All social media discussion, all the time. And a warning about your Facebook privacy.

Today I ventured into the drizzly day to have lunch in Hamilton and then work in my office on the second edition of the textbook of which I am writing the second edition: Understanding Human Communication, Canadian Edition.

Lunch at Bad Dog Café on Locke to talk social media…

I went to bed late, because I watch the UK election until 2am, so I woke up late at 10:49am, according to my BlackBerry. Amazing. I must have needed the sleep. I had a little cereal, chatted with my second oldest friend Lars Wessman (aka piratasum.com) on google chat. Then I got into my car and drove through the grey drizzle down to Locke St. to meet my friends Megan Coppolino and Chris Farias from kitestring.ca. We had a great four-hour lunch during which they shared their insights, thoughts, opinions and ideas about the social media chapter I am putting together for the textbook. They were so generous with their time! Truly appreciated.

Back at the University to talk to colleagues…

After that I went back to the office and chatted with my new colleagues, Dr Faiza Hirji and Dr David Ogborn. They are wonderful colleagues, and we chatted about how the year went. Both are an inspiration to me! So full of passion for teaching and research.

Coffee at William’s and more social media chat!

Then I met former student Chad Fullerton, who now works as a web designer at Manulife, and Joey Coleman who just took a position as a journalist with the Hamilton Spectator. We had a powerful discussion about privacy on Facebook, the effects of social media on people’s lives and how tablet computers, like Apple’s iPad, are going to change everything…

No privacy left on Facebook… you have to be careful…

Chad described how Facebook’s new Open Graph protocol would make Facebook the organising logic and structure of the web and how this could be a frightening prospect in terms of surveillance and tracking of our internet behaviours. He described how any page that has the new “Facebook Like” is essentially an I-Frame which sends data back to the Facebook Corp every time you visit a page that contains it – even if you don’t click on the “Like” button on the page. Now, this is really no different than the data that any old webcounter service or google analytics provide to be able to keep track of who’s visiting the website.  All in all, it was a fascinating conversation which earned them both a mention in the book’s acknowledgments!

This led to a discussion about how there is basically no privacy left on Facebook – that it has been eroded since the social media service started as thefacebook.com, several years ago at Harvard. In fact, after the latest Facebook developer’s conference, F8, Google engineers started leaving Facebook in droves because of privacy concerns.

I said that I have always told my students and friends that you should consider any message you put out on the Internet to be part of your personal public brand. Whether it is a digital photo that someone snapped of you in a club, or stuff you’ve posted yourself, it is now on hundreds, maybe thousands of people’s hard drives around the world. You could have had a one-night-stand while on vacation: you know, you trusted a nice person who charmed you, you felt your inhibitions go down because of alcohol, excitement and being in a strange place far from home. You may not have noticed the camera behind the plant in your hotel room. In fact it might not have even been him or her, it may have been a sneaky friend of his or hers. 

And presto – you’re an amateur porn actor on the Internet. It’s that simple.

Remember, that in the digital age, everywhere where there is a digital camera is part of your backyard. There is no more distance.

Another common mistake. You might think that you “de-tagged” from the picture of you spilling beer all over youself in a drunken binge on the beach during Spring Break – so you’re safe, right? Wrong. Biometric software allows people to surf the web, looking for patterns based on pictures of your face and body that someone already has. The software searches for faces that match the ones the artificial intelligence software has been trained on. So, if you were in your high school yearbook and someone scanned that picture in, they have the potential to start tracking your face down on the Internet. It’s terrifying, but it’s real.

Remember, friends, it isn’t complicated: police your image!

Don’t let people take your image from you. Your face belongs to you, not them.

Besides, they really shouldn’t be taking pictures of you and disseminating them on the web without your consent anyhow. It’s uncouth, and if your friends are doing it to you, well, guess what – they’re not really your friends, are they?

Finally home in a thunderstorm, with lightning flashes…

At about 7pm, I got home and tidied my house up a little. I am a very clean and hygienic person, but not always so tidy. I made an effort, though… I am having a friend over for lunch tomorrow! Cayenne-pepper marinated shrimp on the bbq to be dipped in a creamy mango-lime vinaigrette, with organic greens and asparagus on the side. Mmmm.

