13 Jun 2017 11:30am - 3:30pm S1, Alison Richard Building


A hands-on workshop exploring how researchers and academic institutions can use social media to make their voices heard in polarised public debates. The event is free to attend but please register your place here or via the link on this page.

Open to PhD students and staff at the University of Cambridge

Academic research can play a vital role in shaping public debates, from correcting misinformation to uncovering alternative perspectives and challenging bias. But how can researchers make their voices heard on controversial topics when debate is sharply polarised? Sharing research on social media my reach new audiences, but how far should academics go in tailoring content to fit social media users’ expectations and attention spans? When crossing the border between academia and today’s social-media dominated news platforms can we ensure that our carefully-crafted messages and nuanced perspectives get the hearing they deserve?

This hands-on workshop, delivered in collaboration with the University’s communications team, will give participants the opportunity to work in small groups developing proposals for social media campaigns aimed at intervening in public debate over migration, through a case study highlighting the place of the University itself as a node of exchange between people, objects, words, images and music over the past eight centuries. We will invite participants to share examples from their own research and to discover work by the wider Cambridge research community which could be incorporated into a showcase of different forms of social media content connected with the Crossing Borders theme.

The best ideas proposed at the workshop will be developed by the University Communications team into content which will be shared on the official university social media accounts. Participants will be encouraged to sign up for a shorter follow-up session in mid July to analyse the results of the social media campaign, and reflect on ways to measure and document its impact.

Presenters: Barney Brown (Office of External Communications); Anne Alexander (Cambridge Digital Humanities Network, Ethics of Big Data research group)

This event is supported by the Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership


Session 1: How the media works in an era of ‘fake news’: an introduction for researchers

Mapping the changing media landscape – how social media platforms are changing journalism and news consumption – understanding controversies and contention online (tactics for engagement) – practical advice on strategies for dealing with controversial topics through social media – institutional policies and guidelines for behaviour in online spaces – communicating the ‘rules of engagement’ in debate, both implicit and explicit – selecting public versus private channels of communication – weighing up the risks of escalation versus engagement – illustrated by specific case studies from different platforms and different types of content.

Session 2: Crossing Borders – scenario and small group work

Participants will be presented with the ‘Crossing Borders’ brief, which will ask them to work in small groups to plan social media content which highlights the positive benefits of migration to both the University as an intellectual community, and as a result to wider society. The brief has been chosen as a case study because it is topical and because public debate on the issue is highly polarised. Participants will be expected to work as team (and we will aim to create small groups mixing researchers from different disciplines and levels of experience with communications professionals), and to decide as group whether they will propose the creation of new social media content (a short video, an infographic, a meme, a series of tweets) or whether they will propose highlighting and sharing existing content which is relevant to the goals of the exercise and has already been published.

They will be expected to work within the parameters set by producing content for a University institutional account, but will be asked to reflect on how these might differ in they were producing similar content for a research project or for their own personal account. We will make available some datasets about the University which could inspire such a campaign, but will also encourage participants to share examples from their own research or within their networks with the group. When it comes to sharing or republishing content created by others, we will emphasize issues of consent and attribution, and the challenges of contextualisation in the fragmented information environments of social media platforms. Colleagues from the University Communications team will select ideas from the session to create or curate social media content which they aim to share on a number of official accounts on various social media platforms to form a real-time experiment in public engagement, the results of which will be shared with participants at a follow-up workshop.

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