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Sunday, September 15 • 11:31am - 11:50am
“Girls and their social media practices: Critical readings on sexual health and policy making from the ground up”

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More and more young people around the world are using social media services, mobile apps, and other digital communication technologies to produce, share, and comment on videos, photos, podcasts, and text-based resources in order to effect change in a collaborative community capacity. While the meanings of their productions often seem to drown 'in a sea of moral panic', in this chapter we start with the premise that social media trends and the sheer volume of data produced by youth-driven online activity are compelling reasons for researchers to tap into what young people are saying about their own well-being through social media. We are particularly interested in the ways in which social media practices might link to sexual health and policy dialogue. In this paper we focus on ways of studying the social networking practices of girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 18 specifically in relation to their sexual health, and in so doing, we work with one key question: What methodologies are appropriate for exploring these practices and to what extent can girls and young women themselves lead the process? While there are many social networking sites and organizations addressing the sexual health and well-being of adolescent girls, we are particularly interested in the ways in which an analysis of girls' participation on arts-focused sites can deepen an understanding of critical issues linked to reproductive health. 

Responding to our main question by looking at a case study of an arts-based advocacy platform Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network (YAHAnet.org), we examine how this online platform is being accessed and used, how it generates engagement — especially the engagement of girls and young women. In our roles as founder (Claudia) and coordinator (John) of YAHAnet, we offer a gender analysis of the site, looking in particular at the relationship between its online and on-site activities, and what implications exist for expanding our repertoire of methodologies for shedding new light on how girls and young women can be meaningfully engaged in policy dialogue about sexual health through social media.

Select Bibliography

Mitchell, C. (in press). Girls’ texts, visual culture and shifting the boundaries of knowledge in social justice research. In C. Bradford and M. Reimer (Eds.), Girls, cultures, texts. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press. 

Mitchell, C., Low, B., & Hoechsmann, M. (2008). Social networks for social change: YAHAnet goes live. South Africa Gender and Media Diversity Journal, 4, 118-124.

Mitchell, C. & Murray, J. (2012). Social networking practices and youth advocacy efforts in HIV awareness and prevention: What does methodology have to do with it?. Educational Research and Social Change. 1(2), 26-40.

Mitchell, C., Pascarella, J., De Lange, N., & Stuart, J. (2010). “We wanted other people to learn from us”: Girls blogging in rural South Africa in the age of AIDS. In S. Mazzarella (Ed.), Girl wide web 2.0: Revising girls, the internet and the negotiation of identity (pp. 161-182). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Mitchell, C., Reid-Walsh, J., & Pithouse, K. (2004). “And what are you reading, Miss? Oh, it is only a website”. Digital technology as a South African teen’s guide to HIV/AIDS. Convergence, 10(1), 191-202.

Murray, J. (2013, April). Finding the right storyline: Creative sexual health awareness and behaviour change through a collaborative youth platform. Presentation at YTHLive Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Stuart, J., & Mitchell, C. (2013). Media and Social Change: working within a “Youth as Knowledge Producers” framework. In D. Lemish (Ed.), Handbook on children, adolescents and media studies. London, England: Routledge.


Claudia Mitchell

McGill University

John Murray

Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network

Sunday September 15, 2013 11:31am - 11:50am EDT
ROWE 1020

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