Scott Campbell, PhD, joins this episode of Michigan Minds to discuss how social media platforms are reducing disturbing content, ethical strategies users can practice online, and media mindedness. Campbell is the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Professor of Telecommunication in the Department of Communication and Media at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. His research focuses on investigating how to change the dynamics between self and society in a digital context.
Campbell provides insight from a paper he authored, Re-Conceptualizing Solitude in the Digital Era: From “Being Alone” to “Noncommunication,” explaining the evolution from previous theories. As solitude is quite the opposite of communication, which is his expertise, Campbell shares that investigating the contrasting side to communication is what sparked his interest in this research. He notes that previous research on solitude was published before the rise of digital and social media, and wanted solitude to be rethought as a matter of social aloneness rather than physical aloneness.
“It’s important when we start thinking about solitude as social aloneness and physical aloneness, and the fact that we can connect anytime anywhere now with our mobile phones in our pockets. It helps us realize that there are a couple of different versions of solitude and that some of it is going away.”SCOTT CAMPBELL
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Campbell details how the continuous circulation of disturbing viral videos harms social media users. With social media being widely accessible, he shares that there’s a much lower threshold for who can participate in public communication, but also how people participate. Campbell explains how a social media user shared a video they took of a fatal fall that occurred at an amusement park, which spread widely on platforms. He emphasizes that these videos have negative impacts on people’s wellbeing, and how important it is for social media channels to have community standards.
He explains what social media platforms are doing in an effort to reduce traumatic content that’s circulating and what has changed over the years. He says that overall, researchers are seeing more diversity and cleaner spaces across social platforms, which can be a result of online community standards. When comparing platforms, Twitter has lower community standards where people are not as accountable compared to a platform like TikTok, where disturbing content is taken down more quickly. Although social platforms are responsible for establishing safe online communities, Campbell adds that it’s also the users who must practice ethical communication and social engagement as they would in person.
“There’s ethics on our part too, and we have to be ethical users. It’s for our own well being, but it’s for the well being of others to be ethical in our mindset of how we’re using social media—and so some of the responsibility lies on the individual too,” he says.
Campbell discusses freedom of speech on the internet and relates it to the importance of democracy. He says that to have ethically functional conversations online, people must be responsible for their words and actions, and think about how their communication will be interpreted before they post. “We have to bring our own set of ethics and principles to the table, it’s just as important that we do in terms of not just what we post, but what we report, what we don’t report, what we look at, etc.”
Media literacy and mindfulness are also important elements to using social media platforms. Campbell refers to this as “media mindedness,” which he describes as a unified effort to care about how we use social media instead of using it as a place to harm or create conflict with others.
“We need to have a higher sense of media mindedness so that we can turn on our media literacy skills, and that means that we have to really care in a way that I think that instead of caring, we tend to take our media for granted,” he says.