Opinion Piece: Where the bloody hell are you? Social Media and Harm Reduction

Remember this advertising campaign?

Apparently it caused a bit of a stink in the U.K.  “Where the hell are you?” appears to be one of those controversial questions that gets people’s hackles up (possibly because they can’t remember where they were).  Anyway thanks to the infographic below I think I might have come up with an answer.
Obsessed with Facebook
Via: Online Schools

That’s right, we were all on Facebook.  Which begs the following question:

“If you are a harm reduction worker looking for some drug users and you’re not on Facebook, where the hell are you?”

Thomas Baekdal, a writer who focuses on how to publish in a digital world wrote an article examining the history of how information is communicated (to read the full article go to http://www.baekdal.com/media/market-of-information ).  The infographic below traces the evolution of information communication.

As we can see, communication of information has evolved from discussions in the local marketplace, to medium such as newspapers, television and radio, whose means of production are controlled by a minority.  Even the early internet was constrained by the need of a  high level of technical competence in order to publish online.  With the advent of Web 2.0 (sometimes referred to as the Read/Write Web) publishing harm reduction information appears to be relatively easy.  Unfortunately however I think that the Harm Reduction sector maybe caught in a 19th Century information dissemination paradigm.

The Marketplace

The harm reduction sector has a tradition of meeting people where they are at.  This is reflected in the values of a sector that asserts that work with drug users needs to be undertaken in a non judgmental manner. It is also reflected in the physical setting of the  many harm reduction initiatives which go to the local (black) marketplaces, and other venues (clubs, rave parties etc), to engage drug users either directly or through the utilisation of peer workers.  While engaging people in the local market is a dead paradigm for information dissemination in many sectors it remains critically important for the harm reduction sector.

Marketplace dissemmination pros and cons

Television, Radio and Print Media

Information dissemination in the 20th Century was without a doubt dominated by what is often referred to as the “traditional media”.  Historically the dissemination of harm reduction through traditional forms of mass media have not been very successful.  This in large has been due the concentration of control of the means of production of these forms of media, to a select few who represent a dominant paradigm of “Just say no to drugs”.  See the video below for a prime example.

Without the power/resources required  to control the means production of mass media, the harm reduction sector is mostly powerless to shape and disseminate effective harm reduction messages.  At it’s worst, Harm Reduction has been the punching bag of traditional media.  After all outrage sells advertising.

The Internet

The early internet offered few opportunities for harm reductionists.  While the concentration of the means of production of information had broadened to include not only the money men but also those with advanced technical knowledge, this still excluded the massses (including harm reductionists).  It wasn’t until the early 21st Century and the arrival of social media networks like Facebook and YouTube, that the opportunity arose for harm reductionists to wrestle back control of the message.  This has occurred very slowly however and is outpaced by the uptake by opponents to Harm Reduction.

The diagram below is an analysis of two search terms:

  • “Harm Reduction” (Blue)
  • “Drug free” (Red)

Google Insight comparison of the search terms "harm reduction" and "drug free"

While this is not conclusive evidence of the under-performance of the harm reduction sector in disseminating our messages online (harm reduction does not preclude being drug free, it’s just not the only option on offer) it definitely shows that we could do better as a sector.  So I ask again: “If you are a harm reduction worker looking for some drug users and you’re not on Facebook, where the hell are you?”

9 Responses to “Opinion Piece: Where the bloody hell are you? Social Media and Harm Reduction”
  1. Nigel Brunsdon says:

    Great article, as you know a chunk of my time is trying to convince workers and orgs to become 2.0, the main barrier I find is that many of them can’t even turn on a computer without help.

    Of course they often still use facebook, but one person told me this week that I’d have to ‘friend’ them because they don’t know how to that (she’s been on FB over 3 years). So I think in some cases we have an uphill battle.

    This of course shouldn’t stop us advocating 2.0 (and 3.0, but that’s like explaining quantum physics to some people) and we’ll grab a few on the way. I’ve just managed to get one guy I work with onto linkedin, next week we set up his twitter account 😉

    Keep up the great work

    • stonetreeaus says:

      Thanks Nigel. I would agree that technical competence is one of the barriers to the uptake of social media within the sector. I think that fear has a lot to do with this.

      I would also assert that organisations within the sector have been slow to change organisational thinking. An organisation that wants to start using social media to deliver a message, first needs to address traditional top down approach to information communication before a successful approach to social media can be taken.

      E.g. If as a worker I needed every post to a social media site vetted by management before posting, I would never be able to engage with the people I am seeking to reach.

      Modelling, support and mentoring of coalface workers is one part of the equation. Convincing boards and managers to stop stangling the message is another.

  2. Marty McCann says:

    I have to agree- a great and timely article. The potential of Facebook and Twitter is often overlooked in relation to our work, especially here in the north of Ireland. I am still shocked at how many other partner agencies we work with don’t even have a website, never mind engaging via social networking. Thankfully my management team trust me enough that when I mention the effort I put into our FB and Twitter output, while they don’t seem to understand it or its impact, they are happy enoiugh for me to continue. I have found 2.0 vital for networking as well as for engaging service users- I follow a number of local politicians so can get an immediate response from them in a public forum so that has been very empowering as well and have also made some useful networking links, as well as accessing new research- however while FB and Twitter are still associated in many peoples minds as timewasting fads for teenagers, the full potential contained within will not be realised.

  3. Marty McCann says:

    By the way I will be printing this article off to show it to my management team on Thursday to give a wee bit of back up to my arguements!

  4. Really enjoyed this article. 3 years ago I was asked to develop a CD rom for young people aimed at the harm minimization of alcohol. Thanks to the opportunity to do a lit review in to best practice drug education before I started, I was able to inform the funders why a CR rom would not work, but application of web 2.0 could.

    After 2 years of development we now use a mix of video content(the main aspect) clips: audio, video, text and images left by site visitors who are sharing their story via our virtual production studio, factsheets provided by leading youth agencies, blogs, Facebook and Twitter to provide young people with information on life’s challenges on a range of topics including alcohol and other drugs. So it is great to read this article and see that we are heading is the right direction.
    Now it is just a battle to keep up with moving trends, and keep developing the site to fit with the ways in which young people are accessing their info, and as many working in this area, as a NFP that can be hard $ wise.

  5. stonetreeaus says:

    Thanks for the feedback Lynsey, it is very much appreciated. One of the struggles that I have found is that funding often does not match the lifespan of a project. A Web 2.0 project like the one that you describe requires ongoing administration and of course interaction with the people accessing the site. As for keeping up with trends I have found Twitter and communities of practice like Classroom 2.0 invaluable in keeping abreast of new developments. I had a look at Tune in Not Out by the way – fantastic site – love it!

  6. stonetreeaus says:

    For a great example of how the media uses harm reduction as a punching bag check out this little sample of totally irresponsible media coverage from Australia http://www.news.com.au/national/finely-chop-powder-alternate-nostrils-says-taxpayer-funded-user-guide-to-drugs/story-e6frfkvr-1225992974162#ixzz1BoKIh9Mf

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