Rena Bivens

Host institution

Carleton University

Granting agency


Project description

Can social media be used to end gender-based violence?

One may think social media technologies are gender neutral, but what's "under the hood" can sometimes hinder efforts to end gender-based violence. Dr. Rena Bivens at Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication is examining how social media software influences what anti-violence organizations can do in this space, and how the needs of non-profits can shape how this software develops.

Non-profits, she notes, are often pushed to use tools like Facebook and Twitter as a viable space for social change, despite a lack of knowledge, resources and time, as well as little understanding of how the technology is programmed in ways that obstruct what they hope to achieve.

One issue being investigated is how ongoing changes to software coding and algorithms can make it more difficult for non-profits to spread their ideas. Few non-profits realize, for example, that Facebook only shares status updates with a minority of people who have "liked" your page.  

The two-year project is partnering with rape crisis centres, shelters and other public education and advocacy organizations to understand their needs. Workshops will be held in 2015 to share the research findings and explore how non-profits can overcome these obstacles to make the best use of social media spaces.

"Software designers are trying to give us what they think we want to see, while seeking ways to monetize social media sites," says Bivens. "They don't always recognize how the technology can make it more difficult for non-profits to use social media to end gender-based violence."

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