It is ethical.

Internet spaces can be understood as cultural, a place for people with the same values, customs and practices to gather. These cultures are filled with multisensory interactions such as emojis, gifs, texts, images and videos. These interactions, when put into context within a particular culture carry different meanings to that of other cultures. However, since we are so smart, we are able to decode and interpret them in various contexts. For example. The fire emoji 🔥. When put into the context of a social media user looking fabulous, it is interpreted as HOT! Dayummmmm. When used in the context of someone spitting some truth, they are on fire (not literally). Then someone might use it to express how hot it is in Australia. Can also be used to explain how LIT their weekend was. One symbol, can mean so many things depending on the coded context. 🔥🔥🔥

For my autoethnographic research project, I aim to immerse myself consciously in the realm of mental health on social media, with an attempt to discover and understand themes and how people communicate within them. Mental health is a sensitive topic, and has only recently become more of a topic of conversation due to advocates speaking up and out. To try and keep it real, my autoethnographic focus will be on the positivity of the raised conversation and how it has helped myself and others. When it comes to analysing the data I have collected, I will be looking for prominent themes, such as Sari Hokkanen had found embodied field experiences of feeling rushed, disgust and joy in her autoethnography of volunteer interpreting in Church (Hokkanen, 2017).

Social media platforms are commonly framed as spaces for expression, where people share their opinions, such as those on politics, social issues, their feelings or express themselves through memes (Winter, et. al 2020). This space also enables such articulations to be listened to. To participate on the internet, we must listen. Winter and Lavis theorise two types of listening on social media; ‘Active’ and ‘Adaptive’.

Active listening is the act of contextually engaging with the voices of plenty that surround each social media post, and that move beyond the post and into other topics and spaces (Winter, et.al 2020). This demonstrates why we should listen. Adaptive listening is simply, but not simply how we should listen. Adaptive listening offers a way to embrace the multiplicity and heterogeneity of online communities to forge a nuanced understanding of social media platforms and their distinct, unique cultures (Winter, et.al 2020).

Qualitative researchers situate themselves in a consciously value-laden territory in which human relationships and critical self-reflection loom prominently (Mertins 2014, pg. 510). They enter a realm of ethical dilemmas throughout the research process that go beyond legal requirements and professional standards. Ethical research procedures need to be considered and followed adequately and the use of the qualitative data needs to be considered. At this point, my research will be an autoethnography, but who knows what the future holds. I may stumble upon some awesome people willing to share their experiences and opinions. For that matter, I will ensure confidentiality upon their consent and completion of a participatory document. I will provide information about the research project, give them my contact details and ensure they feel free to bail at any time. When representing their data, I will not provide characteristic details that could expose their identity. Since my research project is based on social media, it is appropriate to share live links to public profiles and pages in support of my findings.

References

Hokkanen, S 2017, ‘Analyzing personal embodied experiences: Autoethnography, feelings, and fieldwork’, Translation & Interpreting, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 24-35.

Mertens, Donna (2014) Ethical Use of Qualitative Data and Findings, The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis (Edited by Use Flick), Sage: Los Angeles, 510 – 523.

Winter, Rachel and Lavis, Anna (2020) Looking, But Not Listening? Theorizing the Practice and Ethics of Online Ethnography, Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics Vol. 15(1-2) 55 – 62.

Ok, I found a problem.

Growing up in a small town, I had dreamed of getting out and exploring the world and doing marvelous things. But to do that, we need money, education and a good head on your shoulders (mentally, not physically – although it seems attractiveness is the answer). The concept of bettering myself became clear, but the journey is always unknown. So, that’s when we turn to someone above, someone who has experienced it. Learn from their mistakes, absorb a healthy structure into our daily lives that then flourishes into a healthier and happier life. Sounds good and easy, right?

This concept of self-development has been around for years. But, today, in the era of internet technologies and a saturated market, who is real and who is fake? Taking on the role of being an influencer, you have a lot of responsibilities. The nature of this topic is very personal and sensitive. So, why do I see a large majority of people who are self-taught self-help gurus flooding social media rather then educated clinical psychologists or trained spiritual healers. I discovered this problem the deeper I went into my newsfeed. The algorithms handed me Instagram influencers with a passion for self-help instead of trained clinicians.

Why is this an issue?

