DigitalAngus – Citizen Journalism and the Commonwealth Games

Last Saturday, I awoke at a time where most of Glasgow was going to sleep (5am!) to catch the first train to Dundee to meet my lift to Forfar for the Digital Angus conference being organised by Third Sector Lab and Angus Council around the themes of social media for community engagement.

As Angus was one of our areas where we were missing a cluster application for the Digital Commonwealth Schools’ programme, this was also an opportunity to come up and actually speak to people face to face to try and see if we could find a set of schools who would be up for joining the process.

Although the Commonwealth Games are based in Glasgow this year, there are also sporting events happening across Scotland; for instance the diving is in Edinburgh at the Commonwealth pool and the shooting is in Carnoustie (which is part of Angus) and has a lot of activity planned for around Games time – from sporting, volunteering, baton relay and educational perspective. Following on from my talk at Digital Agile CLD in Stirling earlier in the week, the fact that Angus was going to be teaming with events and activity on the run up to and during the Commonwealth Games, this would be a great opportunity to catalyse on the power of major events to encourage people to try citizen journalism or digital storytelling for the first time.

Just to change the direction of this post slightly – when I started to write it this morning, I got a tweet from Andy Dickinson about my previous blog post and we had a wee chat about the differences between citizen journalism and digital storytelling in this event context – so I pulled in a few of the tweets below as they got me thinking as I finish editing this post.

Anyway, these tweets plus writing about #digitalangus got me thinking more about the distinctions between citizen journalism (so how we defined Citizen Relay as a project, how we recruited and the type of training that we offered prior to the torch relay) and Digital Storytelling – something is used frequently that can cover quite a lot but we’ve had to nail down quite quickly in terms of producing materials, resources and recruiting volunteers for the project – Blogging, Video, Audio and Social Media as the 4 technical areas, with thematic areas and the ability to embed a community of practice within the process.

The notion of moving from formally training people to become a ‘citizen journalist’ to capture and report on what you see and/or already understand to be -so a major event is great for this as there is a lot of activity and people to capture – to actually developing a course of learning that will provide a set of skills where somebody can not only report on and be a citizen journalist during a particularly that can be used critically and ask questions about things beyond the major event itself – it is a catalyst for signing up and getting involved but what and how they learn will differ in the sense that it should last longer than the major event itself & encourage them to join a ever evolving and growing community of practice online. Building capacity in this way is an attempt to help people connect digitally using a context beyond instrumental function of say, changing to welfare system or using library computers to make a CV.

Anyway, I got a little distracted there – and it is getting late.

My session was a very quick introduction to the Digital Commonwealth project, what we have done so far and what we intend to do into the next 6 months (way!). I then did some simple introduction to making audio and video on your smartphone, focussing on some of the learning we’ve had with working with the Media Trust’s Local 360 project, Citizen’s Eye and  my own involvement with the Wester Hailes Digital Sentinel.

I even got my lovely lift Alison to volunteer to be an interviewee :-)

I managed to stay for the rest of the event, which was great – there is a Storify from the day here and there is an excellent blog post from the final speaker Kenny McDonald that summarises the day. My slides are available here.

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Token slides shot.

Presentation: CILIPS 2013 Annual Conference: Social Media for Community Engagement

After their annual gathering in October 2012, I was invited to return and speak to delegates at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Scotland (CILIPS) Annual Conference in Dundee on the 3rd and 4th of June. I’ve had a good working relationship with CILIPS over the last year, working closely (and enjoying cakes.. whilst plotting hard of course) with Cathy, their director – doing several social media workshops for them at events and taking over some of the web work in the office before they hired their new web and policy officer, Sean McNamara.

Dundee at 5am from my hotel room.

This time I was asked to speak to a larger audience at their annual conference (I expected a workshop of 20 odd in October, and ended up with standing room only and librarians sitting crossed legged at my feet :-) ) and to focus on practical case studies where I have used social media for elements of community engagement – such as citizen journalism projects, peer-to-peer support and digital inclusion projects.

Speaking in the ‘big room’.

It was the largest room I’ve presented to in a very long time, certainly since I took time out from my PhD, so it was good to get flung back into the deep-end in terms of presenting work to larger audiences. It was also good to be able to use the presentation as an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between library and information services and the projects I’ve been working on in the last year since #citizenrelay.

