All posts by David @ DIAL

The Future of Social Media

Future-of-social-mediaIn my past two blog posts, I discussed the current state of social media in society, and the fact the social media is merely a tool that can be used for good or evil depending on the user. This week, I’ll wrap up this three-week series and focus on social media by prognosticating about the future of the medium and media.

All of the largest social media platforms and the people who facilitate them are listening to us intently. They’re collecting, analyzing, using, buying and selling any information through our devices. In a CNBC article, an industry professional, Otis Kimzey, says “The most dramatic change by 2039 will not only be the amount of data that will be available to everyone but also the decision-making power of that data. We currently have thermostats that learn our preferences, watches that take our pulse, and Nike even knows how often and how fast we run, and this is just the beginning.” (Wellons, M. C., “11 Predictions on the future of social media”, https://www.cnbc.com/2014/10/02/11-predictions-on-the-future-of-social-media.html)

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It’s frightening to ponder who is in control of that enormous amount of data and how it could be used to manipulate the public. We’ve already had a taste of this in the last presidential election. The findings are becoming increasingly clear that the Russians used social media and media to influence the election results to their benefit.

This possibility was alluded to in this week’s reading, “Communication for Development”, by Wendy Quarry and Ricardo Ramirez. In the book, they write, “It illustrates how a well-designed campaign, which utilizes media intelligently, and which orchestrates other tangible action on the ground, can lead to awareness-raising and behavioural change.” (Quarry and Ramirez, p. 20) However, I’m not sure if this statement also includes negative behavioral change.

The reason I mentioned the social media platforms and media previously is because at the end of the day, these are massive corporations with vast amounts of wealth and power. And having studied economics, it’s not the nature of corporations in a capitalistic market to make less profit, no matter what the costs. So what does this mean for the public? If corporations’ end-game is to sustain profitability, how will all our data be leveraged? Do you have trust in the billionaires of the world to not exploit us for their personal gain?

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Through my organization, The DIAL Group, where we leverage the talents of artists to assist communities, one of our programs is to teach youth digital media skills and to use the technology responsibly. We do this by training then, and them having them work on a service learning project. Although I believe my organization and I are doing the right thing by educating youth about technology through digital media, I personally don’t have a that much hope for the future of social media, based on the past couple of decades it’s been in existence, but maybe the next generation will be different that all the generations that came before them.

 

#deletefacebook & “1984”

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In my last blog, I talked about the current state of social media, while referencing recent events such as the Parkland mass shootings, as well as our class reading, “Social Media is Bullshit?” I came to the conclusion that social media isn’t “bullshit”, and that it’s simply a tool. And as with all tools, it can be used for good or bad.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about social media being used…again as a bad tool. #deletefacebook is a current campaign to, as the hashtag states, delete the Facebook application from our lives. The reason for this action against Facebook is because the company shared peoples info with other entities, some harmless and some harmful.

Personally, I find it ironic and humorous that people are punishing a company for sharing info that individuals are freely sharing. We are at a crossroads as a society, and at some point we’ll have to make a decision whether or not to exist in complete transparent lives.

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Do you remember the George Orwell novel, “1984”? The book is set in a fictional province of the superstate Oceania, whose citizens are victims of ongoing war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation. Even though it was published in 1949, the troubling societal themes reverberate today. This novel seems to be a prescient reflection of the current and future state of social interaction.

So what is the end game? There’s so much access to people, their information…almost everything with the right resources. I think we need to look to the mechanisms that are ultimately behind all of this.

Stay tuned for the next blog where I discuss the future of social media and humanity’s downfall.

Is Social Media Bullshit?

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In my next three blogs, I’ll focus on the current and future state of social media, especially its connection to marketing, public relations, and society. I hope to shed some wisdom on the subject from my perspective as a professional in the media and non-profit industries, while referencing our class readings.

In the wake of the recent Parkland school shooting, social media has been used as a critical tool by all sides to politicize and capitalize on the event. However, it is the youth who have been outmaneuvering and outdoing their adult counterparts on social media during this movement.

