Paper presented at #husITa16 in Seoul, Korea, 29 June 2016.
Neil Ballantyne (Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, New Zealand); Liz Beddoe (University of Auckland, New Zealand); Simon Lowe (University of Waikato, New Zealand); Deb Stanfield Waikato Institute of Technology, New Zealand); Ian Hyslop and Nicole Renata (University of Auckland, New Zealand).
The rise of social media has been associated with the rapid growth in different forms of digital activism. Many studies have traced the role of Facebook, Twitter and blogs in coordinating, debating, and mobilising people to take action on shared issues of concern across the world. Social media have been described as opening up networked public spaces, or participatory publics, where people can engage in open, deliberative, democratic debate within shared communities of practice. Yet, whilst the affordances of networked public space offer many possibilities for engagement and interaction, the technology also shapes social dynamics: altering the nature of publicness and introducing less desirable possibilities such as blurred boundaries, collapsed contexts, and the possibility of surveillance. This study explores the perceptions of social workers who were members of a closed Facebook group called Social Work in Aotearoa New Zealand (SWANZ). This group had over 800 members and was established as ‘a safe place for Social Workers in Aotearoa New Zealand to meet and discuss issues relevant to our practice’. During 2015 the group become a focal point for discussion and debate about a raft of changes to child protection and other social services proposed by the New Zealand government. This study used an online survey and interviews in order to obtain a snapshot of social workers’ views on SWANZ as a participatory public space. The paper reports on findings regarding participants’ perceptions of the value of SWANZ, perceived problems associated with the use of SWANZ, and factors associated with active engagement and reluctance to participate. The paper will conclude with a discussion of the social and ethical implications of the use of social media for democratic deliberation, and offer guidelines on how best to navigate socially-mediated public space.
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