Communicology

Month: March, 2012

Health Communication

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Karykeion of Hermes (Greek)- A Commonly Used Symbol for Medicine

This morning I woke up feeling fairly crummy, and it was a continuation of an unexpected and weekend-long run-in with the flu that has yet to subside. As I write this, my lovely companions for the evening include a headache, a consistent dry cough, a complete lack of appetite, and a fascinating yet annoying tendency to feel cold during one thirty minute period and then to be sweating during the next. As a result of my current state, health has been on my mind all day, and I’ve been thinking about the crucial, but often unrecognized, importance of communication in health contexts. While not the focus area of my studies in this discipline, much of health communication relates to both computer-mediated communication (CMC) and intercultural communication, which are among my primary foci. I cannot do a lot of research today because I’m honestly not up to it with this flu, so today I’ll briefly give you a preview of three big areas where health and communication intermingle and will (hopefully) be able to elaborate later this week.

1. CMC & Healthcare

Health communication is a big sub-discipline of communication and is one of the fastest growing areas of research in our field because of the increased use of CMC in health environments (i.e. hospitals) and because this work is extremely practical and directly affects medical patients. For example, when my mother was in the hospital last year, I was fascinated by the “mobile computers” they were using–all of her information was on these computers. This is one of the major goals of the integration of CMC into healthcare; to digitize all of our medical histories and to make them easy to share between all of the different doctors that we inevitably have to deal with over the course of our lives. In theory, this will help us to become healthier because our doctors will be able to diagnose us faster and to treat us faster. While most of my audience may not be thinking about their health right now, the fact is that in a few decades, today’s college students will be tomorrow’s hospital patients, and if our whole medical history is digitized by that point and if most hospitals are using the latest technology, our future doctors will be able to treat us better and faster.

2. Internet and Health

Although I have not done so today because it’s obvious I have the flu, many people these days take advantage of Internet health websites when they are sick to figure out just what is wrong with them; one popular example is WebMD. The Internet is a form of CMC because it is an electronic network used by human beings to share messages with each other. When people feel sick or have a weird mole, for instance, they may feel more comfortable “Googling” their health issue than talking to other people about it, because what they do online is completely anonymous. Also, for people like me who avoid the doctor at all costs, the Internet often serves as an information source about our own health. Furthermore, online support groups have been proven to be crucial in helping people to deal with serious health issues such as rare forms of cancer.

3. Intercultural Understandings of Health

Experiences from my  life explain why I have a passion for intercultural understandings of health: I’ve worked as a medical interpreter in the past for a Cincinnati based agency, I have experienced healthcare on two different continents, and I was really impacted by readings related to this topic in previous classes. One of those readings was the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, which I read for an Intercultural Communication course. It’s based on a true story, and follows the life of a young Hmong girl living with epilepsy in California. Her Western doctors and Hmong parents had completely different viewpoints of the causes of her disease and for how the disease should be treated. The Western doctors only focused on the child’s physical symptoms, while the Hmong parents thought it was a spirit (thus the title). Years and years of cultural misunderstanding resulted in the health of the girl deteriorating, instead of improving. This is a communication issue because traditionally, doctors such as surgeons have not received a lot of training in actual communication skills and in cultural sensitivity. While they learn the ins and outs of human biological functions, often they do not understand how to effectively listen to and communicate with their patients. If those patients are from different cultures, a lack of proper communication could lead to crucial mistakes that can hurt the health of the patient.

Health communication is a riveting and immensely important aspect of what we study, and I look forward to elaborating more on some of what I mention here later this week. First, though, I have to work on my own health, so good night :).

Kony2012 (Part III): Brand New Research & The Oprah Factor

Tuesday I critiqued the Kony2012 video from a Communication perspective by using Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, a well established persuasive technique. Wednesday I delved into the controversy surrounding the intentions and motivations of Invisible Children for starting the campaign in the first place.

Friday’s are reserved for “fun” posts (because people spend their online time more lazily on this day), and although most people out there may not agree with me that research is fun, I would be remiss if I did not briefly address a research study released on the Ides of March (yesterday!) by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which relates to this phenomenon.

Finally, Some Legit Research!

The actual study can be found and downloaded here [PDF], and I recommend checking it out, it’s only a few pages and provides some fascinating data, only some of which I summarize here. They interviewed 814 English-speaking adults on March 9th, 10th, and 11th and asked whether or not they had heard about the Kony2012 video and how they heard about it.

The results show a significant difference between young adults and older adults in both knowledge of the campaign and how they initially heard about the campaign. Turns out, more young adults know about this campaign than older people (this confirms my analysis on Tuesday that the video was targeted at young adults) and for those older people who do know about the video, they found out about it from traditional mass media (TV, newspaper), while the younger people found out about it through social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

These results relate to my own experience, I first heard about the campaign when a friend tweeted the link to me, and while I am way too aware of it, my parents have no idea what it is and had only seen mentions of it on TV. The below quotes are from page two of the study (linked to above):

58% of young adults said they
heard about the video, including
40% who said they heard a lot
about it. That compares with 20%
of those ages 30-49 who heard a lot
about it; 18% of those ages 50-64; and 19% of those ages 65 and older.

