The State of the Blogosphere.
Bloggers are a funny bunch. There are nepotistic posses, crews and gangs who give each other props, RTs and likes. There are mavericks, out there to speak their truth and to hell with what anyone else thinks. There’s love & hate, lies & truth. We represent an unregulated, free to enter world, where anyone with access to the internet can add their junk to the pile, or put the icing on the cake.
The low barrier to entry of blogging makes it seem like the Wild West at times. There’s no regulation or official body and many of the blogger groups, collectives or award organisers are heavily sponsored by industry, or highly partisan towards a certain niche, meaning their message is ethically dubious and should be heeded with caution. I’m struggling to think of organisations in the blogosphere that are genuinely impartial.
However, there is a group of people outside of the blogosphere, who are keeping a very keen, impartial eye on bloggers. Their work goes unnoticed, it is not retweeted on Twitter, nor is their presence paraded on Instagram. You’ll never see them starting a Facebook page, asking you to read their latest piece each week, nor will they ever look for a brand to collaborate with. Yet these people are watching, studying and critically analysing every move that bloggers make.
Back 2 Skool.
In September 2016 I tentatively re-entered the world of academia after a 15 year hiatus, to study Food Policy MSc at City, University of London. This was not planned, at no point have I ever pondered which postgraduate degree to apply to. I was a ‘creative’, adamant that the spectre of academia would never darken my doorstep after finishing my undergraduate design degree in 2002. Then I heard Tim Lang talk about food and I was sold.
Astonishingly, I now find myself halfway through this Master’s degree, which is based purely on researching literature around food. I’ve learned a lot already, and one of the biggest lessons has been how to research, consume, critically analyse and then cite published work from academic studies. The body of work available is utterly bewildering, a truly gargantuan library of studies on any subject that you or I could care to think of.
One day, when battling a mental block whilst researching the value chain analysis of growth in UK free range egg sales (thrilling, eh?), I typed ‘bloggers’ into the search box and hit enter.
O. M. G.
Massive swathes of the blogosphere are being poked, prodded and pulled apart by academics studying a vast range of academic disciplines. Some of these papers are ‘peer reviewed’, which is the gold standard of academic impartiality. This means the study has been reviewed by other expert academics for bias or influence, to ensure it is a high quality, impartial paper that contributes to the body of knowledge that already exists. These studies represent the missing key in the blogging world, an impartial voice of reason.
I’m going to share that with you.
Many of these papers are long, hard to read and peppered with confusing academic language. I’m going to select a paper, pull out the highlights of the study and share what the conclusions are, for your reading pleasure.
Part One – Bullied Bloggers.
She Stopped Me From Killing Myself: Bullied Bloggers Coping Behaviors and Support Sources.
By Danielson, C.M. & Emmers-Sommer, T.; 2017
This subject is close to my heart, because I was heckled and taunted at school, simply for the heinous crime of being me, Gavin. This study on bullied bloggers and coping strategies is enlightening and as you’ll see later, it is a fantastic testimony to the power of blogging.
What is the Study?
The paper looked at 100 students who have written blogs online about bullying, then analysed how they have coped with being bullied.
The negative effects of bullying can last a long time, those who are frequently bullied may feel the effects for nearly four decades after it occurs, research in this area hugely important for our collective mental health. Recent studies suggest that traditional bullying impacts upon 35% of people and cyber bullying around 20-40%.
Despite the internet creating opportunities for cyber bullying, it has equally enabled support which didn’t previously exist, by creating channels of communication and places to share experiences with others, such as blogging. At the time of writing, there had been little research into how those who are bullied use blogs as support systems.
The study focussed on bloggers who were bullied by asking a few questions:
The most common coping strategy for male bloggers was to help others (20% of sample). By aligning themselves with, and helping those who are also bullied, they found great comfort. Everyone who used this strategy found it effective.
In contrast, the primary coping strategy for female bloggers was to externalise or pursue tension-reducing behaviour (23.5% of sample), with self-harm or suicide attempts being the most common behaviour. This behaviour was far less successful, only 38.5% of bloggers found it to be effective. Seeking support was the most effective support outcome for female bloggers, because when they asked for support, they received it, as the following quote demonstrates:
This is a heart-warmingly bold statement to make. It may seem like a scary prospect, but it’s OK to say when life is tough. In contrast, everybody (100% of sample) said that internalising the problem and avoiding seeking help was ineffective.
When it comes to sources of support, bloggers and blogging really come into their own. Here’s a couple of quotes:
“I have an account on Instagram that’s anti-bullying and I post uplifting pictures and quotes and offer advice and love to anyone who needs it.”
It seems that bloggers who write honestly and openly about their experiences are truly helping others. Those who read these bullying blogs are also finding great comfort and support in the messages they read. The most supportive sources for those being bullied were judged, almost equally, to be friends, bullying blogs/groups/hotlines and the school administration (not teachers).
Encouraging people to write, read and share stories about bullying online via blogs is suggested as a strong area for further reasearch as this seems to result in positive outcomes. Those who are blogging also demonstrate a positive sense of openness and admission that the bullying is happening, which is a vital part of coping with the problem.
Bloggers deserve a massive high five for their work here. It seems this emergent form of coping with bullying by writing about your own experiences and reading the experiences of others is sitting at the top of the pile alongside traditional ways of coping, such as talking to friends and seeking help from your school administration.
This is a beautiful thing to read and has restored some of my faith in the blogging world. In contrast to the current scandal about an Insta-star faking their photos, this study is looking at the opposite end of the scale. These people are sharing heartbreakingly real experiences that truly sit at the extremes of human emotion, and these stories are giving hope, positivity and companionship to others who are suffering.
When bullying is bad, it genuinely feels like a life or death experience. To hear that blogging is one of the most effective ways of battling bullying makes me immensely proud of what the blogosphere can achieve and brings a tear to my eye. Keep it up.
Coming Up Next Week – Personal style bloggers: the most popular visual composition principles and themes on instagram.
Danielson, C.M. & Emmers-Sommer, T. 2017, “She Stopped Me From Killing Myself: Bullied Bloggers Coping Behaviors and Support Sources”, Health communication, vol. 32, no. 8, pp. 977-986. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2016.1196419