Thursday, 8 April 2021

From informal academic debate to cyber harassment - navigating the minefield as a responsible contributor #WNS2021

My World Nutrition Summit (WNS2021) talk focused on clinicians’ opportunities for becoming responsible digital content contributors on social media (plus several pitfalls). Although the slides were shared via Slideshare at slideshare.net/TravisNoakes/from-informal-academic-debate-to-cyber-harassment-navigating-the-minefield-as-a-responsible-contributor-24399626, their image quality left a lot to be desired. As a multimodal researcher, I'm exploring the talk's remediation into a blog post for online audience's ease-of-access. I trust its "slides" as 'images' plus reworked "presenter notes" as 'post text' do prove fit-for-purpose:

#WNS2021 was organised by the Nutrition Network, which digitally educates, trains and connects clinicians (ranging from doctors to health coaches) concerning up-to-date Insulin Resistance Model of Chronic Ill Health (IRMCIH) science and research in the field of Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) nutrition interventions.



Polishing one’s digital profile is an unusual practice, just like curating one’s photos. Many WNS2021 participants did not enter comprehensive details about themselves for their Accelevents profile and few added profile photos. Such inaction exemplifies how in most professional communities, becoming an original online content creator puts one in an exclusive category. Historic (and likely outdated!) research around online content creation suggests that 89% of Web 2.0 platform users are viewers, while 9% comment,  rate and re-share content. Just 1% actively produce original/creative content (van Dijk, 2009). The NN community seems to be doing better (of the 6,000 professionals who have done NN courses, 150 have digital presences linked from its directory). There is plenty of scope to build on this (2%) and it also presents many interesting opportunities for media scholars. For example, given the scientific and professional suppression that IRMCIH scholars and LCHF proponents face, how many use pseudonymous accounts that these experts do not want to be linked back to their genuine identity? Chat feedback and polls linked to my virtual talk suggested that several do!

My talk encouraged low-carbohydrate clinicians to leverage an opportunity mindset in sharing their professional roles and interests via digital practices to raise their visibility and spotlight low-carb interventions’ successes. Ideally, clinicians should be supported with turning such successes into academic publications, to best support the precarious opportunities of IRMCIH scholars.

SLIDE 2

Overview of FROM INFORMAL ACADEMIC DEBATE TO CYBER HARASSMENT Navigating the minefield  as a responsible contributor

SECTION 1 covers why IRMCIH scholars have turned to digital platforms for promulgating their model… and the cyber harassment they negotiate from academic cyberbullies in HE. The latter is a core focus of the Online Academic Bullying (OAB) research project. SECTION 2 focuses on bridging the veracity of experiences shared on social media with the legitimacy associated with traditional scholarship publications. SECTION 3 focuses on the example of Twitter for developing capitals, as well as the challenges of engaging in online debates in online platforms.


SECTION 1


SLIDE 3

CAN WE FIND ACADEMIC FREE SPEECH  ON IRMCIH IN HIGHER EDUCATION?

These scholars are fighting for academic free speech in Higher Education (HE), where such speech is an important ideal but not a reality. Very few IRMCIH scholars enjoy opportunities to research and teach this emergent paradigm. Notably, there is very little debate in Higher Education concerning the dominant “cholesterol” model of chronic disease development (CMCDD) versus its IRMCIH rival. Skeptics of IRMCIH and low-carb diet interventions largely seem to ignore the role of scientific suppression in stifling IR scholarship. The most vocal skeptics do not seem to engage with the literature on the suppression of dissent or the sociology of scientific knowledge.

SLIDE 4

SCIENTIFIC SUPPRESSION OF IRMCIH AND DOUBLE STANDARDS FOR CMCDD




Rather than HE being an ideal place to lead scientific innovation, which pseudoskeptics typically present it as, it can be a CMCDD dictatorship. Here, academic mafias stifle dissenting scholars for daring to challenge an old model and high-carb, low-fate guidelines. IRMCIH proponents in HE Health Sciences become ostracised as “heretics”; just as other medical dissidents have been (Martin, 2004).