The internet was more than three times more important as a news- learning platform for young adults than traditional media such as television, newspapers, and radio.

Those 50 and older were much more likely to have learned of the video from traditional sources, especially television: 29% of adults ages 50-64 heard from television, newspapers, or radio, compared with 12% who heard via the internet.

Another interesting item from the study was the Twitter analysis. They counted more than 5.4 million tweets related to Kony, and for the dates during which they analyzed it, most of the tweets were in support of the campaign.

These results have implications to anyone who is interested in how social media has affected dissemination and reception of news and also for anyone who wants to reach out to young adults (you marketers out there!): Young adults in the Western world seem to use the Internet as their primary source of information. Now, the Oprah Factor.

To make a long story short, Oprah Winfrey played a significant role in helping Kony2012 takeoff.  Until she tweeted about the video, most people did not watch it. The study above notes the video had just over 60,000 views when it first posted. That is impressive, but not even close to the nearly 80 million it has today (and that’s just on YouTube).

Celebrity endorsements have been huge, and one of the biggest was Oprah. On March 6th, Oprah began tweeting about the video to her followers; she has more than 9 million of them. That day, the view count for the video went over 9 million!

Coincidence? No, Oprah is just that good, and she really, really, dislikes Kony and the LRA.

See you next week.

Kony2012: The Controversy (Part II)

Yesterday I critiqued the KONY2012 video from a Communication perspective to show you one of the reasons why it has become the most viral video in history thus far (yes, it’s even more popular than Susan Boyle). I did some math, and my daily web traffic went up 57% yesterday when compared to Monday. This exemplifies the strong saliency of the Kony2012 topic right now; people are interested in it and can’t seem to get enough! The post yesterday was actually a lot longer because I originally included a section about all of the controversy that has surrounded the video. Since not all of us are as skilled as Invisible Children at getting thirty minutes of continuous attention from the online audience (you), I decided to break that section off and make it into a separate entry today.

Polarization 

As is predictable in our increasingly polarized world, two main camps seem to have formed in response to the video. The opponents have passionately criticized Invisible Children for only spending 31% of the money they get on actual efforts on the ground in Africa, for commercializing a conflict for financial gain and simplifying it to the point of insult, for making the African people look weak and defenseless to help themselves, for making it seem as if the LRA is still in Uganda although they have been out since 2006, for encouraging “slacktivism” (lazy activism via the Internet), and for many other reasons.

The supporters of the campaign have argued it is worthwhile and beneficial because most people did not even know who Kony was until a few days ago, because even if a small percentage of the “slacktivists” take action, it will be worth it (also see this), and because the ultimate aim is to help children, despite the intentions of the filmmaker. Furthermore, Invisible Children has released a new video answering all of the questions that have been raised over the past few days and has created a detailed web page with the same aim as well.

So is the Kony2012 campaign patronizing, deceiving, oversimplifying, white-priveldge filled, self-promoting, and irresponsible, or is it altruistic, engaging, inspirational, potent, timely, and intelligent?

Does it Really Matter, at This Point?

While I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable of world events, I know there are exponentially more things I do not know than there are things I know. Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was one of the many things I did not know about, until the Kony2012 campaign.

How do most of us know what we know about the world? There are two main sources of information for our knowledge of world events; personal experience and the mass media.

Personal experience is a big source of information because we will naturally seek out more information and be more aware of issues we have directly witnessed/experienced. For instance, I have been to Turkey the past three years, so I am somewhat aware of the ethnic and political tensions in Turkey, while most of my friends are not. For any student who studies abroad somewhere and for anyone who has traveled somewhere, you will have more knowledge of that region than most people who have not been there.

However, if we do not have personal experience related to other parts of the world, most of us will not voluntarily spend hours and hours in the library every evening researching the geopolitical history of every region on earth, and will not spend hours and hours on the Internet everyday voluntarily reading through the CIA World Factbook or Encyclopedia Britannica. So where do we get the information about the parts of the world we have no experience with?

The mass media.

The mass media (newspapers, news channels, the Internet, etc.) tell us what to think about on the global scale. They encourage us to look up certain topics and to be interested in certain topics. How many of you knew about the Taliban before September 11th, 2001? Unless you study history or a related field or have been to the area, I am guessing most of you had no idea who they were until they became a media topic after the attacks.

