Photo by Jorge Quinteros

New and emerging media have changed the way we get information (e.g. Google), share information (e.g. Twitter, blogs), and interact with each other (e.g. Facebook). It's clear that these technologies represent a revolution in the way we learn and communicate.

However, psychology as a profession has been slow to adopt these technologies. This is probably due to gaps in technology literacy, a fear of new ethical challenges, and a scarcity in recommendations for using these technologies.

In this 3-part article, I will outline simple steps psychologists can take to adopt new media technologies. Part 1, The Times Are Changing, summaries what new media are and why they are important. Part 2, Be Like Gaga, describes how to develop an online identity. Part 3, The Sword of Gryffindor, details the ethical implications of new media and recommended strategies for their effective use.

Part 1: The Times Are Changing


In 1964, Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin'” which went on to become an anthem for the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Notice the following verse:

"Come gather 'round people 
Wherever you roam 
And admit that the waters 
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'."

Almost 50 year later, Dylan’s lyrics can be used to describe another cultural revolution – the rise of new media.

New media refers to digital information and communication technologies that are global and collaborative. While traditional media (print, radio, and television) are static and based on a broadcast model, new media is rapidly changing and interactive.

New media include search engines (websites that quickly find relevant information online, e.g. Google and Bing), blogs (web-logs that are regularly updated with content that can be easily shared and discussed, e.g. PsychCentral), social networking services (websites that are focused on building online communities of people, e.g. Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn), and microblogging services (a hybrid of blogs and social networking, e.g. Twitter).

Each type of new media serves a different purpose. Search engines give us access to all of the content available about a given subject. A Google search result has become the 21st century version of a business card. It’s now customary to Google someone you have recently met or will meet in the future. This includes personal relationships (e.g. first dates) as well as professional relationships (e.g. coworkers, doctors, lawyers).

Social networking websites allow individuals to connect with each other, share updates, photos, links, and more. While the largest social network is Facebook (with over 750 million members Facebook has become the 3rd largest “country” in the world), there are several other popular networks including the professional oriented LinkedIn and the newly launched Google+. Social networks are similar to a backyard BBQ – you’ve invited a group of friends to your home for a shared experience. There is some expectation of privacy (fences around your backyard), though there is always a chance someone will eavesdrop on your conversation (i.e. look over your face).


Janis Krums tweeted this photo long before mainstream news arrived on scene

Microblogs, like Twitter, allow for the most immediate exchange of information. Microblogs allow you to keep a “pulse” on the internet and learn how the world is reacting to what is happening right now. They are most similar to an open conversation at a water cooler or a bar where there are little expectations of privacy.

Is new media a fad? Given the constantly changing nature of technology, and our ephemeral interest in novel forms of media, this is a valid question.

The data suggests that new media are here to stay. As a result of search engines, psychological science suggests that we are no longer memorizing information that can be found through Google. Blogs have transformed the way we acquire new content (and may have contributed to the slow death of the print newspaper industry). During the 2008 election, both President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain used Twitter to communicate with and mobilize their supporters. Though now largely defunct, MySpace introduced a new way for independent artists to showcase their music. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, continues to grow at a staggering pace with most of its new users over the age of 35. When tragedy hit Virginia Tech in 2006, students were first alerted to danger through Facebook status updates. Twitter has been implicated in revolutions both big and small (the Egyptian green revolution and the SXSW Zuckerberg keynote) as well as disaster responses (the 2011 Japanese Tsunami & Hurricane Irene ).

It’s clear that we now live in a faster, decentralized, and interconnected world.

If you’re someone who doesn’t spend much time using new media, you might be wondering what the big deal is and why you should care. The cold harsh truth is new media affects you whether you use Google, Facebook, Twitter, or not.

Even if you are passively using the internet you’ve already created an online identity. Each time you leave a comment on a webpage, publicly subscribe to or join an online service, are listed in your department’s webpage, or create a public online course, you’ve populated the internet with content about yourself. Google will crawl the internet and index all of this material under your name. Don’t believe me? Google your name right now and see what comes up!

Let’s say you’ve been judicious and have found a way to elude Google’s indexing. Even then, there is always the possibility that others will post content about you. It’s impossible to stop someone from posting photos of you on Flickr, creating fake user accounts on Facebook or Twitter, writing a review of you on Yelp or Rate My Professor, or even dedicating specific websites towards your slander. To make matters worse, Carnegie Mellon researchers have found a way to identify pseudonymed private information online. If information about you exists on the internet, Google (and the public) will find it.