SLIDE 5

IRMCIH EXPERTS CHANGE SCIENCE, NEGOTIATE ONLINE ACADEMIC BULLYING

As Christopher Holmberg’s research has described, dissenting IR scholars in Sweden have turned to using digital platforms for contesting flawed nutritional guidelines; this raised political awareness around low carb diets, providing vital opportunities to contest the nutritional “authorities”. Notably, social media enabled low-carb experts to network their expertise and start conventional scientific research approaches that shift from the anecdotal. This does not seem to have happened in most other countries, though. Scientific suppression of the IRMCIH model in HE seems globally strong.

SLIDE 6

DISTINGUISHING ONLINE ACADEMIC BULLYING:  identifying new forms of harassment in a dissenting Emeritus Professor’s case

An emergent form of such suppression sees advocates for IRMCIH being targeted by cyberbullies from academia. Professor Tim Noakes and my Heliyon publication flags the emergence of Online Academic Bullying (OAB), which is an emergent challenge from HE employees whose academic cyberbullies dissident experts must confront. OAB included the distinctive attacks academic cyberbullies used against an Emeritus Professor- sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S240584402100431X. In addition to academics, the Online Academic Bullying concept also applies to health professionals and those outside academia who become recipients of intellectual and other forms of harassment by higher education’s cyberbullies.  A few emergent cyber harassment strategies are shown in the article's graphic abstract.

SLIDE 7

FORMS OF CYBER HARASSMENT IN  ONLINE ACADEMIC BULLYING


Cyberbullies in HE may also draw on many other forms of digital harassment for attacking others, as listed here. 

SLIDE 8

REPORT ACADEMIC CYBERBULLIES TO DECISION MAKERS

While there are university policies that protect the public from racist, sexual and homophobic harassment, few universities seem to have tackled intellectual cyber harassment from their employees under anti-bullying policies. At The Academic Parity movement's STEM the BULLYING conference, probably the most important insight for the OAB research project emerged from Professor Loraleigh Keashly's talk; 'Without anti-bullying policies, incidents in HE are seen in isolation as once-off, rare and framed as subjective. Thus, they are not related to systemic or structural problems.'

This links to Academic Free Speech, since academic mobs can target dissident scholars being secure in the knowledge that even if they are removed unfairly that investigations are unlikely to identify a systemic pattern. In particular, one across several scholars over many years that has constrained free speech and dissent by the recipients of bullying. Further, an anonymised PostDoc pointed out that there are 'academic mafias' in the Health Sciences. These ensure that any dissenting Principal Investigators(PIs)/young researchers become ostracised and lose funding. Dissident PIs are soon replaced with compliant PIs who can be relied upon to adhere to the orthodox view. Given this context, anti-bullying policies and reporting are vitally important- not just to protect scholars from harassment, but for supporting free speech itself in HE.

SLIDE 9

EXPERIENCED ONLINE ACADEMIC BULLYING?  SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH US

To help reporting on the OAB phenomenon, Dr Patricia Harpur and I are currently researching an OAB reporting instrument (see https://bit.ly/3pnyE6w). We are approaching diverse IRMCIH scholars and LCHF activists to report their experiences with the form and to advise us on its strengths and weaknesses. Anonymised data from those who give us permission will be used to explore the varieties of OAB. In particular, we hope to explore differences by gender, nationality and profession. If you have experienced formal suppression and been targeted by academic cyberbullies and are interested in generating a report and even becoming a research participant, do email me on noakest@cput.ac.za for a Google Form invite and research consent form.

SLIDES 10 and 11

ONLINE ACADEMIC BULLYING  RESEARCH PROJECT STAGES

THE NOAKES FOUNDATION’S  FOUR RESEARCH THEMES


There is a paucity of research into how dissenting IRMCIH scientists and clinicians have used digital platforms for working around scientific suppression and censorship. In response, The Noakes Foundation supports the research theme ‘Academic Free Speech and Digital Voices’, which the OAB research project falls under. This theme largely aims to flag the importance of digital voice for IRMCIH scholars in Higher Education. By contrast, TNF’s theme ‘From clinical practice to published research’ seeks to leverage the freedom that clinicians’ enjoy in prescribing low-carb interventions. It links them to research and supporting clinicians with doing research and preparing manuscripts that can help address gaps in the IRMCIH academic literature.