Communication scholars Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw introduced the Agenda Setting Theory in the 1970s, and stated that:

Here may lie the most important effect of mass communication, its ability to mentally order and organize our world for us. In short, the mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about. – 1977

The mass media are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about. Jason Russell and his colleagues are aware of this fact, and Mr. Russell went to college for film production, thus he knows a thing or two about how to make a persuasive video (see yesterday’s post for the video critique). It was their goal to create a video that would create a lot of online buzz, so that the traditional mass media would pick the story up.

And did they ever pick it up. Here, Jon Stewart makes fun of the mass media for how much they’ve been talking about Kony2012.

As a result of the video and the brilliant social media marketing campaign, millions and millions more people know who Kony and the LRA are. Many people, even the opponents of the video, have now done research on the topic that they would have NEVER done had it not been for the video. While some of the opponents’ arguments are actually legitimate, the fact that arguments even exist, the fact that this is even a topic, means that Invisible Children has succeeded in it’s campaign and that more people than ever before now have some idea of who Kony is (this blogger makes a similar argument).

This blog makes the argument that all of this knowledge and attention on Kony is bad because he has been largely defeated (the KONY2012 video does indeed exaggerate the current situation exponentially) and all of this attention will give him more power and infamy. That is a very pessimistic way of looking it.

The word is spreading in many ways. If you want to make your own Kony Cookies, click on this photo.

Call me an idealist, but I believe all this media attention, and the subsequent public attention on the LRA and Kony, will do more good than bad. Of course there will be some negative effects (anything this big will not be perfect), and of course the oversimplified nature of their description of the LRA and Kony will give some people misleading information. However, most people are not stupid and realize the video is simplified to make it easy to understand, and many will do their own research on the topic if they are really interested in it, and will thus help in their own way towards the ultimate goal of this campaign, to capture the most wanted man in the world, according to the International Criminal Court. The argument over whether or not the video was a good idea is getting gold; the video is a hit and as a result, we should start thinking about how to make the best of it, instead of debating about whether or not it should have been made in the first place.

What About The Money?

Invisible Children is honest about how much money it does, and does not, spend on the ground in Africa (see above link), so I don’t see why people are making a big issue of their expenditures. The fact that they spend a lot of money on video production and travel (to raise awareness) is not hidden or in any way misleading; they are honest about it and about their intentions of being an awareness and advocacy group, and not necessarily a group that does much work on the ground in Central Africa. For those who do not like how this organization spends their money, DO NOT give them your money, and let other people make that decision for themselves.

How KONY2012 Persuaded You (Part I)

If you haven’t seen the Kony2012 video yet, I recommend you check it out by clicking here. It is the most viral video in history with over 110 million total views on the Internet in seven days. These days, anything that gets the attention of so many people inevitably turns into a controversy, and this video is no different.

Today I discuss the aims of the video and then describe, from a Communication concept perspective, why it has been such a viral hit. Tomorrow, I will address the controversy regarding the intentions of the organization which created this campaign.

What is it All About?

The Kony2012 video was created by American nonprofit organization Invisible Children, and it’s aim is to create awareness of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) he leads. Kony considers himself to be a spokesperson of God, and the LRA is a Christian militia (it was previously known at the Holy Spirit Movement), which aims to resist the rule of the Ugandan government, to give the Acholi people of Northern Uganda a voice they have not had for decades, and to create a theocracy in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments (note some observers have said their ideology is unclear). This war in Uganda and the surrounding region has been waged for 26 years.

During their operations in Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the LRA has committed countless human rights violations, including enslaving children and using them as sex slaves and as child soldiers because the group ran out of volunteers. The United States assisted Uganda militarily in 2009 in their fight against the LRA and again provided assistance when President Obama sent one hundred “military advisers” to the area last October.

The goal of the Kony2012 video is for American youth to become aware of the LRA and of Kony, to pressure cultural and political leaders into speaking out about the issue, and to speak out themselves to pressure the US government to keep their advisers there, so that they can help to capture Kony and presumably, defeat the LRA.

Why is the Video Such a Hit?

Why has this video become such a huge viral hit, when there are many similar issues in the world and many videos online advocating for those issues a well?

Many have written about why it has been so successful (see here, here, and here, for a start), but I have yet to see a critique of it’s success based on a persuasive technique that I saw being employed in the video. Good editing is not the only reason people become emotionally attached to documentaries; there must be a good story and persuasive strategy behind them as well. Which group of people are experts at combining good stories and good editing to sell the audience ideas?

Marketers.

As this blogger suggests, the Kony2012 campaign is a genius example of an excellent grassroots marketing campaign. In the Communication discipline, we study the persuasive techniques involved in marketing and why they are successful. One of the most widely incorporated persuasive techniques is Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, which I briefly discussed here. The sequence has five basic steps that, if followed in order and done well, are supposed to be a foolproof technique to motivate an audience. The five steps are (in this order) to gain audience attention, establish a need, provide satisfaction, show a visualization of that satisfaction, and finally, to provide a call to action.