Why should psychologists (and other professionals) care? The world judges us based on our online identities. Graduate schools, practicums, externships, internships, fellowships, hospitals, universities, students, patients, and clients all use the internet to evaluate and assess their trainees, researchers, professors, therapists, and consultants. According to research by Microsoft, 78% of HR professionals use search engine results to evaluate applicants. Concerns about a candidate’s lifestyle, as informed by their online identity, are frequently reported reasons for rejecting a candidate. High profile cases such as former Representative Anthony Weiner and the infamous Kevin Colvin, teach us that:

  1. Online information wants to be free.
  2. An online personal life can become public very quickly.
  3. Your personal life has professional implications.

Psychologists used to believe they could maintain a “blank slate” between their personal and professional lives. For better or worse, the past decade has taught us this is no longer completely unattainable.

Part 2: Be Like Gaga


So what do we do?

The answer lies in the unlikeliest of sources – Lady Gaga.

What comes to mind when you think of Lady Gaga? Think about that for a moment. What is Lady Gaga known for?

Even if you don’t know her music, chances are you’ve heard of her extravagant sense of fashion or her eyebrow raising performances. But do you know anything about her personal life? Can you think of any scandals, criminal allegations, or media gaffes? Probably not.

Lady Gaga has gone to great lengths to develop a specific and focused identity. Look at this excerpt from a 60 Minutes interview by Anderson Cooper:

Anderson Cooper: "Spending time with Lady Gaga, we realized the outfits and transformations are not just attention getting, they're also attention directing - a way for her to keep the public focused on her work as opposed to her personal life."

Lady Gaga: "Part of my mastering of the art of fame, part of it is getting people to pay attention to what you want them to pay attention to and not pay attention to the things you don't want them to pay attention to."

This approach of intentionally developing an identity and using new media to reinforce the way you want to be perceived is the key for professional success. The Official Google Blog recommends a similar approach for individuals hoping to improve their search results:

“If you can’t get negative content removed...you can reduce its visibility by proactively publishing useful, positive information about yourself. If you can get stuff that you want people to see to outperform the stuff you don’t want them to see, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of harm that negative or embarrassing content can do to your reputation.”

Many other groups, including NASA and the Chronicle of Higher Education, have echoed Google’s suggestions.  

The intentionality and prudence needed to be a modern professional is also highlighted in the following quotation by Dr. Stephen Behnke, director of the American Psychological Association Ethics Office:

"Becoming a psychologist doesn't require you to give up your personal life...but it does mean you need to think about how your public activities affect your work."

Here are 7 steps you can begin implementing now to develop an online professional identity.

  1. Understand the status quo: You must first understand your current online identity before you begin constructing a new one. Look yourself up on multiple search engines (e.g. Google, Bing). Use multiple versions of your name and try multiple booleans (e.g. Jonathan Doe, “John Doe”). If you have a common name, search using your middle name and add geographic and subject Booleans (e.g. “John Smith Doe”+”New York”, John+Doe+psychology). Be sure to also check people search engines and the Internet Archive.
  2. Remove unflattering material: There’s a good chance you’ll find something online that is at best embarrassing and at worst could compromise your professional life. Follow this gradPSYCH article’s advice for removing unflattering material from the internet. Also, shut down any web services you no longer use (e.g. Yahoo Groups, MySpace, Friendster, etc).
  3. Track your identity: Setup Google alerts for your name. With Google Alerts, each time there is new content added to the web about you, you’ll be the first to know. Remember to setup multiple alerts using different booleans. If you have a common name, add a geographic or subject Boolean (“John Doe”+psychologist, “John Doe”+San Francisco).
  4. Modify privacy settings: If you currently use social networking services such as Facebook, modify your privacy settings so only those you trust have access to your content. WikiHow provides a great overview of privacy settings on Facebook. Remember that there is always a chance privacy settings will fail and your personal content could get out. Therefore, don’t post content that might compromise your professional identity.
  5. Develop your brand: Using pen and paper (or a blank document), answer the following questions: 1) What do I want to be known for?; 2) What are my unique skills and areas of expertise?; 3) What separates me from other colleagues in my area? Use your answers to guide the development of your landing page (step #6). 
  6. Create a landing page: In psychology, your name is your band. It is important to give your name a home on the internet by registering a domain name (e.g. www.johndoe.com) and pointing your domain name to a landing page. If you have a common name, consider building your landing page around your full name or include your middle initial. A landing page should include a brief biography, one page for each area of expertise (e.g. research, clinical work, teaching), contact information, and a high quality photograph. Populate this page with content related to your brand (step #5) and include key terms for search engine optimization including your geographic location and areas of expertise (e.g. bipolar depression therapist Seattle Washington). Don’t just post your CV. Rather, write in casual internet style. If you’d like to turn a landing page into a more comprehensive webpage, consider using webplatforms like SquareSpace.