Now I am listening to the rain beat against my window in sheet after powerful sheet. Flashes of lightning clear the night away, creating moments of crystal clarity.

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Launched new publication: Journal of Professional Communication !

I thought that this warranted its own entry!

Today, I launched the Journal of Professional Communication at the Public Relations Leadership Summit.

The JPC will be a forum where academics, PR practitioners, marketers, political communicators, and multimedia artists and designers can exchange ideas, publish case studies and discuss the actual state of and future of the field of public relations.

I can’t wait to start building the editorial board for this journal. We will aim for gender equality and wide representation from all of our stakeholder groups.

Join me in making JPC a success by supporting it financially and submitting papers when we first issue our call for papers!

This is the website where you can check JPC out:

http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/jpc

COMM-Lab: Communication Metrics Laboratory is LAUNCHED!

Today, we launched the COMM-Lab: Communication Metrics Laboratory, of which I am the founder and co-director with my colleague, Dr. Philip Savage.

COMM-Lab was created because of a dearth of empirical and evidence-based research on communication studies in Canada. Many scholars, practitioners and MPs have told Philip and me that more data is needed to support decisions made around communications in Canada. You can read Philip’s paper by clicking here.

I am very excited about the COMM-Lab. It will be a place for media and communication research from qualitative and quantitative perspectives. Our first focus will be on content and text analysis, capitalizing Philip’s and my shared strengths in research methodology. Philip also brings a strong background and experience in media policy and law, as well as professional and academic audience research, which will enrich the COMM-Lab immensely.

Another very big part of the lab is going to be making sure that it integrates professional academic research into the learning environment of the classes that Philip and I teach at McMaster, both in the undergrad and graduate programs.

Our first project will be on the QPMAP: Question Period Monitoring and Analysis Project. This project using content, textual and discourse analysis techniques to study the interactions between Members of Parliament during Question Period. We hope to establish a rigorous methodology for coding the linguistic-pragmatic, non-verbal, and issues-based content of the MP’s interactions.

Our second project, running concurrently, under the direction of Dr. Dong Sun, a postdoctoral fellow who has joined me from Nanjing University of Finance and Economics, deals with a comparison of coverage of various issues in Chinese and North American newspapers.

I can’t wait to start seeing results from these studies. Both are extremely promising and topical.

I also solicit the interest of any students who wish to come and become members of COMM-Lab by doing their MA in Communication and New Media, under my supervision, or by doing an undergraduate honours thesis under either my direction or that of Dr. Philip Savage. A third way you can join the COMM-Lab team is by applying for a job in the lab (yes, we do have a tiny amount of money to pay employees), by doing a CMST 3B03 communications internship, or simply by volunteering.

Any way that you would like to contribute to COMM-Lab, know that you are welcome.

If you are a potential donor or private or not-for-profit sector partner, and you would like to support our research n COMM-Lab with a financial or an in-kind donation, or if you want to sponsor a content analysis, public opinion or audience research project, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Our founding private sector partner and donor is Dr. Andrew Laing, President, Cormex Research – Canada’s leading media research and content analysis firm. Cormex brings a wealth of methodological and technical support that will enrich COMM-Lab enormously. It will also provide our student researchers exposure to private sector research. A very valuable thing for them, indeed.

Please visit our COMM-Lab website by clicking here.

We have also started a Facebook group for the COMM-Lab, which you can join by clicking here.

Guest lecture from Andrew Laing of Cormex Research at McMaster

My 4th-year News Analysis class had a special treat today. We had a guest lecturer – Dr Andrew Laing, president of Cormex Research.

Cormex Research is Canada’s leading media content measurement and analysis firm. Here’s an example of the sort of work Cormex does.

Andrew is a unique and admirable person. He took time out of running his company to go back to school to complete his PhD (thesis advisor, Dr. Fred Fletcher) in the Communication and Culture Graduate Program at York University in Toronto. His thesis is on developing a new research methodology – the “media-centric model” – for studying agenda setting effects. He defended his thesis three weeks ago – congratulations, Andrew!

Today, he described for the class how his company conducts content analysis research – what the process is, the types of people he employs and the types of clients that he works with. He also described two case studies that his company has developed – one about genetically-modified foods, and another about satire in the Canadian media. After his presentations and a 10-minute break, Andrew workshopped with each project group in the class. The students really benefited from his advice and mentorship.

