The Good and The Ugly: Attacks within Paris


Social media brings us together and creates disparity. Today, I want to highlight the best and the worst of what came out of the atrocious attacks in Paris on social media, and what we can learn from it.

The first social media platform I would like to praise is Facebook: They set up a “check-in” where victims of the attacks could let their family and friends know that they are alive and okay.

The second social media platform I would like to give thanks to is Skype for making all calls to and from Paris free of charge.

Third, I tip my hat to the citizens of Paris. Twitter users opened their doors to stranded strangers with the hashtag #PorteOuverte.


It’s heartwarming to know that people opened their doors to complete strangers in the midst of a terrorist attack.

Furthermore, I’m impressed by the CBC. Their coverage was based on evidence, and each reporter who tirelessly covered the unfolding events refrained from using biased language. The CBC journalists took every opportunity to say: We will not make assumptions; we will continue to inform the public with the upmost journalistic integrity.

What disappointed me was the hate speech that flooded Twitter and Facebook during the following days. Luckily, none of my friends used the tragic events to create division within our society. However, I read posts from my friends replying to the vitriol they read or received from others.

I hesitate to comment on the theocratic ideology of these attacks. But what I can say is that we must remain as a global society connected by social media in a positive way. We cannot let targeted attacks divide us, because this only serves the agenda of a minority. Rather, we should send a message via social media that we are one and we will not stand for violence nor injustice.


Alaxandra Ma, “These Reactions To The Paris Attacks Will Inspire You”

Sebastian Murdock, “Parisians Can Use A Twitter Hashtag To Seek Shelter During Terrorist Attacks”



Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 4.07.17 AM

I try not to talk about celebrities on social media in my posts. But recently I heard an inspiring lecture from Stefani Germanotta aka Lady Gaga where she presented herself not as a celebrity, but as a person, like you and me, experiencing anxiety, stress, depression, and ultimately, a realization of what it means to be human. Her entire lecture focused on our false sense of connectivity over social media, and our lack of real human connection in our day-to-day lives.

Her intrinsic message was demonstrated as such:

“How are you?”


End of conversation. Emotions and vulnerability are dismissed in our generation. Maybe it is okay to say, “Actually, I’m stressed about school. I’m overcome by depression due to all of the responsibilities and demands that are piling up. I wasn’t prepared for any of this, and I can’t find adequate support.”

And social media doesn’t help things either. Stefani cites a study claiming two-thirds of comments on social media are negative. How is this contributing to our sense of social isolation?

“Nobody’s going to remember what you tweeted. But [what] you will never forget is all of that hateful shit that you read every single day.”

What I admire is how Stefani encourages social media users to be rebellious: to stand up to the status quo and post/tweet/blog something positive; something that inspires our followers to be a better person. I would love nothing more than to utilize social media as a positive outlet. We can connect in a way that we never have before.

Instead of, “How are you?”


How about, “How are you?”

“Well, I’m actually stressed about school.” Or, “I’m really happy about this promotion I got at work!”

Which brings the question: why aren’t we taking control and fixing this social isolation and negativity on social media when we have absolute power at our own finger tips? How are you making a change?

Are our Social Media accounts going to end up on our medical records?

via Grow My Practice Online
via Grow My Practice Online

I recently read an interesting article published by Lisa Rapaport about the possibility of allowing doctors to access our social media accounts to gain an understanding of our medical history. According to the study Rapaport cites, this leap would give doctors more insight into the lifestyle choices that lead to disease or mental illness for their patients. The publication states: “We believe the increasing availability of patients’ accounts of their care on blogs, social networks, Twitter and hospital review sites presents an intriguing opportunity to advance the patient-centered care agenda and provide novel quality of care data.”

But how plausible is this? While we are extremely cautious when sharing personal information on social media platforms, it turns out we’re much more comfortable sharing these details with our doctors. During the study, 71% of 5000 patients answered “yes” to allowing their doctor to view their social media profiles. The idea is to give doctors and researchers a better understanding of what lifestyle factors contribute to disease. Now, I’m not saying that my Facebook account would predict much; a few pictures with a drink in my hand might put my name on the list for liver and heart disease. But other than the 99% of space taken up by adorable cat pictures and quotes, there really isn’t much substance (at least, pertaining to lifestyle choices/overall health). But it is an interesting idea: social media is, in essence, the story of our lives contained within our own recounting of events via posts, photos, and our interests.