SECTION 2


SLIDE 12

GAINS IN TRANSLATION BRIDGING THE CREDIBILITY GAP FOR MAX SOCIAL IMPACT

There is a huge opportunity for IR clinicians to translate the veracity of their LCHF interventions into scholarship. If more health experts take up this responsibility, it will improve the visibility of the IRMCIH model in academic literature whilst also building legitimacy for funders to increase financial support for projects tackling IR. Connecting the outcomes of practices’ LCHF interventions to research should result in more written manuscripts and scholarly publications, whilst growing the number and visibility of IR scholars. A strong body of IRMCIH academic publications working in tandem with highly visible, positive reports on popular social media platforms can achieve a powerful synergy whose social impact the CMCDD orthodoxy would greatly struggle to contain.

SLIDES 13 & 14

USING YOUR FREEDOM OF PRACTICE  TO HELP LCHF & IRMCIH CONNECTIVE MOVEMENTS


RESPONSIBILITIES IN DEVELOPING DISTINCTIVE DIGITAL PERSONAE


By contrast to IR scholars, who may lose their livelihoods for teaching, researching and promoting the IRMCIH model, many clinicians enjoy the professional freedom to share LCHF science and prescribe low-carb interventions. Clinicians need support with contributing to both the online and academic IR issue arenas. It starts with participating in networks, such as the Nutrition Network’s, where clinicians learn not only what works… but what is not known. This connection may motivate clinicians to help protect their peers by becoming ‘upstanders’ against cyber harassment. Upstanders are former bystanders who have recognised patterns of bullying behaviour and choose to intervene in a bid to stop bullying (Padgett & Notar, 2013).

Clinicians may also be able share the latest research with their clients. For those who are not English-speaking, clinicians have a huge opportunity to spotlight academic literature for those whose first language is not English, or clients who prefer to follow users in their home languages. The OAB research project has seen examples of this with Spanish interlocutors of an IRMCIH scientific editorial on YouTube. With the right support, health experts with the time and interest to contribute to scholarship, may be able to help close IRMCIH research gaps by researching their patients’ outcomes.


SLIDE 15

LEVELS OF ENGAGEMENT ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS



In sharing their work online, health professionals must choose how they present themselves: genuine identities are a norm for health professionals, but a pseudonymous identity is appropriate where dangers exist from public visibility. Likewise, there are trade-offs in choosing to portray a strictly professional role online, versus one with a blend of interests that could be more relatable to general public. Creators must also consider their preference in mode of communication: the academic default is verbal, social media is multi-media. However, digital content creators may choose to foreground productions with spoken-word, imagery, slides, or even video and coding projects.

With such a broad range of possibilities, it is important that health professionals define their main aim (such as producing a unique portfolio of content). They may have the luxury of time to develop a well-planned strategy for achieving that aim that draws on the examples of Nutrition Network influencers… or content creators might focus on learning-by-doing, gonzo approach where the plan is to continually experiment for finding what works. For example, the research literature does not address which academic social media sites’ audiences will best-respond to manuscripts, so developing presences on the most popular ones, then sharing a manuscript draft via all, would seem the best way to learn firsthand. Over time, health professionals will develop an understanding of who they want to speak to and how to move content across platforms for reaching witnesses and interlocutors.


SLIDE 16

CHECK YOUR PLATFORM(S)

There are many different levels of media engagement that online creators might pursue… producing quality content and driving engagement with audiences does necessitate a big time investment! Even the most private of us will have shadow profiles that popular social network platforms create for their not-as-yet-members, who may be identified in photos or email addresses that members share. Most people take control of their digital personas by putting themselves on the ‘Google Map’ so to speak through joining social media to network, share resources and give feedback on what they like. Few people produce original online content under their own names and this has emerged as a contemporary form of distinction. There are many roles that digital content producers can choose from to support the LCHF and IRMCIH connective movements. Likewise, for becoming their own personal channel across different platforms.