Part 3: The Sword of Gryffindor


Given the wide variety of new media, it can be overwhelming to choose which technologies to integrate into your professional work. Here, we can turn to the Sword of Gryffindor from the Harry Potter series for guidance. The Sword of Gryffindor is made out of special material that only absorbs that which makes it stronger. Similarly, psychologists should only adopt technologies that will improve upon their professional work. This means not only understanding how technologies could be integrated into psychology, but also the ethical implications of new media.

Several areas of the American Psychological Association Ethics Code should be reviewed before adopting new media technologies. Here are some specific areas to consider:

  • 2.06: Personal Problems & Competence – How could my personal use of these technologies impact my professional work?
  • 3.05: Multiple Relationships – What constitute a multiple relationship in new media and how can I prevent such relationships? 
  • 3.10: Informed Consent – Do my patients/clients have informed consent about how information gained from new media will be used (e.g. Googling patients)?
  • 4.01/4.05: Confidentiality & Disclosures – How can I limit the disclosure of confidential information on new media (e.g. Facebook updates about patients/clients)?
  • 5.04: Media Presentations – Are my public comments on new media based on my professional knowledge and consistent with the ethics code? 
  • 5.05: Testimonials – Psychologists are not allowed to solicit testimonials from patients and clients (e.g. Yelp reviews).
  • 7.02/7.04: Description of Training Programs & Student Disclosures – Am I accurately communicating to my trainees/students expectations regarding the use of new media?

Here are some specific ways psychologists can best wield new media technologies.

Scientists

  1. Automate literature searches using Google alerts and RSS.
  2. Connect with colleagues using LinkedIn, blog comments, and Twitter.
  3. Engage in collaborative writing using Google Docs.
  4. Recruit participants using Facebook ads.
  5. Capture data using ecological momentary assessment through websites and smartphone apps.
  6. Follow academic conferences using Twitter.
  7. Disseminate scientific findings and promote psychological science through blogs.

For more information about how scientists can use these technologies, and for a discussion of how new media poses challenges for the existing peer-review publishing model, refer to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Teachers

  1. Gain instant student feedback through Twitter.
  2. Integrate the world’s perspective into your lectures using Twitter and blogs.
  3. Expand discussions outside of class using Facebook and Google+.
  4. Develop critical thinking skills by incorporating Wikipedia editing.
  5. Offer online office hours using Facebook, Google+, instant messaging, and podcasts.
  6. Develop of a new generation of collaborative learning projects.
  7. Decrease plagiarism by increasing peer accountability with blog assignments. 
  8. Increase student and teacher interactions in online courses. 

A more comprehensive list of resources for teachers is available here and here

Concerned about using new media in the classroom? Consider the following quotation from the American Library Association:

“[Prohibiting social media in schools] does not teach safe behavior and leaves youth without the necessary knowledge and skills to protect their privacy or engage in responsible speech...[librarians and teachers] should educate minors to participate responsibly, ethically, and safely.”

Clinicians

  1. Develop competence on issues impacting your patients (e.g. online bullying, social anxiety symptoms on Facebook, parent training for social media).
  2. Offer informed consent regarding how new media will be used in treatment (e.g. explain your policy on “friending” and “googling” patients).
  3. Model good behavior for patients, young and old, struggling with their own online identities.
  4. Network with colleagues through Twitter and blogs.
  5. Implement targeted marketing to increase referrals through landing pages and websites.
  6. Promote the practice of psychology through Twitter and blogs.
  7. Offer telehealth services through HIPAA compliant new media.

If you are a practicing psychologist, consider developing a social media policy for your clinic. Dr. Keely Kolmes, a pioneer in this area, has generously made her social media policy available for mental health professions to review. 

Faculty and Supervisors

  1. Develop and communicate clear program policies for how new media will be used in the evaluation of students and trainees.
  2. Model and teach responsible online professional identities.
  3. Gain feedback about your program through Google, Twitter, and Blogs.

