How does your institution keep you safe?

The Online Professional, 8 November 2013
The Online Professional, 8 November 2013

I’ve spent much of this year working with an incredible team at Southampton (including Lucy Shipley, Jim Osborne and Graeme Earl, with support from various IT specialists) as well as at York (with my colleague, Tom Smith) implementing the Gender & Digital Culture project. A lot of this effort will come to fruition on Friday when we host our first public event, The Online Professional. The event is running simultaneously at Southampton and York, as well as on the web through my YouTube and Google Plus accounts. Please join us if you can; the specifics of the locations and time are available here.

At this event I will talk in more detail about some of my own experiences (see my post on Savage Minds for some background); Jim, Lucy and I will report on the results of our preliminary survey of 400 professionals; and we will work with our audiences to discuss and begin to develop practical strategies for individuals and organisations to manage the challenges presented by the digital public workplace.

I’ve been asking friends and colleagues to share with me their institutional policies around online safety, so that we can start to build a resource base for reference and establish a baseline for good practice. I’d be very keen for you to have a peek around your employer’s media, communications, gender and diversity, and related policy documents (if you have access to them) and to email me, tweet or comment on this blog about what, if anything, you find pertaining to security in the context of web-based forms of engagement. So far our searches have turned up very little constructive guidance; and in some cases, that guidance is utterly shocking in terms of its total indifference to employee welfare. In at least one instance, the institution is clear that it has no responsibility for the actions of individuals outside that organisation who are victimising its own employees through social media. Although I do believe that others, for example the police, have necessary roles to play in patrolling and penalising abusive behaviour, surely any employer who applies these media in everyday business has at least an ethical obligation to attempt to protect its staff from related harm.

In preparing for Friday’s event, I’ve had a not insignificant number of people ask me whether it’s actually hopeless to bother attending to these issues. The perception seems to be that we’re helpless to respond to online abuse—it’s seemingly too detached, too ephemeral, too easy to perpetrate and too hard to pin down; hence a feeling of pointlessness around developing or trying to enforce any kind of safety-oriented policy. In one recent meeting that I had, a colleague repeatedly stated “I can’t see what can be done here.” Compounding this predicament is a phenomenon that I’ve recently begun to encounter wherein some of the very people who I might otherwise have assumed would be supportive and active in pooling efforts to respond to such problems (especially because they were also targets of abuse) are, instead, derogatory and dismissive—arguing that my concerns aren’t as important as theirs; that my experiences aren’t as bad as those of others.

Perhaps not, but rather than invest our time in ranking the validity of our various claims, I’m hopeful that we could focus on a few things that I do believe will have some positive impact on everyone involved:

  1. The establishment of a supportive and visible community of professionals who are aware of and committed to exposing the nature and scope of problematic online interactions.
  2. The concerted development of real best practice guidelines to manage web-based abuse and to safeguard professionals as they conduct their work online.
  3. Taking a leadership role in attempting to implement these policies, such that they become models for others to follow—spearheading change, rather than being the inevitable outcome of endless cases of employees’ persecution and degradation. In other words, instead of waiting for more high-profile, disturbing cases of online abuse to drive redesign of wellbeing policies, perhaps we could lead that redesign now.

This is what I hope might be discussed and instigated at our workshop on Friday. Please consider attending, listening in, emailing, tweeting or otherwise forwarding us examples of good and bad institutional practice. Your contributions will make a difference—to me amongst many other individuals.

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The Online Professional: Tell your story, take our survey

Gender & Digital Culture survey
Gender & Digital Culture survey

The term has finally come to an end, and for the first time in 1.5 years, I don’t have to design any new courses until January (although I’m co-designing a new Master’s programme for the university, which is its own interesting project…). This means that I’m able to catch up on all of my various projects that have been awaiting my attention or moving forward primarily via the support of some of my great colleagues.

I have a lot to blog about – and, in a wonderful turn of events, I’m likely to be guest blogging for the incredible Savage Minds in the next couple of months (which is a real dream come true for me, as I absolutely love that site). But for now, I just want to point you towards our Gender & Digital Culture project, as our online survey has gone live today.

As you know, this project is very close to my heart: I have had both the most incredible and the most distressing of experiences in navigating my own online professional identity. I know that I’m not alone, but we want to get a sense of how others relate to digital media in their working lives. I’ve copied below the background and links to our survey and blog, and I would be ever so appreciative if you could take the time to complete the (quick) survey and share it with your friends & colleagues (from any field of work/practice).

For those of you in York, I’ll be speaking about aspects of my experience and our project at the forthcoming How to be a public intellectual event (10 July, 1-3pm) run through the Philosophy Department’s fascinating Project Integrity. (Note that the excellent Lorna Richardson will also be speaking in the same session as me.) As well, I’m hoping to get funding to present at the University of Rochester’s Decoding the digital conference in early September. Fingers crossed those funds come through!

Lucy Shipley, Jim Osborne, Graeme Earl and I will also be running an afternoon workshop on the subject of gender & the digital world – live-streamed and live-linked between multiple sites – on Friday, 8 November. So if you are keen on participating in person (York or Southampton) or remotely (via Google Hangouts) in that event, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ll circulate more details closer to the date.

Here is the background on our survey – your contribution is important to understanding how we construct and negotiate our online professional identities.