For example, when Donald Trump, Jr. “liked” two news article that pushed the notion that a few vocal Parkland students were hired actors, one of the students reached out to Melania Trump – who has a White House initiative to stop cyber-bullying – to ask:

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A “like” on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. can have a enormous effect because he has over 2 million followers, who will inevitably perpetuate the false news. The result of the youth strategically, and naturally, pushing back through social media has resulted in Melania Trump supporting the youth and a recent meeting with one of the Parkland survivors.

This is a good example of the effectiveness of social media as a public relations and social engagement tool. But on the other side of the coin is the equally adept, but terrifying, use of social media to motivate and activate the Parkland school shooter, as well as others who have come before him. (I’m intentionally omitting the Parkland shooter’s name as to not bring him more attention, which was part of his motivation.) The Parkland school shooter and others have used social media to promote their twisted agenda, to learn how to kill effectively and efficiently, and to gain support for their actions.

So is social media bullshit?

I feel that B. J. Mendelson’s book “Social Media is Bullshit” is a misleading title. It’s not that social media is bullshit, it’s that certain individuals are bullshit and they use tools to further their horrible agendas. The book’s author, B. J. Mendelson, asserts, “All marketers, professional or amateur, are full of crap.” This statement and too many others in his book are expressed absolutes and hyperbolical.toolbelt

I’ve been working in the media industry for the past 20 years and the non-profit industry for nearly the past 10 years. Since my background and experiences are more rooted in traditional media (Film, TV, radio, print, etc.), I can see the evolution from previous forms of media to today’s, with the evolution of technology.

Similar to the past, it’s not that media, or even social media, is “bullshit”. Media is simply a tool. As with all tools, it can be used for good and it can also be used for bad. Take a hammer for instance. A hammer is a useful tool when building something. However, in the wrong hands, it could also be used as a weapon to kill someone. Again, the same instrument is merely a tool.

 

Fake News Strategy From the Top

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There has always been the existence of inaccurate and biased reporting. We can go back to biblical times, and even Pope Francis recently said that in the Old Testament was the first of “fake news”. However, today it seems like there’s been a complete breakdown in the news and media industry, including new media such as blogs, and the floodgates have opened on “fake news”, to the point where it’s becoming harder to know which information is completely real or merely partially real.

Despite the staggering amount of inaccurate and biased reporting occurring these days, nothing could be more terrifying than when the highest office in the country is the one creating the misinformation. On January 21, 2017, then-White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, stood in front of the media and challenged them that they had wrongly reported the audience numbers for President Trump’s inauguration. Spicer stated, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”

maxresdefaultSpicer lied right in the faces of journalists and essentially the world, saying that the in-person and broadcast audience numbers were the highest of all time. We all knew then, and we still know now, that the Trump administration’s assertions were flat-out wrong, on both counts. The data didn’t back up their claim.

In addition to the horror of our government boldly lying to the public, particularly on such an insignificant matter, the more troubling fact is that this government refuses to admit when they are caught in a lie. In my opinion, they seem to have a policy of “lie and deny”.

I have to admit that as much as I detest this strategy, it’s almost brilliant in some crazy way. Think about it, no matter your position on a subject you can win any debate if you just say you don’t agree with the opposition’s information and continue to repeat that. When presented with facts, challenge from where the information came. Also, create fake reporting to support your misinformation. With these tools, you will never lose an argument again.

 

We First…We Last?

WeFirst-Book-CoverSimon Mainwaring’s “We First”, or at least the Prologue and Chapter 1, is an interesting look at the contemporary impact of capitalism on society. Mainwaring makes comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s to the Great Recession of the late-2000s: “It almost seems as if history is repeating itself.” (Mainwaring, pp. 7).

Throughout the chapter, Mainwaring poses several questions to the reader, and then presents statistics and anecdotes to imply the notion that it is up to corporate leaders and us to evolve into more ethical and socially beneficial practices that would contribute to the common good.