For training programs, an overview of new media policies and recommendations should be integrated with program orientation. Students/trainees whose online identities are impacting their professional work should also be offered an opportunity for additional mentorship.  

Advocacy and Dissemination

  1. Connect with local, state, and federal leaders.
  2. Advocate for psychology through blogs and Twitter.
  3. Promote and disseminate psychological science.
  4. Correct myths about psychology.
  5. Reduce mental health stigma (e.g. for a great example see the mental health blog party).

Psychologists have long criticized the media’s portrayal of psychology and psychotherapy. New media technologies provide us with an ideal way to connect with the public and correct misconceptions about who we are and what we do.

APAGS New Media Resource Guide

This article is only a brief introduction to what new media has to offer psychology. APAGS is currently developing a detailed resource guide that will bring together emerging professional and eminent psychologists to provide in depth recommendations for engaging with new media, navigating ethical dilemmas, and capitalizing on the opportunities provided by these new technologies. The guide will be available for free in late 2012. If you are interested in working with us on the APAGS New Media Resource Guide or wish to provide feedback and comments, we would love to hear from you.

Conclusion

New media represents an exciting paradigm shift in the global communication of information. While these technologies have introduced specific challenges to the field of psychology, they have also created wonderful opportunities for the field. New media allows us to connect with participants, students, clients, patients, colleagues, and the public in a far more enriching way than ever before. What took years of networking and publishing can now be done in weeks and months. By understanding these technologies, developing clear online identities, and prudently integrating new media into our professional lives, we can ensure that psychology will thrive in the 21st century.

Suggested Readings

American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073.

Barnett, J., (2009) Social Networking Sites, Clients, and Ethics: Dilemmas and Recommendations. [Lecture]. From International Conference on Use of the Internet in Mental Health, Montreal 2009. Retrieved from http://bcooltv.mcgill.ca/Viewer2/?RecordingID=27892

Behnke, S. (2007, January). Posting on the Internet: An Opportunity for self (and other) reflection. APA Monitor on Psychology, 60-61.

Behnke, S. (2007, July/August). Ethics in the age of the Internet. APA Monitor on Psychology, July74-75.

Clark, J. C.. (June 2010). How to clean up your online record. In gradPSYCH: A Publication of the American Psychological Association. Retrieved August 1, 2010, from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/features/2010/online-record.aspx.

Cross-tab. (January 2010). Online Reputation Research. In Microsoft Data Privacy Day. Retrieved August 1, 2010, from http://www.microsoft.com/privacy/dpd/research.aspx.

El-Ghoroury, N. H. (2011). When boundaries intersect in cyberspace: Facebook, multiple relationships, and confidentiality in a hospital. In W.B. Johnson & G. P. Koocher (Eds.), Ethical Conundrums, Quandaries, and Predicaments in Mental Health Practice: A Casebook from the Files of Experts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Fitzpatrick, J. (May 5, 2010). Establish and Maintain Your Online Identity. In Lifehacker. Retrieved August 1, 2010, from http://lifehacker.com/5531465/establish-and-maintain-your-online-identity.

Grohol, J. M. (2008, May 14). Social network may blur professional boundaries. Message posted to http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/05/15/social-networks-may-blur-professional-boundaries/.

Hughs, L. (2009, May). Ethics Corner: Is it ethical to Google patients? Psychiatric News, 44, 9 & 11.

Kolmes, K. (2010). Private Practice Social Media Policy. Retrieved September 1, 2011, from http://www.drkkolmes.com/docs/socmed.pdf.

Lehavot, K., Barnett, J., & Powers, D. (2010). Psychotherapy, professional relationships, and ethical considerations in the MySpace generation. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41, 160-166.Kolmes, K. (2010).

Lehavot, K., Barnett, J., & Powers, D. (2010). Psychotherapy, professional relationships, and ethical considerations in the MySpace generation. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41, 160-166.

Moskwa, S.. (October 15, 2009). Managing your reputation through search results. In The Official Google Blog. Retrieved September 1, 2011, from http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/managing-your-reputation-through-search.html.

Zur, O., & Donner, M. B. (2009; January/February). The Google Factor: Therapistsʼ Transparency in the Era of Google and MySpace. The California Psychologist, 23-24.

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AuthorAli Mattu
CategoriesPsychology