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.

Media Strategy in Archaeology

As I’ve mentioned before, my PhD research centres on the exploitation of visual media in the establishment of the first university departments of archaeology in Britain (circa early-to-mid 20th century).  I’ve spent the last couple of years trolling through dozens of archives around the UK (everywhere from the Garstang Museum of Archaeology at Liverpool University, to the Society of Antiquaries, to the West Sussex Record Office, the BBC archives, and more), examining instances of visual artefacts & performances being manifestly — or tacitly — mobilised in the name of institutionalising the still-fledling archaeological discipline.  My thesis ultimately focuses on such mobilisation in context of the Institute of Archaeology (IoA) at the University of London (incorporated into UCL in the mid-1980s).

IoA 1938
Screenshot of photograph of IoA exhibition flyer from 1938

The example of the IoA is perfect for demonstrating the power of tools like temporary exhibitions, museological displays, TV, photography, and other two- and three-dimensional mediums for securing buy-in (i.e., financial, physical, intellectual, political and emotive support) for the creation and sustenance of university-based archaeology, not to mention the broader discipline overall.

What is important is that, in the case of the IoA, although such media savvy is repeatedly attributed specifically to the aptitude (and ego) of the Institute’s first honorary director, Mortimer Wheeler, there is clear evidence to suggest that it is actually practiced quite independently of Wheeler both at — and before — the establishment of the IoA.  Moreover, my research is making apparent the fact that, indeed, such savvy forms part of a strategic approach to discipline-building, rather than some kind of casual or narcissistic publicity posturing, as is often implied.

Ultimately, what I think is critical about the pursuit of such enquiry is the potential relevance that it has for tactical media exploitation in the present. With this in mind, I’m interested to track down rigorous published or unpublished analyses of current archaeological projects’ publicity & mass media policies. There are various cases from the University of Southampton alone of the very effective application of, e.g., the web, television, radio and other mixed media, for the purpose of both internal and external positioning, but I know of these cases mostly anecdotally.  I would thus very much appreciate reference to detailed analytical assessments of such on-the-ground media strategies — please don’t hesitate to email me!