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Curtin University
Adventures in culture and technology

COVID-19 Blog Series Introduction


By Professor Katie Ellis – CCAT Director

The year 2020 has been dominated by unanticipated physical and mental health challenges for many Australian residents. First there were devastating bushfires, then floods and in the last 4 months a rapid progression from growing concerns about COVID-19 to a complete social restructure.

Our lives today are completely different to this time last year or even just 6 months ago.

Digital and social media have played a key role in how we have experienced these threats both as individuals and collectively as members of institutions and governments who communicate with citizens via digital means.

The flow of information has been overwhelming and, at times, incorrect and confusing. Along with warning us about the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against an increasing spread of misinformation via social media describing the phenomenon as an infoedemic.

Just as we need medical researchers in a pandemic, we need researchers with expertise in cultural and media studies to respond in an infodemic.

Curtin University’s Centre for Culture and Technology (CCAT) is uniquely placed to respond to the ongoing cycle of trauma and the innovative uses of digital media we are seeing in these times of crisis communication. CCAT programs include programs in the research priority areas of:

• Digital Inclusion and Media Access
• Digital Culture and New Media
• Innovation in Knowledge Communication
• Digital Childhood
• Indigenous Cultures and Digital Technologies
• Posthumanism-Animality-Environment
• Digital Asia

Our centre brings together researchers focused on the study of culture. The researchers place their emphasis on identity, meaning, relationships, power and values as they study media and digital technologies, especially the internet. Our team is working closely on these themes with industry and not-for-profit partners to continue research during this time and, in many cases, respond to COVID-19. The COVID-19 blog series is part of our response.

CCAT launches this series against the backdrop of the world’s evolving coronavirus pandemic and embrace of digital media as part of efforts to stop the virus spread as we think about how we as a community can develop community resilience.

The centre will respond to the challenges of misinformation, identify different approaches taken to health communication across the globe, compile examples of innovative technologies used to stop the spread of the virus and interrogate shifting conceptions of privacy in the use of digital media.

Our COVID-19 blog will also show it is not all bad news. In times of crisis there is much opportunity for innovation such as open methods of communication being used to stop the spread of the virus.

Communities have also come together to assist their most disadvantaged members. At the same time, the issue of accessible societies for people who are housebound has come to the fore as people self-isolate and large gatherings are moved online.

Researchers will recount the ways others are using digital media to respond to COVID19 through conversations with influencers and analysis of grassroots attempts to build communities around critical #hashtags.

In the case of COVID-19, this has included the #IWillEatWithYou campaign (initiated by GetUp! to encourage people to eat at Asian restaurants in Australia and elsewhere), the sharing of memes that encourage thorough hand-washing, information about how to check in with and protect vulnerable members of the community, attempts to provide support for students and sessional staff affected by university responses to COVID-19…and swift and practical responses to the shortages caused by stockpiling items such as toilet paper.

Hashtags like #stayhome #savelives are being used to share warning messages while broader tags like #COVID19Aus are being used to highlight our shared and unique experiences. As a community we are finding common ground online.

Social media influencers are capitalizing on their high visibility during these times to serve as amplifiers for social justice ecologies, using their lifestyle narratives and platforms to personalize and promote positives causes such as non-discriminatory racial politics and anti-racism advocacy. As such, many influencers and their digital estates have evolved into sites of resistance and insubordination.

CCAT’s research programs are investigating how the vernacular or speech of internet popular culture is mobilized to drive critical commentary, discursive activism, and community action.

Contributors to the centre’s coronavirus blog are more than researchers; we are people too, living through this pandemic. We’ve run out of toilet paper, been affected by border closures, and attended yoga classes and birthday parties online via Zoom. We’re also finding it difficult to work from home with all the distractions of our domestic lives and are striving like you to live our best lives to thrive during isolation. This series will bring these perspectives to the fore, too.

Social media has been a vector for misinformation around COVID19, as in the case of other unfolding crises – including climate change. However, like in other times of crisis, social media networks can also become spaces where people aim to build community resilience, push back against misinformation and offer alternative narratives.

We hope you will join us in examining our shared #coronavirus experience and join us in probing how life and culture is changing as we join together and #stayhome to #staysafe.