Changing the World Through Imagery: Snapchat, Instagram, and Flickr

July 19, 2018

Ephemeral moments, briefly captured and briefly shared through imagery, are at the heart of Snapchat—a social media platform used by nearly 75 percent of teens in America, a Pew Research Center report released in May 2018 suggests; it is a tool that is designed to playfully combine text captions and imagery through a here today, gone tomorrow approach. What you post there is generally meant to last no longer than 24 hours before disappearing. The tremendously world-changing impact a Snapchat post can have, however, became clear in early 2018, when a teenaged Snapchat user captured the horrendous moments of the mass shooting of students, by a former student, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

This was a snap that did not—and will not—disappear. Copied and reposted online and included in mainstream media coverage of the tragedy, it has taken on a life of its own; was part of a student-driven online social media presence that helped spur the March for Our Lives (#MarchForOurLives) protest movement that has attracted participation from students and adults in more than 800 cities worldwide and its companion initiative, Vote for Our Lives (#VoteForOurLives); and, within one month of the shooting, had produced gun-control legislation in Oregon and Florida unlike any that previously came out of years of fruitless conversations between those in favor of somehow limiting access to guns and those who firmly believe that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution provides absolute, uncontrolled access to guns.

Watching that snap or looking at March for Our Lives images on the Instagram and Flickr  photo-sharing sites takes you to the heart of one of the most divisive debates in America today. You don’t just see people affected by an issue seeking some sort of positive resolution: you see the debate itself playing out in sometimes spiteful, vicious comments between those who find themselves on opposite sides of a debate that was producing few concrete results—until that snap went viral, the students became advocates with often very sophisticated approaches to the social (and mainstream) media tools available to them, and those students joined the voices of those insisting that “enough is enough” and that a positive response to the most awful of situations had to come sooner than later.

The fact that Snapchat was the initial vehicle for providing painfully jarringly intimate glimpses into another tragedy unfolding was probably something that those creating Snapchat could never have predicted when they created a platform for capturing and briefly disseminating ephemeral moments.

“I don’t think [Facebook Co-founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer] Mark Zuckerberg ever dreamed that Facebook would be involved in presidential election scandals and the fake-news cycle. Nor do I think that Snapchat leadership pictured teens snapping violent and traumatic injury in the midst of a horrific crisis,” Samantha Becker, the independent consultant and President of SAB Creative & Consulting, says. “It’s not necessarily something you envision from the get-go, but it makes sense that social networks would be effective vehicles for spreading news, exposing real-life events in progress, etc. But there can definitely be backlash. I’m thinking about the Logan Paul YouTube scandal from a couple months ago, where he showed footage from a suicide. People are rightfully concerned that social media can glamorize the tragic. It’s a very delicate balance and there is a fine line between sharing something that spurs positive action vs. negative reactions. The in-situ experience of social media means that people aren’t always thinking before they post—and they can be greatly penalized for that or end up inspiring the wrong kind of action.

“I don’t have a solution for how and where to draw the line, but we could use more guidance around that and more ways to educate forthcoming generations and provide proper digital literacy training.”

Briefly tracing the early, rapid growth of #MarchForOurLives provides a strong reminder that specific social media platforms do not operate in a vacuum; they are part of an overall combination of traditional and relatively new media formats available to those who want to take the small- and large-scale steps that can lead to changing the world. #MarchForOurLives at least in part grew rapidly because those Snapchat images inspired action in a variety of ways: through mainstream and cable news programs; postings on other social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and YouTube; fundraising efforts coordinated by the nonprofit March for Our Lives Action Fund and others; and the personalization of the story through Parkland student-activists including Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg. In fact, it is the personalization of that message through the voices of Gonzalez, Hogg, and others that draw us and inspire us to action through the power of storytelling—through Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and book-length explorations that bring these stories to people who might otherwise be overwhelmed and be unable to see that the road from observer to activist can be traveled in many different ways and in relatively short periods of time. Hogg and his sister Lauren appear to understand this implicitly: less than six months after the shooting in Parkland, they were able to publish #NeverAgain, a call to action published by Random House Trade Paperbacks.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the twelfth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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A Predictably Irrational Way to Lose Our Best Employees

July 29, 2010

There is thought-provoking news to be drawn from the latest quarterly “Employee Outlook” survey report published by the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): short-sighted cuts in training budgets may be laying the groundwork for an exodus of our best employees.