However, I feel as though the questions and ideas he raises are off target. Some of the questions he asks are: “Does capitalism need repair?”, “If we are to be honest and responsible citizens who accept the stewardship of our nations and this planet, how can we not recognize that this engine is in need of a serious overhaul?”, and “Can we change capitalism to repair these problems and avoid the possibility of another recession or depression?”

The reason I say that they question are off the mark is because these questions assume that the power to alter capitalism impact is in our hands, and that it is not too late to alter the course of capitalism. I would argue that it is too late and that we are powerless to the wealthiest people and companies on this planet.

We First capitalism is defined by Mainwaring as capitalism but with corporations, businesses, consumers, and citizens working for the greater good. This is an idealistic view of humanity, and unfortunately, reality is not idealistic.

I would like to pose my own questions to Mr. Mainwaring. For example, if we are to believe that the president of the United States is the most powerful person in the country, how much influence does the position hold when the president makes about $400,000 a year and the wealthy in America are making hundreds of millions a year? Very little.

PC-Boycott-03-300x212Case in point: What happened during the bailout of the banks following the Great Recession when then-President Obama told the banker that he would withhold the funds until the bankers agreed to not take exorbitant bonuses? The bankers told Obama where to go, he released the funds, the bankers still got their bonuses after destroying the economy, and they now hold positions in the government or are continuing to do more of the same.

How about on even a more basic level? Could we, consumers, make a company change its practices by boycotting it? Freakonomics Radio did a long-form episode that delves into the topic and the findings were that boycotts do not work. Even in situation with overwhelming social pressure, boycotts still don’t work.

It was generally assumed that the divestment campaign, or boycott, hurt the South African economy and hastened the end of apartheid. “Not only did the South Africa divestment movement not seem to have played much of a role in ending apartheid, Welch says it didn’t even really hurt South African companies.” (Stephen J. Dubner)

In the end, I am optimistic and I hope that my assumptions about capitalism and humanity are wrong.

Art and Social Justice

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 3.08.15 PMAs a creator and consumer of the arts, I recently took a trip to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis with a friend to see some new exhibits. It’s been awhile since I visited a museum and was pleased to see so much variety in the exhibits and art disciplines, which led to my friend and I having a casual conversation about the age-old question, “What is art?”

People have been asking this question for hundreds of years. And despite the fact that the definition can be narrower or broader depending on the respondent, today there are multitudes of artistic disciplines: some are carryovers from our ancient past, such as pottery and painting, and others are newer forms like electronic music and digital video.

Following the trip to the Walker, I went online to see how others are defining the term “art”, and I came across a recent blog on Huffington Post, where the author examines the meaning of “art” from the perspective of various people.

One of the responses that caught my attention was by theater director, Ana Mendelson. In the blog she states:

To me, Art is at its core inclusive. It’s inclusive in form, topic, and, hopefully, in creators and audience. Because art can be anything we want it to be, be about anything we want it to be, and be done for and by anyone, arts at its highest form brings people together and helps us reflect on our own humanity. Through art we can honor what makes us unique and celebrate what makes us all one.

Similar to Ms. Mendelson’s definition, I also see the value art has in bringing people together and its power to positively transform communities.  This definition had me thinking deeper about the question of art, and my current work of leveraging arts for better social equity.

Social justice and equity are not new concepts and have been around since the days of Plato. We generally think of social justice as a fair and equal relationship among members of a community or society. To learn more about social justice and equity, a simple history and explanation of “social justice” is provided in a blog post by The Pachamama Alliance – an organization whose mission is to reach out to the public and inform them of these social inequality issues that plague the globe.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 3.59.49 PMAs a professional filmmaker, media producer, and artist, I have evolved my skills to adapt them for social good and today I apply them in a non-profit setting to help under-served communities and disadvantaged community members. Many of my organization’s programs and projects focus on social justice issues: health equity, arts and cultural access, educational equity, equitable community development, etc. However, our unique methodology is to think about and develop solutions through the arts and culture.

For example, we recently worked on a project with the Minnesota Department of Health and its Center for Health Equity to document and share health equity stories from around the state.  We used storytelling, video production and other art skills to accomplish this work.  One of goals of the project was to help state and community health worker work towards better health equity outcomes. The use of art tools was a successful strategy to engage more people and policies around health equity in Minnesota.

