Social Media: Cyber banging, emojis and teenagers

imagesOn #jhstudyleave it becomes possible to engage with education debates in your area of research in difference ways.

I am teaching in the US at the moment at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA in a doctoral program at the School of Education. It’s two short courses in digital technology examining multimedia design and production where I have 8 students – that’s right 8 students – and what’s more it’s very satisfying teaching. I am going into school classrooms too.  And, I know it will all come to end very soon #backtoreality

2000px-National_Public_Radio_logo.svgThe wonderful radio station @NPR available in Williamsburg has become a prime source of my news and current affairs. Almost daily there are bulletin stories with a tech focus and keeping up with the kind of possibilities these reports provide for future research in educational technology is nourishing.

I want to share three tech areas in social media that are attracting interest in the US more broadly: the concept of cyber banging, emojis as forms of hybrid communication and online teen relationships. These ideas are supported with new studies, reports and ongoing research. In this post I wish to acknowledge the reports of Cheryl Corley, Anna Bowman and Brakkton Booker.

“Cyber banging” is a term used to describe when young people and increasingly members of rival gangs threaten each other using social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Here is a podcast about it.

chilove2Cheryl Corley in her recent report for NPR about social media and its impact on violence in Chicago says: “Using social media to cyber bang reaches across all platforms … police do monitor social media sites, and they’ve been able to work with school social workers to prevent some violence from occurring”.

Dr.-Desmond-Patton-1024x682Professor Desmond Patton, a scholar in social work at Columbia University wants to take these steps further: “One idea is that if we can decode the language, then perhaps we can send triggers to social workers, violence workers who are embedded in these neighbourhoods already, so that they can utilize the strategies they already have to reach out to youth before the post becomes an injury or homicide”. Patton conducted an “internet banging study” in some of Chicago’s toughest neighbourhoods. The study was designed to understand under what conditions young people are responding to situations and posts online that they believe to be threatening.

A colleague working with Patton to create a “cyber banging gauge” is Henry Lieberman; a visiting professor at MIT’s Media Lab. Corley says that he plans to devise an algorithm to understand content on social media and how words turn to violence. Lieberman goes on to explain: “You want to be able to recognize patterns like that and then you can suggest to people to try to do things that de-escalate the situation”.

It would seem this kind of effort through social media could be useful in working with disengaged youth in Australia and as the quest for how to de-radicalise youth by our Federal government goes on – it may be a helpful ‘in a sea of other less helpful ideas’.

download (33)In May, Emma Bowman from NPR published a story on emojis that at the time attracted widespread media attention. Here is the podcast.

I use emojis when I text and sometimes I use them to replace a text message.

Emojis can quickly communicate an ‘inside or family joke’ and particular images for young people can conjure up a shared pop culture understanding. Disturbingly, in the US at the moment the gun emoji is popular among teenagers.

Tylyn Hardamon from a local radio network found that most of his teenage peers use the gun emoji as a joke in reference to casual annoyances. You can look up that emoji on the emojitracker website – it shows how people are using different emojis on Twitter in real time.

However, in January use of the gun emoji had more serious consequences for a Brooklyn teenager – see news report here. The charges were later dropped.

According to Gretechen McTulloch, who writes in the fields of linguistics and pop culture : “the use of emojis as a supplement for words still is evolving, and  emojis can be useful for adding context”. The problem she argues with the gun emoji: “isn’t necessarily that it’s overused, but maybe that it isn’t used enough for us to agree on its meaning”.

download (34)Fred Benson, head of data from Kickstarter, is working on an emoji translation project – this has been done before but hasn’t always captured the grammar of emoji. So, if you decide you want to experiment with emojis you will have to wait a while longer until they become a new formal language.

Perhaps after learning to write computer code in schools … emoji grammar will find its place in language curriculum?

One of my favourite texts in the tech space is Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated – this book presents deep research on the social lives of networked teens. It should be compulsory reading for every parent of a teenager no matter where they live. Perhaps for every high school teacher too. If you don’t know it and would like a quick update without the read listen here.

1392340300000-BookJacketIt was with interest then, that last Thursday, the Pew Research Centre released its latest study Teens, Technology and Friendships on how much technology is embedded in the romantic relationships of teenagers. Here is a podcast about the report from NPR.

The study found that 50% of the 1,000 teenagers (13-17 years old) in the research said they have “let someone know they have feelings for them on social media sites such as Facebook”.

Lenhart, Smith, Anderson, Duggan and Perrin (2015) authors of the study also found that 59% of teens say social media helps make them feel connected to a boyfriend or girlfriend. And what is more, emojis are important in teen relationships … NOW … there is that new language idea emerging again!

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 3.02.37 pmLead researcher on the study, Amanda Lenhart, said in focus groups they conducted: “the hand-holding, the padlock and the heart emojis seem to be the most critical”. This report is well worth a read – link here. It will, according to Lenhart, appease some worried parents who angst that social media is disrupting adolescents’ emotional development, this study finds: “it’s not the evil that many people think it is”.

1200Hope you enjoyed this little catch up on some current issues in the tech space impacting young people of school age in the US. Feel free to send me your thoughts or reactions – you can do that on the contacts page of this website.