Mental health should be taken very seriously. Yes, people can show their support by sharing content etc. But the issue arises when influencers who are not accredited or educated in the field, claim to have the answer. Mental health has always been a personal interest of mine. As Sarah Wall (2006) states, an initial engagement with a research topic occurs with an discovery of an intense interest that is not only meaningful, but has broader social implications. I believe this research topic would take the interest of others. Purely because, we can agree that social media influencers in the marketing spectrum take over our news feed, leaving the educated and accredited ones behind.

So how will I carry out this research task?

Through observation and autoethnography, I hope to obtain new knowledge about this topic as well as define a problematic feature, and narrow my focus on that aspect and synthesize it with theoretical frameworks. I hope to find an understanding of the broader social implications this problem has a input in.

My process.

The process will be a process itself, I have no clear indication on how exactly I will carry out this research task, or other elements and concepts that arise as I dive deeper. But at this point, I aim to follow more and examine influential accounts, both the educated and ‘claimed to be’. I will take part in journaling personally and observing others interactions with these accounts. In my journaling adventures, I will take note on my emotions, the time and place that I am engaging with the posts, and what type of posts they are. For example, late at night I scroll through an account with motivational quotes. Why is that? Do I want to reflect on it, and make a better day tomorrow? Or I find myself saving posts about anxiety and meditation. And why do I go on social media instead of helpful resources like Beyond Blue? This question bothers me.

My loose schedule.

References

Wall, Sarah (2006) An Autoethnography on Learning about Autoethnography, International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5 (2).

One step closer to a narrowed niche.

I brushed over in the previous blog post that my media niche was going to be the subculture of self-development. Self-development in the media primarily exists in the online world, essentially because, heck, everything is online. The self-help book you bought at the store, its available as a audio book online.

In this blog post, I aim to narrow my niche by identifying the key players and it’s field site. A field site refers to the network of incorporated physical, virtual and imagined spaces (Burrell, 2009). Below, is my attempt of mapping the field site.

Like anything on the internet, Self-development as a online culture is huge and extremely complexed. It is tiring to think about all its deep, interconnected layers. To conduct an ethnographic study on social media platforms, we observe the online public’s and the fluid associations among people whom don’t actually know each other, channeled by a common denominator (Airoldi, 2018).

To grasp somewhat of an understanding of the ‘Self Development’ field site, It seems strategic to begin with a ‘research search’ in which distinguishes a ‘meta-fieldwork’ (Airoldi, 2018). Starting with Instagram, the aesthetically pleasing platform, filtered by hashtags and algorithms, I simply searched the hashtag #Selfdevelopment. This hashtag features 2.3 million posts, growing daily. Clicking on few of the top posts, this hashtag is in conjunction with the following hashtags…

#selfcare #selflove #selfdevelopment #selfimprovement #selfgrowth #selfmotivation #selfrespect #selfworth #personalgrowth #personaldevelopment #normalizenormalbodies

And the list goes on.

Having a click through the top posts, the accounts include a lot of Self-Discovery Coaches, Motivated Mindset Inspiration Quotes, Psychologists, Teachers, Grad Students, Fitness Trainers, Entrepreneurs, Motivational Speakers, Business and Mindset Mentors. This already begins to paint the picture of educated, motivated and healthy people. From my understanding at this point, these accounts would be the facilitators.

Let’s take a look at @myeasytherapy

This account is Dr. Michaela, a Clinical Psychologist, working in the field of Mental Health for over 10 years now. She brought her knowledge and experience to an Instagram page to make mental health wellness information accessible for everyone. Dr. Michaela interacts with Instagram users via using the applications question features on the stories. The posts are supportive and positive, providing information on mental health, motivation and affirmations for users to do. The persona of Dr. Michaela appears to be similar to others within the field site.

Another person I follow is James Clear, I have read his book ‘Atomic Habits‘. I have included James Clear as an industry leader, he not only does he have a best selling book and a strong social media following, but has also been interviewed by London Reel (see below). Both James Clear and Dr. Michaela have different professions, however they share a fundamental goal to destroy stigma around mental health, educate and support people to reach their full potential.

From being immersed in this culture myself, I understand how I interact with these professionals and influencers. If they post a heartwarming or related message, I jump on it and share it to my Instagram story. I hope for others to interact positively with it.

References

Burrell, Jenna (2009) ‘The Field Site as a Network: A Strategy for Locating Ethnographic Research’, Field Methods, 21:2, 181–199.File

Airoldi, Massimo(2018) ‘Ethnography and the digital fields of social media’, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 21:6, 661 -673.