I have watched the KONY2012 video three times, and (whether the creators planned this or not), have noticed that it definitely uses Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. This sequence has been used  for decades because it works in persuading audiences, and it is one of the main reasons this video succeeds in getting an emotional response from it’s target audience. To show you this, I took screenshots depicting the different stages of Monroe’s Sequence as they were incorporated into the video. Another highly persuasive aspect of this video that I have not seen widely discussed is the use of music. It contributes a lot, especially because they used music that is popular to some young adults today, yet still dramatic enough for the video; such as Mumford & Sons and Nine Inch Nails. I encourage you to play the song below (which was used in the video) as you look at the screenshots, to get the full effect (if you get an advertisement from YouTube, sorry!)

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1. Gain Attention




The voiceover begins by telling us that right now, there are more people on Facebook than there were in the world two hundred years ago, and the last line of the introduction proclaims:

The next twenty-seven minutes are an experiment, but in order for it to work, you have to pay attention.

By showing the spectacular images, the images of social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, including the dramatic music, and ending with the countdown clock and the teaser (what’s the experiment?), the introduction effectively gains our attention and pretty much guarantees that most young adults will not stop watching.

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2. Establish Need






In this case, the producers spend a lot of time establishing the need. First, we are shown that the narrator (and presumed hero of the video) has a cute child, and this actually helps to establish his credibility, because we are more likely to trust a parent. This is why politicians love babies. Then we are shown another child, Jacob, who is Ugandan and who cries because of the devastation he has seen and because his brother was presumably killed by the LRA. Our hero (Mr. Jason Russell) promises Jacob that he will stop the LRA, and then tells his cute little boy, Gavin, about the evil Kony, and shows us the huge need for action that exists because of all of the horrible things Kony has done (he’s pretty much Hitler, as implied in the video).

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3. Provide Satisfaction 

After grabbing our attention and establishing a need by showing us all of the terrible things that Kony has done to the kids in central Africa, the video provides us with satisfaction by showing us what can be done to solve the problem, or the “need”. The main suggestion here is that a united voice of concerned citizens working together (online and offline) should pressure the government to keep the American military advisers in the region, so they can help to capture Kony.  The narrator continues:

In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him, in order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That’s where the American advisers come in. But in order for the American advisers to be there, the US government has to deploy them. They’ve done that, but if the government doesn’t believe the people care about arresting Kony, the mission will be canceled. In order for the people to care, they have to know. And they will only know if Kony’s name is everywhere.

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4. Visualize Solution

The solution is visualized in two very quick but powerful shots. First, a hypothetical front page of the New York Times discussing the capture of Kony and second, a (fake) family being reunited with their son.

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5. Call to Action

The final step of Monroe’s Sequence, the call to action, is probably the most blatant one, because the narrator tells the audience, “We know what we have to do, here it is..” and then the video presents the above sequence. The audience is encouraged to “make Kony famous” by signing up for an action kit and using the materials in it to make Kony famous. Furthermore, the audience is encouraged to contact celebrities and politicians and to tell them they support the fight against Kony. Technology is mentioned again; the supporters are encouraged to tweet at the celebrities and politicians, and they are told they can take a photo of their Kony posters with cell phones and tag it onto the Internet. The narrator proudly proclaims:

Arresting Joesph Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules, that the technology that has brought our planet together is allowing us to respond to the problems of our friends.

At this point of the video, many young adults will have been persuaded to support the campaign because of the catchy music, the inspirational narration, the incorporation of technology they can relate to, and the individual stories of the children and the hero, Mr. Russell.

The creators of this video, just like creators of infomercials, knew most people would already be sold on the idea by the end of the video, and they also knew that sharing content on the Internet is second nature to young adults. Thus, the last call to action explicitly calls for the audience to share the video with their friends.

The obvious use of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence to create an emotional appeal, combined with the extremely simple call to action at the very end (share this with your social networks!), the excellent editing, and the brilliant use of music are the reasons this video has become the most viral video in history.

Funny Facebook Video

Starting this week, Friday will be the time for a “fun” post, which relates to the weekly theme. On Monday I wrote about the tendency for some university students to manage their Facebook (FB) identities by working hard to make it look as if they drink a lot of alcohol, because being a drinker is thought to be socially desirable. On Wednesday, I delved into the Communication concept of Identity Management and explained what it meant, because I discussed it during Monday’s post.

If your spring break was this week, I am sorry that it is ending, but I hope that the below FB parody video gives you some laughs, while also making you think seriously about this week’s theme again. If your spring break is just beginning, congratulations! I encourage you to read through all the posts so that you learn what you should not do on FB during your spring break, and during the rest of your college career as well.

Happy Friday, and enjoy the video! Next week, I will be writing about the Kony YouTube campaign.

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