Dr. Elissa Weitzman, a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is more optimistic. She wrote in an email to Reuters that, “In a perfect, creative and well worked through digitally enabled world, real-time mining of social media content could be revealing allergies, medications or health problems that are otherwise unknown which could alter treatment decisions in an emergency situation and be life-saving.”

So, is this a plausible idea? Would my doctor comb through my tweets and posts instead of asking standard questions as a fast track to an assessment? I don’t know, but I’ll be sure to ask him next time.

Sources/further readings:

Many patients ok linking social media to medical records

Most patients are comfortable sharing social media with their doctors

Harnessing the cloud of patient experience: using social media to detect poor quality healthcare

The Facebook for Science: How University Academics are Utilizing Social Media


Let me introduce you to, the social networking site for students to find and publish papers, ask and answer questions, and reach out for collaborators. Members can join as an academic researcher (faculty members, university students, or researchers at research institutes), a corporate researcher (product and technology developers), or other (mainly retired researchers or university alumni). I’ll focus on the benefits of joining as an academic researcher, since this one pertains to us.

You can join using your Facebook or LinkedIn account, or by signing up with your email. From there, you can choose your Institution (I was disappointed to see that MacEwan University is still under the name Grant MacEwan University, but…I’ll write a complaint another day), and of course, your area of study. I chose Social Science: Communication and Media: Media Studies, Digital Journalism, New Media Technology, Media Sociology and Blogging. These specific topics bring up any new and relevant peer-reviewed papers. From there, you can follow academics (faculty members and students) from MacEwan University and read their published works, or skip this step altogether and get to business; that is, finding resources for your research papers. This is exactly what I did, since the site seems a little behind when it comes to our University. I didn’t recognize a single professor within the suggestions, plus…the outdated name (really? Didn’t we become a University in 2009?). Disappointing as the name and zero recognizable profs is, this website has a massive database of publications. These publications are either readily available, or available by request. I tested this out by requesting a paper, and it was emailed to me by the next day. I’m extremely impressed by the speed of this site compared to MacEwan’s Library. So, despite its flaws, I think this website will serve as a great complement to MacEwan’s own Library resource while gathering information and sources for an upcoming research paper, or even for your next blog post.

I hope this website comes in handy during finals season!

Sources/further reading:


Online collaboration: Scientists and the social network

Social Media Is Our New Drug Of Choice

Image Credit: The Huffington Post

Does social media impact your life negatively, either from your own use or that of someone else? The story that immediately comes to my mind is one from a friend. She was dating someone for a number of months, and he was perfect in almost all respects; young, smart, attractive, and successful. He had a talent for owning the room every time he spoke. One problem: he was chronically attached to his phone—while driving, at dinner, and in bed. This put a huge strain on their relationship. The problem reached its boiling point when he sat opposite to her dad over lunch, glued to his phone, during his first time meeting her family.

Turns out, social media is a drug. Users crave more and more of that quick fix of mental excitement each time they reach for their phone, tablet, or computer. A group of researchers set out to study the negative effects of internet addiction on the developing brain. They took 17 adolescents who were clinically diagnosed with Internet Addiction Disorder (yes, this is a very real thing) and 16 control adolescents to compare their brains for abnormalities. The results show damage in the same areas you would expect to find when looking at the scan of someone struggling with substance abuse.

The addiction manifests itself in a number of ways: compulsive gaming, watching videos or clicking through articles to the point where it severely impacts productivity, feeling more comfortable in chat rooms and cyber dating instead of forming and maintaining real life relationships, spending unnecessary money shopping online and gambling, and the list goes on…

I’m guilty of checking out what’s trending or watching YouTube clips when I could be using my time more wisely. But for me, it’s more of a relaxation after a long and (hopefully) productive day. I feel like my use is in check, but from now on I’m going to be much more aware of how many times per day I reach for my phone, or how many new articles I bring up after nonchalantly skimming through the last one.

Sources/further reading:

Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study

Dopamine and the reward system

My Day Without a Search Engine

I don’t like self-imposed restrictions. Thankfully, I do love experiments.

Here are my close encounters with Google today:

For my German studies I always use Google translate when I look up a word. In the name of science, I grabbed my German-English dictionary and did it the old fashioned way. What should have taken seconds took minutes, which turned into an entire afternoon of flipping through pages and pages of foreign verbs and nouns.