SLIDE 17

EXAMPLES FOR DEBATE SELECTIONCHAGEMYVIEW & DEBATE.ORG & LETTER.LY




For example, if a health professional is interested in pursuing civil debate, there are interesting options, such as: Reddit’s ‘change my view’, Debate.org and Letter Wiki. A particularly IRMCIH/LCHF-friendly space is subreddit/ketoscience, which has 175k members. These platforms are designed specifically for civil discussion, so are arguably better venues for agonistic exchange than social media networks. These have much greater reach, but are marred by underwhelming moderation and safety policies/procedures.


SLIDE 18

OPPORTUNITY-DRIVEN EXPECTATIONS VERSUS HARM-DRIVEN ONES


Media studies researchers who focus on participatory culture and Connected Learning have shown the importance of an opportunity-mindset in education for teenagers’ practices with digital affinity networks. The same likely applies for leaders in the LCHF and IRMCIH connective movements. If clinicians develop a positive mindset to the opportunities that online content development and sharing afford, they will be in a better position than those who have not developed or shared content, perhaps owing to a pessimistic focus on the potential harms of technology.

SECTION 3


SLIDE 19

A LOT OF TWITTERPERTUNITIES FOR CLINICIANS, RESEARCHERS AND PATIENTS


For health professionals on Twitter, Professor Murphy’s chapter Twitter and Health flags this platform’s influence on opening-up discussions on health: patients are using Twitter in a form of ‘update culture’ to share intimate information about their health (similar to a public diary of their health, but now as one’s personal Twitter domain on one’s IR scores for followers’ support). Such patients can potentially become a source of expertise whilst contributing to a support community for patients’ confronting the same condition(s). Health professionals can use Twitter to understand their patients’ behaviours better and to pursue research that might otherwise be difficult to arrange patients’ feedback on successful alternative treatments from. Notably, Johns Hopkins university has used the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Untangled project with researchers to capture 40 reviews of alternative and off-label treatments. Its participants and other ALS patients are encouraged to ask questions on the state-of-the-art science (for example, by engaging with the ALS Twitter account). This is similar to IRMCIH experts being contacted around LCHF lifestyle queries. Such shifts for patients, clinicians and researchers reveal how Twitter facilitates the circumvention of traditional controls in healthcare and life-sciences industries. This facilitates a poly-vocal approach in healthcare and the life-sciences versus the traditional uni-directional prescriptions from "The Anointed" experts in the Cathedral combining HE and media.

SLIDE 20

GET IRMCIH SPEED ON SCIENTIFIC TWITTER


‘Scientific Twitter’ has emerged a popular choice for IRMCIH scholars to update each other, reach out of to sympathetic digital publics in the broader LCHF space. It also provides a platform for public disagreements with CMCDD supporters. For LCHF proponents' examples, please view a Twitter list featuring updates from The Noakes Foundation and other #LCHF advocates at https://twitter.com/i/lists/974554836850032640.

As Professor Noakes describes, by following LCHF proponents on Twitter, he can more easily stay current with their research than via journal notifications. Twitter provides him with as much scholarly information each day as he ever received in the years of his career as a researcher and teacher. He also describes how it supports the sharing of a message with a large number of people beyond one’s own immediate social circle.

SLIDE 21

EARNING 1M TWITTER FOLLOWERS  IS RARER THAN BEING A $ BILLIONAIRE


As a highly influential and accessible platform for news and networking, Twitter provides an interesting example concerning how different forms of capital can be developed via microblogging as social media. Firstly, Twitter is free and easy-to-use, meaning there is no direct cost in ECONOMIC capital to its users. Twitter users own the copyright of the CULTURAL capital (or tweet content) posted via its service. Highly engaged Twitter users can develop SOCIAL CAPITAL via high numbers of followers. Interestingly, the number of Twitter users with more than a million followers is rarer than the number of dollar billionaires! This spotlights what an exclusive achievement cultivating a large Twitter audience is.

Twitter handles with large followings place their producers in a very exclusive category of high influence microblogger. Twitter itself is an influential news platform which does shape traditional media and the public debates it features. While rare, scientific research articles that break on Twitter can become widely shared. Not only does this contribute to an article’s ALTmetrics but, quite likely, a research publication’s citation rate.

SLIDE 22

AN EXAMPLE OF A  CIVIL SCIENTIFIC TWITTER DISCUSSION


twitter.com/DrAseemMalhotra/status/598175147611262976 is a rare example of a civil Twitter discussion concerning a BJSM podcast featuring Professor Malhotra and the editorial he focused on.


