Dr Kate Davis ex­plores the im­pact of so­cial me­dia

THE RE­SEARCHER, THE PLAT­FORMS AND THE PAR­TIC­I­PANTS

Style Magazine - - Contents - BY LEANDRI VAN STADEN

Face­book, In­sta­gram, Twit­ter. While mums with chil­dren aged 15 and over will never have had ac­cess to th­ese so­cial me­dia plat­forms while their kids were ba­bies, to­day’s moth­ers are over­whelmed with a world of in­for­ma­tion at their fin­ger­tips. Most peo­ple think noth­ing of this. So what? Ev­ery­one is on Face­book.

Dr Kate Davis is not like most peo­ple. She’s made it her mis­sion to find out how so­cial me­dia in­flu­ences new mums in this brave new age of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

Dr Davis is an in­for­ma­tion re­searcher and a se­nior re­search fel­low at USQ, with an in­ter­est­ing fo­cus. She com­pleted her PH.D in 2015, fo­cussing on how new mums en­gage with in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia, and what im­pact it has on their ex­pe­ri­ence of moth­er­hood.

“I guess it came from me notic­ing my friends’ us­age of so­cial me­dia chang­ing as they had kids, and go­ing from post­ing about be­ing hung over to hav­ing been up all night with a scream­ing baby,” Dr Davis says.

Her PH.D was ex­ploratory, but she found that so­cial me­dia can be a re­ally pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for new mums.

“I had one par­tic­i­pant who has two chil­dren and she cred­ited so­cial me­dia with sav­ing her from post-natal de­pres­sion with her sec­ond child. She didn’t feel as iso­lated as she did at first, be­cause she could be alone in the mid­dle

“There are women out there mak­ing the con­scious de­ci­sion to try and help other moth­ers by be­ing re­ally real about moth­er­ing.” DR KATE DAVIS

One of the things I am re­ally in­ter­ested in, is im­mu­ni­sa­tion and how in­for­ma­tion and mis­in­for­ma­tion flows on so­cial me­dia.” DR KATE DAVIS

of the night, breast­feed­ing, and could con­nect with peo­ple.”

While re­search­ing her PH.D, Dr Davis found mums were us­ing so­cial me­dia to nor­malise their ex­pe­ri­ence of moth­er­hood.

“They ask ‘what is this re­ally like’ and ‘what is nor­mal be­hav­iour for a child’,” she says.

She added that a lot of her par­tic­i­pants talked about how they had had un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of moth­er­hood, based on the way main­stream me­dia paints moth­ers, and based on the books they’d read be­fore hav­ing ba­bies.

“One par­tic­i­pant de­scribed it as step­ping of the plane in a for­eign coun­try for the first time and get­ting a real sense of cul­ture shock, but with a baby, you can’t just get back on the plane.”

Dr Davis ex­plained that so­cial me­dia gave those par­tic­i­pants a way to see some of the ‘nitty gritty’ and less pos­i­tive as­pects of moth­er­hood, and to un­der­stand that other peo­ple were strug­gling too.

Dr Davis is now ex­pand­ing on her PH.D re­search into new mums’ ex­pe­ri­ence of so­cial me­dia, fo­cussing specif­i­cally on health.

The is­sue of im­mu­ni­sa­tion is very topi­cal at the mo­ment, with some mums choos­ing not to vac­ci­nate their chil­dren and fac­ing the blow-back from that de­ci­sion. Dr Davis is in­ter­ested in the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence of this is­sue, par­tic­u­larly what in­for­ma­tion mums are ex­posed to on so­cial me­dia and the im­pact that has on them and their de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

With the words ‘fake news’ and ‘click bait’ be­com­ing more prom­i­nent, I asked Dr Davis whether she be­lieved mums are ex­posed to too much mis­in­for­ma­tion.

“There’s a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia, but a lot of good in­for­ma­tion too. Mums ben­e­fit not just from the in­for­ma­tion, but also from the so­cial in­ter­ac­tions that hap­pen around it.”

But, she added, there is a lot of work to be done around me­dia lit­er­acy and mak­ing sure peo­ple have the crit­i­cal skills to con­sider the in­for­ma­tion they are en­gaged with.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Davis, there are real op­por­tu­ni­ties for public health providers and health agen­cies to con­nect with mums in on­line spa­ces, but so­cial me­dia has to be au­then­tic.

“From my per­spec­tive, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to un­der­stand how mums are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing so­cial me­dia, so health care providers can come up with the best pos­si­ble strate­gies to con­nect with them,” she says.

She be­lieves fur­ther ex­plo­ration is nec­es­sary to see how peo­ple will feel about con­nect­ing with health providers through so­cial me­dia.

“I think there would be lots of peo­ple who would be open to con­nect­ing with or­gan­i­sa­tions, but there are other strate­gies for get­ting con­tent into peo­ple’s feeds with­out di­rectly in­ter­act­ing with them.”

With the topic of on­line pri­vacy pop­ping up reg­u­larly over the last cou­ple of months, I asked Dr Davis whether this was a con­cern among her par­tic­i­pants. She said, for some mums, pri­vacy is a real is­sue.

“Mums are shar­ing so much about their very pri­vate per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of moth­er­ing and some are very con­scious of the fact they’re shar­ing about an­other per­son who’s one day go­ing to grow up and have their own sense of self.”

We talked about the preva­lence of neg­a­tiv­ity on so­cial me­dia. She men­tioned that she fol­lows a lot of ‘mum-in­flu­encer’ types out of per­sonal in­ter­est and has of­ten seen them talk­ing about the neg­a­tiv­ity they ex­pe­ri­ence. Some­times, mums are at­tacked for shar­ing any­thing from their baby’s feed­ing sched­ule to small ac­ci­dents and in­juries.

“One of my par­tic­i­pants had an ex­pe­ri­ence where she wrote a blog post and she was torn apart in the com­ments.”

A lot of top­ics on moth­er­hood are se­verely di­vi­sive and po­lit­i­cal – im­mu­ni­sa­tion, at­tach­ment par­ent­ing, controlled cry­ing, the list goes on – and neg­a­tive re­ac­tions are swift and oft times, bru­tal. Th­ese kinds of re­ac­tions on­line, can lead to mums en­gag­ing less and miss­ing out on op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn from oth­ers, or to help oth­ers.

“It’s sad that it’s a deter­rent. There are women out there mak­ing the con­scious de­ci­sion to try and help other moth­ers by be­ing re­ally real about moth­er­ing,” Dr Davis says.

Dr Davis said she no­ticed dif­fer­ent vibes on dif­fer­ent so­cial me­dia plat­forms. Ac­cord­ing to her re­search, peo­ple who have blogs and con­nect on Twit­ter, tend to have a more pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, while mums pri­mar­ily on Face­book of­ten feel they get un­so­licited ad­vice when­ever they say some­thing.

Th­ese mums, said Dr Davis, were less in­clined to en­gage again on the same plat­form.

When all is said and done, Dr Davis still be­lieves the ben­e­fits to mums sig­nif­i­cantly out­weigh the down sides of so­cial me­dia. So­cial me­dia is a pow­er­ful tool to as­sist new mums, by help­ing them re­alise they’re not alone in their in­se­cu­ri­ties, ig­no­rance and un­readi­ness, and by shar­ing res­o­lu­tions to their ques­tions, of­fer­ing sup­port for their strug­gles, and re­lief from their iso­la­tion.

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