As I’ve done something around social media before, I was keen not only to review some of the underlying principles that I had discussed previously in the libraries conference context – but also to ensure that I had time to talk about some of the living, breathing examples that were happening at the moment. I’m often introduced as the person who is going to talk about the new fangle technologies, like social media and the internet is a new thing that needs to be considered – which is ironic really when the first group of people I followed when I started using twitter “properly” in 2008 (been a user since Jan 2007) were librarians.

Similarly, pretty much all of the speakers at this year’s event had online and social media activity embedded as part of what they were talking about, rather than an optional extra tacked on at the end. Therefore, I took time to emphasis the evolution of the online environment and the empheral nature of online services as tools become more ubiquitous, get bought up, chewed up and re-appropriated. We just need to think about the fact that O’Reilly’s (often over-used) definition of “Web 2.0″ is approaching its 10th anniversary!

With reference to social media surgeries, citizen journalism, community new channels and projects such as Our Digital Planet, I emphasised that some of the best projects that incorporate the use of social media as those which focus on developing a critical practice around the tools, especially when they challenge existing ways of working and that often social media as a community engagement tool tends to amplify existing activity – be in an event, an organisation or peer-to-peer learning activity – rather than starting from scratch, or isolating it within a vacuum.

I’ve embedded the prezi from the presentation below for more information:

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Project: Update on Wester Hailes #digitalsentinel community reporter taster sessions

Over the last few months through my freelance community media development role at WHALE Arts in Edinburgh, I’ve been facilitating several community media ‘taster’ sessions in Wester Hailes for the development of the Digital Sentinel, a community-ran local news agency. I have been in this role with WHALE since October last year, having developed a ethical media policy and timeline for developing and understanding the potential of a replacement digital news service for the deceased Wester Hailes Sentinel which lost its funding in June 2008.

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The taster sessions followed on from an initial workshop that was delivered in February to employees and representatives of community services in the area and were promoted and hosted by three of the services who attended; the Wester Hailes Health Agency (and their time-bank initiative), Wester Hailes Library and Gate 55 (the Community Education Centre based in Sighthill).

The first set of taster sessions were completed in May and were completely open to anybody to attend, without having to RSVP and or have previous experience. They included a brief introduction to the Sentinel and the projects that lead up to the relaunch. Participants then got the chance to practice interviewing each other using audio and video tools on mobile devices and then upload them to the web. They were repeated this week (mid-June), with a focus to cover the Wester Hailes fun run (happening today, I’m writing this on the train, on my way to Wester Hailes) as the first event to have reporters in attendance. After today, they’ll be content uploaded onto the Digital Sentinel website for the first time – still very much as a practice space at the moment- and we will begin work towards covering two events on the 4th and 6th July respectably; a AHRC connected communities open day involving a barge trip from Wester Hailes to Edinburgh, incorporating a QR code social history walk and a citizen reporter presence/video box at the canal festival. It is hoped, much like #citizenrelay last year, by using existing events that we know are definitely going to happen and have a lot of activity going on, we will be able to use them as a catalyst to capture & produce local stories for the website.

What is also significant about the development of the Digital Sentinel is that we were lucky to receive funding from the Carnegie Trust “Neighbourhood News” call; not only the only project to be funded in Scotland but also the only project that is at this stage of development and delivery. This means that I will be able to continue this support work through to May 2014 and also build on the enthusiasm shown by the community at these early stages. Similarly, as we aim to have the first ‘community generated’ content on the site as of this week but we can also look towards ongoing training and development processes, such as accredited learning & the linking the site to political, social and educational agendas within the area, aiming towards operating fully as a community-led media initiative.


It is also worth emphasising that my involvement with the sentinel is very much in my freelance employment as a development worker, with the aim to withdraw myself from the process over time and hand over the full responsibility of the Sentinel to the community that decide to take it on. I know at times this can be difficult politically as I switch my online voice from an academic interest, journalist interest and a community activist interest (due to the nature of my work & my research interest) – so I need to make this explicit in my intent. It is also a very interesting space to operate within, I am learning a lot from the process. Once the Sentinel site is running as a functioning news site, there will be space on the website to include reports on development process, mainly for evaluation & archival purposes, that will allow for posts like this to be cross-posted and stored in context of the website.