SLIDE 23

TWITTER FOR OUTREACH AND NETWORKING NOT “TWIFFIC” FOR DEBATE!



Sadly, this is far from the norm, as Twitter was not designed to facilitate scholarly debate… Rather, Twitter facilitates status updates via concise tweets, rather than the lengthy interchange of in-depth content that a scholarly debate might cover. So, it is unsurprising that the multiple pitfalls shown here can stifle anyone’s attempts at engaging with a ‘public debate’ on Twitter:

  1. As an asynchronous platform, micro-bloggers can argue at times and in threads that are hard to respond to
  2. The attribution of user’s re-embedded tweets can be challenging
  3. A stalker can use the open network to call on hypercritical users to respond to tweets
  4. Since it is hard to vet responders, a lot of time can be wasted responding to trolls,
  5. such as sealions, who want to waste one’s time by posing questions, but not learning from responses.
  6. Twitter users can also abuse its reporting, muting and blocking features for hampering their opponents digital voices.


SLIDE 24

MANY COMMON PITFALLS FOR ONLINE DEBATES ALSO APPLY



Outside the Twitter platform, there are many other influences that undermine legitimate online debate

These include:
  • A gap in guidelines for how debaters might best conduct themselves on particular platforms;
  • Legitimate online debate examples seem to be missing in the research literature;
  • Online profiles can give a poor indication of who is a genuine debater… for example, the profiles of cyber harassers are not flagged. By contrast, accounts of legitimate, but dissenting scholars, may not be verified with Twitter’s blue tick for expressing "controversial" opinions;
  • It may also be hard to distinguish upstanders from the cyberbullies they strongly chastise;
  • Online debaters may not know how to use the full range of online modes well;
  • For debaters, it can be unclear what the personal rewards and social impact of lengthy online debate is.


SLIDE 25

DON’T GET HIGH OFF YOUR OWN ALTMETRICS SUPPLY…


Overall, a polarized Twitter discussion may create great stats for its usage… and raise the visibility of its most frequent interlocutors… but Twitter’s limitations mean that high-quality debate is an unlikely outcome for participants!

SLIDE 26

DEPOSITION FOR CONTROVERSY’S ALGORITHMIC VISIBILITY


Twitter’s algorithms reward controversy and highly emotive engagement with attention. So, if one wants to attract users to discussions, one must foreground what one is AGAINST. This is an effective strategy as it depositions one's opponents (who probably don’t want to be described as representing Fiat Science™!). It also serves as a lightning rod for witnesses and the critical interlocutors they might refer. Focusing on what one is FOR on the left is “nice”, but largely ineffective in terms of visibility. Speaking up in strong terms about what one is against will stoke more intense reactions and attention. Instead of hating the algorithm, savvy Twitter users must stoke IR and CMCDD controversies for lighting Twitter’s dumpster fires!

It’s also useful to be mindful of the limitations of what stats implicitly suggest that one focuses on. For example for scholars, ALTmetrics does not distinguish between sentiment in publications, which may all be negative as shown in the blue text. So, as a responsible online content contributor, one must be mindful of BOTH how one’s aims link to a preferred platform’s stats… and differs from them. For example, one may serve a niche LCHF interest that is unlikely to attract a high number of followers… nevertheless, its social impact in creating a support network for an under-served group of patients, whose examples come to be featured in the IRMCIH research literature, might be the best metric of success for one’s digital content contribution!


SLIDE 27
RESEARCH CREDITS Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) Centre for Communication Studies

Thank you for reading this post. I’d also like to thank the OAB Research team for their contribution to the research insights shared here.

SLIDE 28

GRAPHICS CREDITS

And thanks to Create With for providing the Shushmoji graphics, which were designed as end-of-conversation points for cyberbullies. Check out Create With's work on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook.

RELATED RESOURCES

February 2021's OAB research project update is on ResearchGate under News on https://www.researchgate.net/project/Online-academic-bullying

There’s more background on the OAB project in my introductory talk at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI_pGqxcrmc.

FEEDBACK

Do let me know what you think of this transduced presentation in the comments below, ta?


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