So how to I define art today?

For me, art has always been is a useful tool: a tool for communication, reflection, entertainment, and promotion. But today, I also include art as a tool and vehicle to address and solve social equity issues in our community, which is a way of thinking about art that has expanded my definition of the word.

How do you define art today?

Vietnam War Documentary and Narrative Medicine

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With the Oscars coming up, there’s sure to be much attention given to Ken Burns epic 10-part documentary series entitled, “The Vietnam War”, which was released in the fall of 2017. The series encapsulates on film one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history.

Within the documentary, key individuals of the War recount their personal experiences. For example, a GI describes his fear of land mines, and the courage it took to walk in Vietnam many years later. This type of storytelling not only serves as a visual encyclopedia of the tragic war and gives us new pieces of information, but it also provides people with what is increasingly being recognized by the medical profession as therapy.

Storytelling as Therapy

We’ve long known that even the simple act of talking about a past incident can be healing. And for the past 20 years, the medical community has begun to implement this as treatment for PTSD; some are labeling it as “narrative medicine”. The Huffington Post has a great article entitled, “Can the simple Act of Storytelling Help Them Heal?”

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I’ll be using this platform to discuss social issues and how myself and other artist I work with at the DIAL (Data-driven Initiatives through Artists Leadership) leverage the arts and culture to address these issues.

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For the past two years, we have been operating a program called MAAP (Media Arts Apprenticeship Program), which offers emerging media arts of color an opportunity to work with industry professionals on a professional project. Our program is in collaboration with Special Guerrilla Unit Veterans and Families – A nonprofit that serves Hmong Vietnam War veterans and their families.

The Hmong served as a “secret army” contracted by the American CIA to stop the communists from running arms through Laos, which was a neutral country, and to rescue U.S. and allied soldiers.  We believe that the Hmong’s Vietnam War experience was arguably the worst based on outcomes: they paid the ultimate sacrifice of having to flee their homeland and become refugees. 

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Together, we have been collecting the stories of Hmong veterans to produce our own documentary series, currently titled, “Special Guerrilla Unit: A Secret Army for a Secret War”. (We had started this program and work, before we had known about Ken Burns’ documentary.)  Our goals, like Ken Burns, is to shed light onto one of the most disastrous periods in history, as well as present an opportunity for Hmong Vietnam War veterans to heal through the act of storytelling.  You can see a trailer for our documentary series here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about our project and/or program.

The Truth about Today’s Media

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 3.01.01 PMIn a recent “Uncensored Podcast” interview, Jon Fine, Inc.‘s executive director of editorial, talks about how Sean Parker and other prominent figures in tech are speaking out against the power and influence companies like Facebook and Google have over the world. Parker, who served as the first president of Facebook, recently said that these tech platforms, at first benign, have unintended consequences – from undermining democracy to exploiting and manipulating people.

Parkers sentiments are echoed by his former colleague, Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook vice president, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”, said Palihapitiya in front of an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people.

So now that the genie is out of the bottle, and there is no turning back, what can be done so that we can have a healthier relationship with this new online ecosystem? One step in the right direction is teaching younger generations about the power of media and how to use it responsibly, or for social good.

In Focus ProgramI’m the executive Director of a newer nonprofit organization called, DIAL (Data-driven Initiatives through Artists Leadership), where our mission is to leverage the talents of artists to help communities. One of our programs is In Focus: Digital Media Arts & Youth Leadership. In Focus teaches youth media literacy, media production and leadership skills to provide youth the knowledge of how media – from videos to social media – can be used as a social tool. By sharing these ideas and techniques, we can influence young people to think more critically about the media around them, media’s influence, and how to utilize it for positive outcomes.

My blog posts will primarily focus on social and community issues and how they are being addressed through creative means. I believe in art’s ability to make positive impacts in people and society, and I will shine a light on the stories that highlight this fact. I hope you will follow and enjoy the stories, and also let me know what you think.