The fact we are developing a community news site from scratch is a story in itself, at a time when local news is wrapped in a narrative of decline & Wester Hailes is been shown as a community that is doing interesting things in this area. It is an exciting time and I am grateful that we have the opportunity to continue this work at a stage where it is becoming increasingly clear that the Sentinel is becoming a much-needed entities in the community.

To follow the content and on-going process of the Digital Sentinel, you can follow the #digitalsentinel hashtag on twitter, which will soon have its own Facebook and Twitter profile to join it in the coming weeks – additionally I’ve embedded a youtube playlist of some of the videos produced during the training tester sessions below.

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Project: Introducing #DigitalBurns, Robert Burns vs Social Media & Event Amplification


I was working with John Popham on the “Our Digital Planet” project when it visited Glasgow last October when we got chatting about the potential for exploring the potential for digital Robert Burns night. You see, it is a little known fact that I’m originally from a small costal town in the south west of Scotland that happens to share the same birth place as that poet bloke (you’re from Ayr, Jay Jay, you never said!) and John Popham is .. well Internet famous for his event amplification, community engagement and social media for social good chat – so it wasn’t long before we got plotting about potential for trying out something that mixes up the town.

A few months prior to our chat, the Robert Burns Worlds Federation approached UWS about potential collaboration on applying for an Interface innovation voucher (funded by the Scottish Funding Council) to carry out some knowledge exchange work relating to social media and community engagement. I’ve already worked on three innovation vouchers by this stage, so was excited that I could piece together some of the initial plotting towards exploring the potential for Robert Burns in the 21st Century.

RBWF and UWS made a joint application to Interface in February and were successful, which means the below proposal will go ahead and the work begins this week with a meeting in Kilmarnock tomorrow in preparation to pilot the study at the 3rd Degrees Burns Music Festival in Ayr on the 1st of June. I’m working with Prof. Gayle McPherson on delivering the innovation voucher and as it is very much about research and development, I will be blogging the process as I go.

Below is an extract from the original funding application form which has further detail of the project:

The scope of the Digital Burns project is to plan, develop and pilot a social media strategy and intervention for engaging with Robert Burns for the 21st Century. It will focus on using digital communication tools to harness and the amplify the ubiquitous nature of Robert Burns and use its strong, recognisable identity to map the cultural export of ‘Scottishness’ in the 21st century. The project will use an existing event (Third Degree Burns festival) to access and pilot a strategy to develop a “Digital Burn” night in 2014, which is a significant year for Scotland with homecoming, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the referendum debate and the centenary of world war one.

This will be done by promoting and testing a live stream of a music event at the Burns Museum on June the 1st, mapping regional, national and international community engagement with the event online and its impact beyond environment, using the geo-locative function of video and audio and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This will allow for the development of a social media strategy for future events associated with the Robert Burns community, producing a Digital Burns Supper toolkit to be distributed by the Burns Federation, that can be shared and tracked using social media analytics, allowing for curating an internationally connected Digital Burns Night in January 2014.

The Burns Federation are interested in looking at innovative processes to engage younger audiences post-secondary education and to investigate new ways to connect up the growing number of international Burns Clubs around the world, recruiting new membership in the process. This project would allow for the piloting and development of a social media strategy that capitalised the international focus of 2014 and to test-drive methods to amplify homegrown events to wider audiences, and to capture and evaluate impact using social media and emerging analytical tools.

This is tied in to the year of homecoming to encourage diaspora to return to Scotland during 2014 – and to encourage SME and tourism around Burns.

The University will gain by building on its portfolio of association with UK event research and social media interventions, which UWS is heavily involved in, by practically implemented strategies tested and embedded through cutting edge research currently being undertaken within the faculty. This in turn will impact on teaching in this area, offering opportunity for students to be involved in from a new media production, event management and cultural policy perspective.

By focusing on a widely recognised and understand cultural phenomenon of Robert Burns’ work, the project will allow the Burns Federation to develop social media interventions around existing portfolio of activity and to take ownership of the process that would allow to visualise and map impact of any Burns activity being amplified online.

This innovation voucher would allow for the development of a 12 month timeline strategy to work towards the curation of an affordable method of live-streaming and event amplification using free and widely accessible social media tools. A subsequent aim would be to work towards the research and development required to build a mobile application that was a “burns supper toolkit” that can be shared easily and monitored online and used to connect international audiences to an event happening in Ayrshire in January 2014.