Here’s what the report shows: Job satisfaction levels in the United Kingdom are, as we might suspect in the current recession, very low (approximately 35% of the more than 2,000 public, private, and nonprofit sector employees surveyed—p. 2 of the report). More than a third of the respondents said they would change jobs within the next year if they could (p. 3). Nearly one-fourth of those who would like to change jobs would “be looking in a different sector” (p. 3). More than a third of all surveyed said they would seek a different type of work if they decided to switch jobs (p. 15). And approximately 40 percent of the respondents said one of the main reasons they would attempt to switch jobs is “to learn new things.”

That level of movement is consistent with what I have seen and read about in organizations here in the United States whenever there is an economic downturn. The latest report suggests that there remains a tremendous need and interest in effective training-learning opportunities out there at a time when there are clear signs that spending on workplace learning and performance programs has fallen. Younger employees currently entering the workplace, furthermore, are also continuing a related trend documented earlier: the Pew Research Center’s recent report on Millennials suggests that these incoming employees will be the best educated we’ve ever seen, and they expect to engage in lifelong learning to remain competitive.

Someone, we might conclude, is clearly not reading between the lines here or seeing the possibilities inherent in this situation.

Less than half of those responding to the CIPD survey said that their managers and supervisors discuss their workplace learning and performance needs. Slightly more than one-fourth of the employees said “their manager always/usually coaches them on the job” (p. 2). While cutbacks in training programs appear to be slowing down, more than 20 percent of the respondents said those sorts of cutbacks have occurred during the past year (p. 10).

Training, as numerous reports have shown and as Deena Sami noted in the Orange County Register earlier this month, is a critically important element contributing to employees’ workplace satisfaction and success. Yet we seem to fall into the trap of making what Dan Ariely calls “predictably irrational” decisions in his book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions; we engage in predictably irrational behavior every time we reduce workplace learning and performance programs rather than increasing them when employee morale is already sinking.

The situation documented by the CIPD report becomes even more predictably irrational when we listen to presentations like the one given by American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) CEO Tony Bingham at the organization’s annual Chapter Leaders Conference in Arlington, VA last autumn. Bingham, addressing workplace learning and performance professionals from across the country, warned that those waiting for training programs to return to companies which had eliminated them were counting on “a dream, a fantasy.” Company executives who had made those cuts told Bingham they were satisfied with the reductions and don’t intend to bring back the programs they have eliminated.

Our challenge in workplace learning and performance, then, is straightforward. If we see the possibility of a huge exodus looming for our organizations when the global economy improves, and if we know that the exodus will be fueled by a desire for first-rate learning opportunities which we are not providing, we clearly need to be creating and supporting new learning opportunities for those treasured employees we currently have—before we lose them to smarter and more innovative employers.


Pew Report on Millennials: A Generation of Learners?

February 28, 2010

Trainer-teacher-learners who took the time to read the Pew Research Center’s fabulous new report (Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next) when it was released a few days ago found plenty of cause for joy.

The opening lines of the executive summary suggest that members of this group—born after 1980 and currently 18 to 29 years old—“are on track to become the most educated generation in American history,” and the wonderfully nuanced report helps the rest of us understand why this may come to pass.

This trend, according to those who produced Millennials, can easily be explained as one “driven largely by the demands of  a modern knowledge-based economy, but most likely accelerated in recent years by the millions of 20-somethings enrolling in graduate schools, colleges or community colleges in part because they can’t find a job” (pp. 2-3 of the full report).

The report is balanced enough to note that the situation for Millennials may still change: “Millennials have not yet matched the educational attainment of Gen Xers. So far, 19% are college graduated compared with 35% of Gen Xers. About four-in-ten Millennials are still in school,” and “30% of those not in school say they plan to go back to earn a college degree” (p. 40)—a situation which could evolve as Millennials face the same challenges many of their predecessors faced when trying to implement their best laid plans.

Obstacles they currently face include “too little money and too little time,” yet only “14% say they are not attending school because they don’t need more education” (p. 43). Their challenges have also been well documented in an article recently published in The Atlantic (“How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America”).

So what we’re seeing is a trainer-teacher-learner’s dream: a new group of employees and prospective employees attempting to enter the workforce with a firm recognition of and commitment to the importance of education; a highly educated and motivated group that remains optimistic in spite of some of the worst challenges to face young workers in decades; and a group that is going to keep the rest of us on our toes if we want to be able to serve them effectively to take advantage of all they appear to be willing to offer us and the organizations we support. It looks as if we, too, have challenges to which we must rise.


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