My friend and I are going out for dinner tonight. She asked me to pick because I’m always finding new restaurants, all thanks to Google. After a quick search and one or two interesting results, I always go back to Google and comb through their reviews. No such luck tonight.

As usual, today brought questions I hoped Google could answer: why are cell phone companies in Canada so evil, can net neutrality be further simplified, and how is Google managed and run. I’ll stop there because A) I’m running out of word space and B) I eventually accepted that I cannot use Google, and the answers were reluctantly put on hold.

I rely entirely on Google for looking up random facts, language translations, and places to eat—among many other things.

However, I remain unconvinced that Google is run in an underground bunker by a small group of men stroking hairless cats and laughing diabolically as they lay out their next plan to take over the world. Yes, it’s scary to realize they have such enormous power with little to no restrictions. But Google is a complex conglomerate that we often forget is run by people, like you and me, who are deeply invested in preserving public opinion. I’d love to learn Google’s history (I’ll probably use Yahoo to search this one). I deny any conspiracy until I can learn more and form my own conclusion.

At least I didn’t have to do any online research for this one (I kept my word).

p.s. I would’ve included media, but I just realized I use Google for that too.

Natasha and Eileen’s Social Media Assignment


Eileen: Phew! This was a difficult assignment, although one of the most beneficial as a Professional Communicator. It opened my eyes to the positive side of journalism; that is, discovering people’s stories and being inspired by their passions. I struggled through learning how to conduct a professional interview, transcribe and edit for print or media, and how much work and time is involved. I was surprised by how most students were willing—even eager—to be interviewed. I was also surprised by how engaged I became with MacEwan University as a brand. I felt a personal responsibility to represent the University—our University—in the best possible light. The most challenging part was working through those awkward silences during the interviews. However, I learned that during those long pauses, we extracted the most information. Allowing the person being interviewed to reflect on the question provides the most honest response.

The value of Twitter lies within its ability to reach either a mass audience or a targeted one via hash tags. You can build a company, business, or an organization’s brand simply by your online presence and communication style. My favorite style is using a bit of humor:

Natasha: When it was first mentioned that we would have to approach random strangers for this assignment, I was a bit nervous. It’s not that I am uncomfortable with talking to people, but I usually dislike initiating conversations complete strangers. However, my experience didn’t reflect my initial concerns, and I actually enjoyed connecting with people around campus. We took the process seriously by recording our interviews to accurately quote the people we spoke with, and through the process we obtained a lot of interesting facts about MacEwan. We were able to have many conversations and picked out what we thought were the most interesting parts. The only difficult part of this was trying to narrow it down to 140 characters. I think our choice in recording our interviewees instead of writing down the quotes had a positive impact on the end product because it gave the posts a more casual tone. When I follow organizations on social media, I want the posts to be authentic and relaxed, and I think this technique helped us achieve this. The whole activity has helped me understand how important it is to stay connected with the community; specifically when you are managing a social media account for an organization. It is effective to engage with people who are involved or connected with the organization and then promote the positive aspects you find.

We hope you enjoy our Storify!

How Digital Humanitarians Save Lives

This week, I want to focus on the positive side of social media; that is, how social media saves lives, specifically during natural disasters.

The most fascinating example is the story of Patrick Meier, a pioneer for crisis mapping:

During the 2010 Haitian earthquake disaster, Meier, with the help of 100 student volunteers, developed a crisis mapping system, despite limited data from Google Maps for many locations in Haiti, and created a free hotline for the public to send and receive alerts for buried or trapped victims, and people in critical need of clean drinking water or medical support.

The entire project began within the first week of the disaster at Fletcher School (Tuffts University) in a dormitory living room:

Volunteers at The Fletcher School in a living room at Blakeley Hall. Credit: Carol Waters.
Volunteers at The Fletcher School in a living room at Blakeley Hall. Credit: Carol Waters.

The team immediately reached out to a Haitian telecommunications company, Digicel, who created a toll-free SMS number for the public to send in tips, which would then be added to the crisis map along with the nature of the alert:

Close up of the Haiti Map. Each number represents the individual number of reports within the area. Users could zoom in further to see the individual reports. Credit: Ushahidi Haiti Project (UHP) and Caption by Patrick Meier.
Close up of the Haiti Map. Each number represents the individual number of reports within the area. Users could zoom in further to see the individual reports. Credit: Ushahidi Haiti Project (UHP) and Caption by Patrick Meier.

