Travel Scholarship Recipient #AoIR2018 – Jane Harris

by | Aug 15, 2018 | Awards, Conferences

Each year, through the generous donations of AoIR conference attendees, we are able to fund several travel scholarships for junior scholars to attend the conference. We want to recognize our scholarship recipients and share with you a little bit about them and their interests.

Who are you?
Jane Harris @phi_janeharris

Where are you from?
I am a third year PhD student from the Public Health Institute at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom.

What is your current area of study?
My research background is in public health with a particular interest in the health needs of young people and seldom heard groups, digital health and qualitative and mixed methods research. I am currently researching the role that social media can play in health promotion particularly for young people. In particular, my PhD explores the role that professional YouTubers play in young people’s health behaviours and identities in the UK.

Describe the research you will present at #AoIR2018.
My presentation at AoIR 2018 is entitled “Like, Comment and Subscribe”: Exploring the Role Professional YouTubers play in young people’s health behaviours and identities in the UK.

In the United Kingdom, there are over 150 individual YouTubers with >1 million subscribers. A significant proportion of their audience are aged between 13-18 years. The content they produce is often: commercially sponsored, unregulated and both purposefully and accidentally touches on a whole range of health topics including: mental health, alcohol, sexual health, body image, healthy eating and physical activity. YouTubers successfully create illusions of intimacy for their audience; through both YouTube and other social media platforms they appear increasingly interactive and accessible to their audience. For young people, YouTubers represent a magnified version of their own searchable and replicable online socially networked lives with the same difficulties that come from feelings of surveillance and misinterpretation online. YouTubers could therefore be a particularly relatable source of health information for young people. More so than those of other adults offering them advice on their health and wellbeing.

However, there remain concerns about young people’s ability to critically analyse the quality and reliability of health information they encounter online. Inequalities in health information seeking exist across all age groups and are influenced by a number of factors including: experience, motivation, self-efficacy and autonomy of use. Research suggests that young people have complex and often thorough methods for evaluating online health information and that popularity and peer appraisal plays an important role with likes, comments and views all influencing how likely young people are to engage with a particular information source. This is reflected in an increased focus on digital media literacy on both UK national and international policy agendas.

My PhD research was a four stage mixed methods sequential design. The first stage, a school based questionnaire (n=931, 13-18 years) quantified young people’s engagement with professional YouTubers and provided a sampling frame for the later qualitative stages. An online analysis of 7 UK YouTubers examined the health content they produced. Focus groups (n=7, 85 participants) with 13-18 year olds explored the impact this content had on young people’s health behaviours and interviews with professional YouTubers ( <1 million subscribers, ongoing) explored their perceived role in health promotion.

YouTubers appeared to be a significant source of health information for the participating young people with 80% watching at least one UK YouTuber, 70% recalling YouTubers talking about at least one health topic and 47% having used YouTube to seek health advice. The survey also measured participants’ confidence in performing a number of social media literacy tasks, those who could recall YouTuber health content and had sought health advice on YouTube were at significantly increased odds of a high confidence score suggesting perceived confidence increases with exposure to YouTuber health content.

The way in which YouTubers communicate health information reveals three broad themes: 1) YouTubers share their health experiences with their audience 2) they give health advice and encourage their audience to do the same through the comments section and 3) they share certain social norms about health and wellbeing. This appears to align well with the theory of reasoned action/planned behaviour (Azjen, 1991). However, interviews with professional YouTubers suggest that numerous factors impact upon their decision to make health related content; both commercial and ethical. YouTubers are treading a fine line between health promotion and self-promotion. Interestingly, the young people participating in the focus groups were also aware of this tension and yet, despite demonstrating competence to critically analyse this content, they still stated a preference for YouTuber produced content when it was what they perceived to be “real and honest” experiences.

YouTuber produced health content appeared to be a recognized source of health information for young people in this study. Young people felt able to critique the accuracy and commercial influences on YouTuber content. However, this content still appears to be a relatable way of sharing health experiences, giving advice and communicating social norms. My research aims to use these insights to produce recommendations which will inform the design of YouTube based health promotion campaigns and interventions for young people.

Have you presented at AoIR in the past? If yes, what has been your experience? If #AoIR2018 Montréal is your first AoIR conference, what made you choose this conference? What do you expect from it?
This is my first time presenting at AoIR. This will also be the first time I have presented my research to an international conference audience. The conference will therefore be a vital opportunity for me to gain critical feedback on my research from an audience of well-established and respected internet scholars. I am also looking forward to learning from the range of academic expertise and disciplines represented at the conference. Coming from the field of public health research, I will be able to learn from the latest research in disciplines such as media, communication and internet studies. By taking these insights back into my own field of public health, I hope I can use this knowledge to make recommendations which will ultimately lead to improvements in young people’s health and wellbeing.

This is also my first visit to Montreal and Canada, so I am looking forward to exploring everything the city has to offer!