Develop partnerships with local suppliers to put together Burns Supper kits that can be ordered ahead of the event and exported internationally.

Generate new interest in Burns from an accessible online platform, whilst looking at developing the current pedagogy for engaging with Burns education beyond the initial event. Utilising the current Schools Competitions to develop online activity which children and youths can engage.

Showcase local and upcoming talent from the local area and the university’s school of creative and cultural industries using the established platform of the Burns Federation and their international network.

This could be changed from local to Global engaging with Scottish Studies groups in other universities for example.


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Workshop: 6 things learned during social media training for Renfrewshire Council

Over the last six months, Gayle McPherson and I have been doing some work with Renfrewshire Council (the local authority that our campus of the University of West of Scotland sits within) around social media for event evaluation and have recently concluded introductory training for council employees. It was delivered as part of a larger evaluation report of the Paisley Spree Festival which ran in October 2012 (and is ongoing). The prezi above is what we used for the training sessions that happened at the end of March, with a follow on session this week.

I’ve done a few social media training sessions now which cross between higher education, 3rd sector, libraries and information management now but this is my first that has encountered directly the challenges and opportunities that local government employees face when using social media within their day to day work practice. Most of my experiences working with local authorities has been from the fringe, through working with librarians, some of the #localgov chat on twitter and engagement through community journalism projects.

The results from the evaluation of the Spree will be available once published, however I wanted to write a quick blog post reflecting on some of the key points that emerged during the sessions that we delivered to Renfrewshire employees.

Thinking about social media and local authorities:

Support and empower “digital champions”: I know that expression sounds totally lame (cringing as type) but bare with me. Having worked on a few projects now that have perhaps included volunteers from other sectors (such as the library or public services), through chatting and sharing similar stories, what emerges are tales of the struggle to convince their managers that social media or indeed, ‘trying something new using the internet’ is a good thing for their role/department/organisation.

Many success stories within an organisation have emerged when people have taken initiative to do their own thing, often eating into time outside of working hours, often bending the rules, often using their own devices and generally spending time experimenting with alternative ways of doing the same task more effectively. Especially if there are firewalls in place preventing the use of social media on the premises.

These are the people that should be supported (and therefore empowered) to become ‘champions’ within the organisation (who can then go on and support others ‘in-house’) rather expecting an entire workforce to want to take up this ‘social media’ thing in one go. This can often be met with criticism and turns the process from an exciting one to something that that is seen as a chore or an additional task onto top of already busy work schedules. It is much better to capitalise on enthusiasm and let it spread rather than shutting it down dead out of fear (rather than the managing) of risk. This is because it…

The Internet cannot be ignored: This should be an obvious one – but even in 2013, increasingly hearing more stories about the layers of reporting that is required before an employee is allowed to set up social media accounts for the department or event they are organising or managing – then there is still every chance that particular services are not allowed to be used, even thought there is evidence of a core audience of service users present on them. I’m not saying that controlling the message is necessary a bad thing, but as the information flow only increases, allowing for decentralisation across departments (or even to an individual level) means that the central communication team are much more likely to be provided with up to date information “from the horses mouth” and the message can spread and be more targeted to appropriate networks. It’s ok to have multiple accounts for different services, that’s the beautiful of the platform – and these can be monitored just as effectively as requests to share individual stories.

Start small, deliver them well: One of the common issues when embedding social media within an organisation such as a university or a local authority is overcoming the fear of it becoming a massive task, often delegated to a specific job, often within corporate communications. It is positive to hear that  steps are being taken to try out new things, often with a reporting procedure attached. This is all good news and allows for records to be kept of progress. I guess the best advice I can give is baby steps. Small projects, delivered well – often as pilots, are much better than trying to take on every network, every platform, every new fangled technology. Success means becoming the ‘cutting edge of mundane’ – the process will become so seamless you’ll wonder whatever the fuss was about.

Archives can be used to develop wider case studies: Using tools like Storify to archive content produced by audiences and service users allow for employees to pull together case studies of user populations around their particular job role. These can remain private and simple enough to pull together, contextualise in order to hold together a report and as a referencing system for a particular event or context. I love using the Read More