Since most of the information was sent in Haitian Creole, a website was set up so that global volunteers could translate tens of thousands of texts, pinpointing the most relevant and urgent ones.

Meier’s system aids in disaster relief by involving people from all over the world. This is the benefit of social media: volunteers can now provide their specialized skills over the web to help victims in other countries. The crisis map also helps agencies work in a swift and efficient manner by providing and verifying information instantaneously. Aside from this new advance, social media provides the means for users to communicate with their friends and family members in the midst of a crisis. Although this new service is still in development, crisis mapping is a social media pioneer in humanitarian aid to look forward to in our ever-changing and unpredictable world.

Sources/further reading:

Patrick Meier, “How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives in Haiti”

Does Radio Encryption Undermine Journalism?

Image credit: Hackwhiz

The argument that “Print is Dead” keeps growing. When I first entered the Bachelor of Communication Studies I had my heart set on Journalism. Yet after spending a day at the Edmonton Journal with the crime bureau chief and a photojournalist, I heard many disturbing stories: financial cutbacks, high stress situations (which, in one unfortunate case, ultimately led to the early death of our photographer’s friend at the age of 35), and the encryption of radio transmissions.

My focus of this post is the information I received about the introduction of encrypted radio transmissions used by police in Toronto, which are in preparation to hit Edmonton. Throughout my visit, we listened to the EMS, EPS, and EFD radio transmissions, which journalists use as leads to create their stories. Journalists are often the first on the scene. Police encounter many calls that they have to attend to as an order of priority, fire departments are fast and efficient when preparing for the scene, but neither are as fast as a journalist with a camera and an available car. These transmissions are what journalists rely on; they are what allow them to be (at most times) the first at the scene.

But how can journalism survive without the vital tips produced by radio transmissions from police, fire, and ambulance services within our city? How will this change journalists’ stories if they are the last on the scene, after the mess has been cleaned up, and all of the information is held until a formal public address? If the only information we receive is from officials, rather than from the general public during the scene of the crime or accident, is this true journalism? Are we getting the real story once encryption is introduced?

I ask: is encryption a good or bad thing in the world of journalism? The answer may be obvious, but I also offer the opposing argument: does it safeguard our police force? Can we strike a balance between civil service and journalistic integrity?


Radiocommunication Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. R-2)

Police radio to go silent as Toronto cops move toward encrypted communications

Scanner silence: Nova Scotia RCMP switching to digital encryption

RADIO SILENCE: Kamloops RCMP switching to encrypted radios

Prince George RCMP switch to digitally encrypted police radio system


Last week, a Texan schoolteacher caused the arrest and detainment of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a homemade digital clock to class which, in the faculty’s view, appeared to be a bomb. The boy, wearing a NASA t-shirt, was put in handcuffs and taken to a juvenile detention facility where he was then interrogated. This caused a media firestorm with (almost) everyone siding with Ahmed using the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed (see Bill Maher’s contrary, albeit humorous take on Real Time with Bill Maher: 

Included were powerful individuals like President Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg:

Mark Zuckerberg I love this. I invited Ahmed to visit Facebook too.

The teacher(s) involved in Ahmed’s arrest just inadvertently built his future into a great one, all thanks to the power of social media. Opportunities for Ahmed are popping up everywhere, with invitations from Foursquare, MIT, and even a shout-out from NASA:

However, in certain cases an information cascade or “bandwagon effect” occurs. Information cascade is when one observes another’s actions while disregarding opposing sides of the story and uses it in order to gain personal popularity.

See the following link for a great article on information cascade and social media “influentials”:

While what happened to Ahmed was undoubtedly unfair, we see this effect commonly within social media. For the teacher, Ahmed’s shy demeanor and questionable-looking device resulted in a perceived threat to all of the students’ security. Lack of communication and one teacher’s anxiety led to Ahmed’s arrest: a simple mistake with huge consequences. So what can we take from this? One lesson is that great things can come from horrible situations when we join together as a global community and take a humane stand via social media. But what we must do is always take into account ALL sides of the story: the principal’s, the teachers’, and Ahmed’s, for example. We must recognize the power of social media and exercise caution and objectivity when pointing society’s finger at an individual or group.