Workshop 1: The present of social media

In our previous blogpost, we introduced our 3 participatory design workshops about social media. In this blogpost, we will tell you about our first workshop, which was dedicated to the present of social media.  

Our first workshop had 2 main goals:

  1. Getting to know each other, and 
  2. Becoming familiar with the existing data 

Getting to know each other 

One of the core objectives of the first workshop was getting to know each other and becoming comfortable working together. To get started, we invited people to introduce themselves through something they had made. This gave us an opportunity to share some of our special interests.  

The object-based introductions turned out to be a fantastic ice-breaker. There was a truly remarkable range of skills and abilities within the participating groups. We got to see illustrations, paintings, embroidery, music, poems, fabulous Lego pieces and even a guitar that one of our participants had made from scratch. The members of the research team brought hand-made bead jewellery, delicious Mexican food recipes with over 20 ingredients, and beautiful crochet pieces.  

Becoming familiar with the existing data 

The second goal of the first workshop was to become familiar with the data the project had collected during its first year. This data was gathered through interviews, and also included participants’ Facebook and Twitter posts.  

During the first workshop, we looked at this data through an activity called the evidence safari. To prepare the activity, the researchers chose a sample of the data representing the main topics and subjects. Then, they organised the sample data into 5 themes. These themes are summarised below:

  1. Autistic community. This theme was about how people use social media to connect and interact with other autistic people. 
  2. Comments. This theme was about people’s preference for engaging with existing social media conversations, rather than starting new ones from scratch.  
  3. Social media features. This theme was about how people use things like emojis, images, GIFs and hashtags.  
  4. Avoiding conflict. This theme was about how people carefully craft their social media messages to prevent misunderstandings and to avoid arguments. 
  5. Special interests. This theme was about how people use social media to learn, read about and discuss their interests and hobbies. 

Each of these themes included 4 evidence cards, with each card displaying a piece of data. All data in the cards was anonymised, with participants’ names and social media handles replaced with pseudonyms. 

For each theme, we also prepared a review card. Each review card listed 4 questions participants were invited to reflect upon while looking at the evidence cards.

The image shows the review card for the theme Avoiding conflict. The card contains the following 4 questions: Question 1, have you had any experiences of arguments, conflict or banning in social media?; question 2, what do you think about Anne in card 3 starting her post by clarifying her intentions?; question 3, do you have any strategies that help you indicate your tone when you write a social media post?; question 4, have you had similar or different experiences to those from our prior participants?
The review card for the “Avoiding conflict” theme. 

Workshop 1 took place remotely via videocall. To make possible our remote evidence safari, we put all the cards on a shared digital whiteboard, neatly organised by theme. 

The image shows the digital whiteboard as it looked like at the beginning of the workshop. The 20 evidence cards and the 5 review cards are organised in 5 columns, with each column representing one of the 5 themes.
The evidence and review cards organised by theme in our digital whiteboard. 

We also printed the cards on thin cardboard and posted them to participants well ahead of the workshop. Together with the cards, we also sent some magic whiteboard and washi tape, so that participants could put the cards up at home on a wall or window.  

The image shows the workshop cards laid out over a window in the home of one of our participants. The participant used the magic whiteboard sheets to keep the cards in place.
The evidence cards in one of our participant’s homes. 

The evidence safari 

We had 4 working groups, and so we run 4 different workshops: one with each group. A workshop lasted only 2 hours: not enough time to review all 5 themes. So we split the themes across the 4 workshops. Each workshop was allocated 2 themes to review, with 20 minutes for each theme.  

A theme review started with 5 minutes of individual work. During this time, participants read the cards in the theme, and wrote comments about them. There were 2 ways of writing comments. Participants could add their comments to the digital whiteboard, as shown in the image below. 

The image shows how a digital whiteboard looked like at the end of the workshop. A whole bunch of post-it notes now surround the cards belonging to the 2 themes reviewed during the workshop.
The digital whiteboard of one of the working groups after workshop 1. 

Participants could also handwrite their comments using paper post-it notes. They emailed a photograph of their handwritten comments to the researchers, and the researchers then added those comments to the digital whiteboard. 

The image shows one of the participants' hand-written comments on yellow post-it notes.
One of the workshop participant’s handwritten comments. 

After the review and comment time, there was a group discussion about the theme. Once the 20 minutes had passed, we repeated the process with the second theme. The workshop ended with some final reflections from each participant. 

What did we find? 

We are still reviewing and analysing the data from the workshops, so we cannot share much about this just yet. But one of the key messages from our participants was that they felt torn about social media as it is today.  

On one hand, social media platforms are a fantastic tool to socialise and stay connected. On the other hand, they are confusing, have too much content, are prone to conflict, demand too much effort, jeopardise our privacy, and are driven by questionable business principles.  

For now, it looks like the advantages of social media outweigh its drawbacks, but only by a wafer-thin margin. Change is needed if we are to preserve the benefits these technologies can contribute to our lives. 

How do you feel about social media? Let us know by leaving a reply.  

2 thoughts on “Workshop 1: The present of social media

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