One more thing – we had an excellent student presentation on the article “Agenda Setting and the ‘New’ News” by Althaus and Tewksbury. A classic article describing a set of content analysis and audience research experiments comparing agenda setting effects in on-line and paper versions of the newspaper. The findings are interesting: the regular paper news readers showed an agenda setting effect and the readers of the electronic newspaper didn’t. The student presenters did a great job – congrats to Michelle Woodruff, Laura Braun and Darryl Spong.

Afterward, Andrew and I went for a late lunch at Maccheroni Cucina Al Fresco in Westdale, near McMaster.

An excellent day.

Canada’s choice: political communication as dance or war?

Yesterday afternoon, I gave a lecture to my first year communications class on George Lakoff‘s idea that our thinking is fundamentally rooted in metaphor. Lakoff explains that the underpinnings of how we structure our understanding of the world is metaphorical. He gives the example of “Time is money” – a metaphor that expresses a principle which guides us to use our time parsimoniously. He also says, in Metaphors We Live By, that “Argument is war” is the metaphor that governs how we interact when we debate a point. Lakoff asks us to think about what the world would be like if we lived by the metaphor that “Argument is dance.” It would certainly change the way we speak about debating and how we behave while debating. For example, we would no longer say things like: “I shot down his argument.” or “I really clobbered him with that point!”

After class, I was walking in the rain back to my cozy mustard yellow corner office in Togo Salmon Hall. A couple of students, excited by the ideas presented in lecture, were walking with me. But I was a little distracted. In fact, I was thinking about how metaphor structures political communication in Canada.

We have seen a marked decline in parliamentary courtesy and civil discourse – both in the House, during Question Period, in the media, and in attack ads. Why is this so irksome, when we have been watching the same thing evolve below us in the US for decades? I think there is an answer that many may have overlooked.

Marshall McLuhan suggested, in Medium is the Message that the United States is a society that was a product of the printing press, like France – a society where the uniform communications permitted by printed media enabled a “legalistic” system of government. One that depended on rules.

Now, Canada comes from a different tradition. Our Parliament is part of the Westminster system, like the United Kingdom. The Westminster system was not born during an age of industrial mechanization and laws. It was born during a feudal time in the midst of an oral culture where relatively few things were written down. This required a much more consensus-based system of political communication where people built the national narratives through storytelling and tradition. These national narratives that would later become – through the power of precedent – principles that would guide political function. This is completely different from the American or French systems, which depend on laws and the interpretation of the judiciary.

On top of this, let us consider John Ralston Saul’s argument, laid out in his latest book, A Fair Country, that our culture is actually a Métis product – a negotiated hybrid of British, French and First Nations culture. The British culture was oral and precedent-based, First Nations culture was oral and precedent-based. And, remember that French Canadian culture was developed in pre-revolutionary France (which was a feudal society) – so French Canadian culture was also oral and precedent-based. This meant that the thrust of our politics has been to encourage negotiation, compromise and continuity. In these oral, precedent-based cultures, “Argument is dance.”

What we are seeing, in the change of tone of our political communication toward warlike aggression, partisanship and spiteful attack, is fundamental change toward a more “legalistic” or “structured” society. We might call it Americanized, because it is becoming more and more similar to the American model and they are the greatest cultural influence we face.

The fact is, though, that it represents a fundamental change in our political culture – a shift away from our roots in oral cultural traditions. An oral cultural tradition which necessitates that “argument be dance” because of our mutually shared responsibility for telling the national story and keeping it alive, renewing it with ever more subtlety and nuance – human nuance – which is inherently subjective and flexible. We are shifting toward a national definition captured in a set of laws that we write down, print out and hammer into shape – and then fight over.

We are seeing the ideas on which our culture is based move away from storytelling, toward objectification and rules.

I think it’s a sad development. I love the stories and myths of our past – Paul Bunyan, Louis Cyr, Gitche Manitou.

Canadians chafe at the ideas of laws – they’re constraining. So let’s decide to be civil.

Maybe we can shake hands over it and give one another our word.

At least then we will be true to our historical roots in oral culture.