This past July, Renata and I travelled to Toronto, Canada to attend the 2019 Social Media and Society Conference. It was my very first experience traveling with an undergraduate student to a conference and to be honest I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that I am the luckiest, because Renata was the best conference buddy EVER! The primary purpose of our presence at the conference was to present our research poster (which I will describe a bit more later in this post). However, attendance to the conference was also a professional development opportunity for Renata and me.
During the conference we attended a few workshops (i.e., social media network analysis with NodeXL and "linking" social survey and social media data). The "linking" workshop was particularly interesting as we were able to better grasp how much public data is available through some social media platforms. We were actually expose to "Venmo" data, which is a platform that Renata uses. After going to the workshop we had conversations about the use and availability of public data. We also shared our concerns about the lack of privacy and awareness of the users (many users probably do not know that their transactions and messages shared through the Venmo platform can be "collected").
We also attended the two keynote sessions. Both were absolutely amazing! Funny story: the first keynote was about how teenagers use social media (Not So Social, Not So Networked: Teens’ Perspectives of Privacy and Trust on Social Media by Dr. Valerie Steeves). Many of the comments made by the keynote speaker were practiced by Renata on her own social media use. She (Renata) was fascinated by the fact that the keynote speakers and other researchers dedicate their investigations to learn more about how her generation uses social media. The second keynote speaker was focused more on "content moderation" in social media platform (Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media by Dr. Tarleton Gillespie).
For the regular sessions, we aimed to focus on education-related social media presentations. However, we also attended several sessions that discussed methodologies to help analyze social media data.
As I mentioned earlier, we presented our research poster (titled: Keeping streaks and doing it for the gram: Undergraduate students participation in their most versus least used social media). Several attendees stopped by to learn more about our project and ask questions related to findings. Renata did a great job presenting and discussing our poster. It was a moment of joy, for me, to see her very eloquently sharing the project that we had worked on for about a year.
One of the most interesting conversations that we had, during the poster session, was with a Canadian attendee of the conference. We started discussing how Instagram had pilot-tested removing the "like" or "heart" button in the Instagram account of Canadian users. We discussed how those "likes" have an effect on the users. Then, Renata shared that it is not uncommon for several of her college classmates to post a photo to Instagram, wait a few minutes to see if anyone liked it, and, if there are a low number of "likes", purchase "likes" through the Instagram app. I don't know why, but I was completely shocked by this behavior. I can understand organizations doing this for marketing purposes, but college students? It just tells me a lot about the pressure to be "liked" on social media that individuals, in this case young adults, must feel.
Overall, this was a great experience! The sessions and conversations gave me food for thought. I am still fascinated by how much we are learning about social media use and participation, but blow away by how much more there is to learn.
Dr. Enilda Romero-Hall