Do you use social media for work? Have you panicked after hitting the “Send” button on an email? Been trolled? Gone viral?

Help us find out how professionals are engaging with digital media – tell your story, take our survey.

The Gender and Digital Culture project would like to hear your thoughts on the positives and negatives of using the internet in a professional capacity. You can read more about our wider aims on our blog, follow our Twitter account, and participate in our survey through the link below.

SURVEY: http://bit.ly/14FJ70a

You must be over 18 years of age to participate in the survey. You will be able to exit the survey at any time by closing the window. All your responses may be provided anonymously, and your information will be held securely.

 

Gender and Digital Culture

With the support of the University of Southampton’s Digital Humanities team and the University of York’s Centre for Digital Heritage, I’m working to coordinate a series of events that attend to the relationship between digital culture and gender. I’m looking for a paid assistant (from the University of Southampton, which is graciously funding the post) to contribute to the initial set-up and preparatory research for these events, and I’ve pasted details below for anyone in the humanities at Soton with an interest in matters of the digital.

I’ve been wanting to blog on these issues for over a year now, but the subject for me has been a sensitive one, and I was never quite sure how to approach it. The potential negative ramifications for speaking out seemed disproportionate to any possible benefit, and so I’ve sat silent wondering how best to manage my concerns. I enlisted help from a couple of my closest friends and colleagues, asking them to look for articles or related discussions about instances akin to mine, and simultaneously I started to do my own research.

Unfortunately, but meaningfully for me, over the past few months, several very high profile incidents have presented themselves that resonate with my experiences. Indeed, just today, the Times has published an article (not open access, disappointingly) on a comparable theme, headlined: “British universities in grip of ‘lad culture’ of misogyny, according to NUS”. Others, like Anita SarkeesianMary Beard, Sarah Parmenter, Leigh Alexander, and see here, have all actively—and inspiringly— responded to what is disturbing but clearly indisputable gender-related harassment via digital/web-based media.

As for me, since 2011 I’ve experienced a series of separate episodes of being subjected to email or other social media-driven judgments on my appearance and sexuality. These were not simple, innocent remarks by friends and family, but often long, detailed descriptions and fantasy-like reflections about me sent in private messages direct to my personal email/Facebook accounts from colleagues around the world. The first incident was so absurd and unexpected that I just told a couple of my girlfriends at Southampton about it and had a bit of an uncomfortable laugh. The second incident was even more awkward and I began to feel incredibly self-conscious and embarrassed about how I was projecting myself to others. The third incident led me to silence – I no longer wanted to discuss it with anyone because it had become such a point of humiliation. All three of these incidents happened in 2011, and they were only the start of a trend that has continued since then.

But I’m exhausted now of burying the subject, and I wonder who it’s profiting to not attend to something that is demeaning and inappropriate both personally and professionally.

When I mentioned to others that I wanted to begin to think about how digital culture is implicated in these exchanges, I was met by a variety of reactions. Some rightly pointed out that digital media have far more connection to – and relevance for – gender than merely their application in derogatory ways. In other words, the conversation is a wide one, and I should think about how these tools can be (and are) wielded meaningfully, strategically, productively in other contexts.

At once, others implied that it was nonsensical for me to air my frustrations in public because it would lead people to question how they might appropriately address me in the future. On this point, I have to assert myself by saying that one could not possibly mistake innocent flattery (that is expressed publicly and is witnessable to all) with the types of private, explicit, long-winded, repeated and persistent messages that I’ve received through email. This is not debatable.

To that end, the University of York and the University of Southampton are coming together to talk through some of the many intersections, contentions, problematic and productive dimensions of gender and digital culture. Further description is below, including reference to other very visible cases of gendered abuse on the web of late. My experience is more in line with that of Leigh Alexander, but it impacts upon my life and my career, and as such, it is important to me.

Thanks as always for your support and constructive advice – I am so grateful. I am always keen for links, research articles, videos, and contacts on these issues, so please don’t hesitate to send them to me.

Gender & the Digital Events

Issues of gender and their relationship to digital technologies have had some presence in the news media lately, with Mary Beard and Sarah Parmenter being two amongst many individuals from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds who have actively responded to gendered and digitally fuelled character attacks. Such episodes are among a series of matters arising from applications of – and interactions with – digital tools that impact upon the professional and intellectual lives of scholars, and which consequently have implications for research, teaching and related practice.

In light of the University of Southampton’s and University of York’s growing digital humanities and digital heritage streams, Sara Perry (York) and Graeme Earl (Southampton) seek to organise a cross-institutional, live-streamed seminar (or series of seminars) in the spring time that bring(s) together specialists working in both the humanities and sciences for a critical conversation about their engagements with digital tools. We are looking for a postgraduate student to assist in coordinating the event(s) and to prepare a draft discussion document to help structure the debate. Work must be completed by 31 March 2013. The event will run after the Easter vacation.

Our interests are in exploring the (gendered) relationships between people and digital technologies: how, in tandem, they variously facilitate, exacerbate, rethink or replicate diverse behaviours. More specifically, we are interested in how these relationships operate in different disciplines in terms of professional and personal development, and how we equip individuals to use such technologies productively. The digital humanities have an important cross-disciplinary role to play not only in understanding how men and women engage with digital media – and how the media might recondition our research studies – but in preparing people for those studies themselves and for professional careers in all digitally-mediated disciplines.