‘Unconference’ to Explore Using Social Media on Sensitive Issues

Posted: November 16, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 16, 2009 at 9:02 am

By Tara Laskowski

blog_bannerMany museums and organizations have begun using popular social media tools such as Facebook, You Tube and Twitter for engaging audiences and bringing people on board with their mission. These free tools reach many people easily and can allow these institutions to reach audiences in provocative and interesting ways.

However, institutions that deal with sensitive cultural topics such as violence and atrocities, human rights and disasters are often in an awkward position when using social media.

Historians such as Tom Scheinfeldt, managing director of Mason’s Center for History and New Media, are taking a look at this issue. Scheinfeldt and colleagues at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are hosting an “unconference,” the “Conscience Un-Conference: Using Social Media for Good” on Dec. 5 at the Holocaust Museum to discuss the problems, practicalities and opportunities of using social media to further the missions of these institutions that deal with sensitive material.

“Participating in social media raises a lot of questions that include concerns about balancing accessibility of collections with control; grappling with authoritative and personal voice; and measuring impact and outcomes,” says Scheinfeldt.

“While these issues are of concern to many institutions, they need to be addressed with special tact by those who deal with sensitive subject matter and vulnerable populations, and who hold in trust the memories of victims of tyranny, human rights abuses and genocide.”

For example, while a video of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp after World War II could be used to increase awareness of genocide, placing such a video on You Tube or another social media site risks the sensitivity and privacy of victims of the Holocaust. Museums would love to use these social networking tools, but have been avoiding them until now.

The unconference is inspired in part by CHNM’s annual THATCamp series. It uses an informal setting to discuss issues and concerns and forgoes formal panel presentations. Representatives from organizations such as National Public Radio, Catholic Relief Services, Save Darfur and National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will come together for a daylong series of workshops and discussion periods to try to come up with solutions to some of these issues.

“How do you use these tools in ways that are appropriate?” says Scheinfeldt. “People are just starting to think about this, and there isn’t a consensus yet. This unconference will look at these issues.”

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu