We started recording this episode about a week before its release, and since then, coronavirus COVID-19 has continued to spread across the globe. News and governmental guidance is being updated frequently and people in many regions are being mandated to stay home as much as possible in an effort to help flatten the curve.
The pandemic has obviously impacted online communities, too. In this episode of Community Signal, I (Carol), along with community professionals Serena Snoad and Rose Barrett share our communities have changed in recent weeks. But amongst the three of us, there was a common theme –– the work of maintaining our communities as sources of helpful and reliable information is more important than ever.
If you have a story to share about how your community has been impacted, we’d love to hear from you. But most of all, we hope that you are well, practicing social distancing, and doing your part to stay at home as much as you can.
Here’s some of what you’ll find in this episode:
- How we can help restaurants and food industry professionals as they brace for the impact of the pandemic
- Tips from a remote work community on how to adapt to working out of your home
- Evaluating misinformation about COVID-19 and maintaining your community as a space for accurate information
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Discourse.
The shifting conversations in the Zagat community (2:50): “Instead of sharing food photos and where we’re going out to eat, we’re talking about buying gift cards for where we’re getting meal delivery from.” – @CarAnnBen
Restaurants and food industry companies are making adjustments (4:06): “A lot of folks I know in catering are actually shifting towards delivering individual meals or thinking about how they can serve individual customers as opposed to bigger events. [One friend] started delivering seasoning salts. She’s sharing recipes online. I think it’s forcing [the food industry] or encouraging them to interact with their customers and community in a different way.” –@CarAnnBen
How you can support your favorite restaurants (4:50): “Order delivery if the restaurants are still open. Remember to tip the delivery workers very generously. A lot of restaurants offer gift cards. I’d recommend calling or checking their website to see if you can get one from them directly. Then also just check on social media. Many restaurants are offering meals to people in the community at a reduced cost or for free, while they can, for people in need. That’s been great to see from the restaurant side as well. Just get in touch with them, see if they’re still open, and ask if there are ways that you can support directly.” –@CarAnnBen
Creating a separation between home and work, if you’re new to working from home (13:01): “Even if you’re working from the house, just get up and actually leave the house, go for a little walk. It might be a minute around the block and then come back or [practice] other rituals, whatever works for you. For me, I have the habit of getting up in the morning, making my coffee, and watching a talk on YouTube [or a] TED Talk. Then I get my headphones on and start listening to some ambient music. That really helps me get into the headset that I’m starting my workday. [And] for parents, it’s having conversations with the kids, around ‘mom or dad is actually working.'” –@RemoteRose
Rooting out misinformation (26:44): “We are taking a harder line on handling [information related to COVID-19] where it’s clear that the source is unknown. Particularly, when you’re a health charity, when you are supporting people who are affected by a condition that could affect their cognition, I think you have to be very careful. With dementia, somebody could have difficulties with being able to process information and they may not be taking those steps to consider the source of information and where it’s come from.” –@serenastweeting
About Our Guests
- Carol Benovic-Bradley, freelance community strategist, currently with Zagat in the United States
- Rose Barrett, from Ireland, co-founder of Grow Remote, a nonprofit with a mission to make remote work local
- Serena Snoad, online community manager at Alzheimer’s Society, a charity in the United Kingdom
- Sponsor: Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities
- Information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from the World Health Organization
- Carol Benovic-Bradley
- We Support
- Help Us Help The Restaurant Community by Zagat and the Infatuation
- Rose Barrett on Twitter
- Grow Remote
- Serena Snoad
- Alzheimer’s Society Forum
- CIPR (Chartered Institute for Public Relations)
- The Simplest Way to Spot Coronavirus Misinformation on Social Media, by Will Oremus
[0:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, a podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Discourse, civilized discussion for teams, customers, fans, and communities. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[0:24] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for listening to Community Signal. I’m recording this on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, normally among my favorite days for obvious reasons. It feels like so much has changed in the last week as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has spread. If you don’t know, I live in Hollywood with my fiancée, Kara, and we’re adjusting to our new normal as we try to do our part through social distancing.
I put out a call for community pros and facilitators affected by this coronavirus and selected a few to join me on this episode to share their stories, three people from three different countries. Before we get into that, I’d like to thank our supporters on Patreon for helping to keep our show going as I pay our producer, Karn, our editorial lead, Carol, and a handful of other service providers like our transcription service and podcast hosts. Among our supporters are Rachel Medanic, Marjorie Anderson, and Maggie McGary. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Our first guest is Carol Benovic-Bradley. Carol is a community professional based in New York City. She’s currently freelancing as a community strategist with Zagat, and previously worked in community and support roles at Kickstarter, Pilotworks, and Kaplan Test Prep. Carol helps produce a weekly newsletter called We Support NYC, highlighting news and opportunities from within the community management industry and contributes to this podcast as our editorial lead. She’s also a supporter of the show on Patreon. Carol, welcome back to the show.
[00:01:50] Carol Benovic-Bradley: Hey, Patrick, nice to talk to you.
[00:01:51] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s good to have you on. At Zagat, you work with restaurants and people who go to restaurants. Kara, my fiancée, and I usually eat out a few times a week here in Hollywood, but that has come to a halt as we try to do our part for social distancing. Talk about how coronavirus has impacted your community.
[00:02:10] Carol Benovic-Bradley: Usually, our community is talking about the restaurants they’re going to, the places they’re looking forward to seeing opening, sharing photos of the foods that they’re out eating. It’s a great community to be a part of, but yes, these days people are obviously eating out a lot less, and that conversation has slowed down a lot. In the meantime, there is still a huge conversation going on in the greater world about how we can support restaurants and food businesses during this time. We’ve actually just shifted the conversation in that direction, and it’s been just as productive and people have gotten involved in that in many ways. Now, instead of sharing food photos and where we’re going out to eat, we’re talking about we’re buying gift cards for where we’re getting meal delivery from or things like that.
[00:03:01] Patrick O’Keefe: I guess, let’s take it from both sides. First, the business side, the restaurant side, I have a friend who runs a small business, not restaurants, but it’s just a retail e-commerce business. He saw sales drop 90% overnight. It just crystallized for me the impact this is going to have on small businesses. Not all businesses are going to want to take loans, no matter how attractive, from the Small Business Administration because you have to pay them back at some point. It takes money.
Just the crunch on small businesses is tough right now. My family works in the hospitality industry. My dad manages a country club in the Outer Banks. A big part of their revenue comes from weddings, which is another industry that’s going to be I think devastated, unfortunately, as I plan my own wedding and try to figure out how the heck that’s going to work or if we’re going to have one or what that’s going to look like. I don’t know. What are you hearing from the restaurant side?
[00:03:51] Carol Benovic-Bradley: Well, I do have a lot of people in my network who own catering businesses or bakeries or small cafes and things like that.
[00:03:58] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I saw you mention Randwiches.
[00:04:00] Carol Benovic-Bradley: Yes. In the beginning, I think they were all trying to stay open with reduced staff or reduced hours. A lot of my folks who I know in catering are actually shifting towards delivering individual meals or thinking about how they can serve individual customers as opposed to bigger events. My friend that you just mentioned, Jenn, who’s a caterer both here and on the West Coast, she’s started delivering salts. She’s sharing recipes online. I think it’s forcing them or encouraging them to interact with their customers and community in a different way.
[00:04:36] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned before that the conversations are shifting and it’s less about, where have you eaten recently and rate the ambiance, I guess, [chuckles] and more to how can we support those restaurants when we’re not eating out as much. How can we?
[00:04:50] Carol Benovic-Bradley: Order delivery if the restaurants are still open. Remember to tip the delivery workers very generously. A lot of restaurants offer gift cards. I’d recommend calling or checking their website to see if you can get one from them directly. Then also just check on social media. Many restaurants are offering meals to people in the community at a reduced cost or for free while they can for people in need. That’s been great to see from the restaurant side as well. Just get in touch with them, see if they’re still open and ask if there are ways that you can support directly.
[00:05:24] Patrick O’Keefe: My fiancée’s father actually runs a food delivery business, so he’s actually getting a lot of business right now. Unfortunately, he’s also older, and so it’s like, I don’t know what would be the term there, I don’t want to say catch-22, but like it’s tough because it’s good for his business in a sense and also good because he’s able to help people because that’s what he does all day, every day, is food delivery. He gets up in the morning at like three and goes and gets the food and goes to the markets and gets all this fresh food and then delivers it throughout the day, but he’s in a more vulnerable group.
Then with gift cards, I feel like people are, customers are concerned, some of these businesses will go out of business and like, will they be able to get that gift card? In this time of coming together, you almost want to look at it like not a donation but king of like that. Because you’re really making it to the business that you want to see survive this and hopefully that day comes when we’re in a better place containment-wise where you can go back out and actually use that gift card.
[00:06:16] Carol Benovic-Bradley: Exactly. I definitely want my local neighborhood restaurants to be open on the other side of this, so I’m willing to do whatever I can to help, and I’m sure others are, too.
[00:06:26] Patrick O’Keefe: Carol, thanks so much for stopping by.
[00:06:28] Carol Benovic-Bradley: Thanks for talking to me today, Patrick,
[00:06:32] Patrick: Before we’re joined by our next guest, I’d like to take a moment to thank our excellent sponsor, Discourse.
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[00:07:21] Rose Barrett: Patrick, thanks so much for having me.
[00:07:23] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. I’ll make the same joke I made before I hit record. I’m recording on St. Patrick’s Day. My name is Patrick. You’re in Ireland. A place I’ve always wanted to go but never been. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
[00:07:35] Rose Barrett: Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Patrick, you’re very welcome to Mayo.
[00:07:38] Patrick O’Keefe: I can’t wait. Once this is all cleared up, Ireland is actually at the top of the list of the countries that I hope to visit one day. My fiancée has already been, she’s been to Dublin before. I can’t wait. Hopefully this goes by as quickly as possible. Let’s talk about Grow Remote a little bit. You were planning to host the national meetup of chapter leads of Grow Remote on March 21st but you decided to cancel it. Take me through that.
[00:08:00] Rose Barrett: Grow Remote, I suppose it started about two years back, but for the last year or so, chapters have been our big focus. We had local peoples, sort of the chapters. This was one of those main shops where we’re going to get our chapter leads together, give them an update on what’s been happening with the community, what our plans are, and then we were going to spend the day workshopping around challenges they have, topics they’d like to cover.
Obviously, about two weeks back, we decided that we were just going to postpone to wait and see what was happening. We’ll be looking to run that online in the next few weeks, but just for the last couple of weeks, particularly last week, it’s like been a bit of a triage for us. We’ve been trying to get out information that’s as useful to the community as possible as quickly and then some social meetups over virtual videos and not just the people feel like they’re connected.
[00:08:48] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t know. I was looking at Grow Remote, and I felt like there was this sad irony here because you’re working to build community locally around remote workers so they feel less isolated and obviously this whole thing, it just drives them back to the computer, right? Because they’re not supposed to be gathering and now you can’t really do that. You had this meetup you’d been planning. Now you’re back to online connection. How are you bridging that gap?
[00:09:12] Rose Barrett: It’s actually particularly bizarre because so often in the remote worlds, we’re talking about keeping things online. As you say, for us, it’s trying to encourage the face to face as well. Really a lot of it is that we’re talking to each, other acknowledging the fact that it’s difficult. A big one for a lot of the people in the community is, many of them are parents. How are they handling the kids being home from school while they’re attempting to get work on. Just having really human conversations around that. Then sharing humor as well, like those funny pictures of the cat walking across your laptop while you’re in the middle of a Zoom call or whatever it is.
We’re really learning on the fly as well, what can work really well for our community. I mean, we’re pretty young community as well. We’re taking it day by day. This is something we’ve been doing since early on. When somebody learns how to do something else in a community, we bring it back in and we share it out, which I guess is common for most communities. That’s what we’ve been doing over the last week.
[00:10:09] Patrick O’Keefe: A lot of the people who are a part of the Grow Remote community, do they work from home naturally or were a lot of them going to co-working spaces and communal working space?
[00:10:18] Rose Barrett: I guess really we would have a mix. The community itself as well is some people who haven’t yet gone remote, that are interested, so there’d be educators and we’d help them to figure out how to look for work remotely. Some of them would be business owners that are already having some remote team members or maybe they’re thinking about it, community people who want it, and then there’s the remote workers themselves. Within them, we don’t have the actual figures. It’s something we want to do at some point, but the sense we get just word of mouth stuff is, there’s a good split between people who are work from home office and ones who are doing co-working spaces.
Co-working spaces have been quite popular here in Ireland. The government had put a lot of funding and supports into it, and that’s been a big part for us, but obviously, this has changed things drastically for everybody.
[00:11:05] Patrick O’Keefe: I asked that question because, obviously, there are all sorts of different people out there. Me, personally, I’ve worked remotely my whole career. I’ve worked in community remotely my whole life since I started moderating when I was 13. Even when I took a day job and worked for other companies, I’ve always worked from home. Frankly, I love it.
[00:11:22] Rose Barrett: Me too.
[00:11:23] Patrick O’Keefe: I like people. I just don’t like– I would say the most unproductive days I have are when I have to go to an office and meet with people because I like to see them a lot. I want to build that connection and build that rapport with my coworkers, but I just don’t get much work done. I love like not seeing people. For me, that’s not a part of my remote work experience.
I think we often, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think some of us think of remote work as equaling work from home. It’s not. That’s not the case. A lot of people do go out and work remotely from a space with other people and build a community outside of their home. They have more of a structured set up or maybe they drop their kids off at daycare and then they go to the co-working space and that’s their nine to five. They go back, pick up their kids or they have a partner, whatever it is, but it’s not just being at home.
Those people I think are the ones who, in addition to people who usually work in an office, but of the remote workers, people who are already working remote, those are the people who are struggling with this the most because they’re used to leaving this to- getting their coffee, going to wherever they go to work. It’s really disruptive. How is it impacting those people? What are some of the most common complaints or challenges you’re hearing so far?
[00:12:30] Rose Barrett: All sorts. There’s the physical end of things after they won’t have a dedicated office or they’re just trying to carve out some space somewhere. The amount of photos we’ve seen shared of both partners probably at the kitchen table and the kids are running around, again, the pets all over the place, but there’s the mindset end of it as well. It can be really hard to draw your boundaries around remote work when you’re work from home, at least if you’re in a co-working space, like you’re saying you leave the house in the morning.
There’s been some really interesting rituals I’ve seen over the last few years people sharing. Even if you’re working from the house, just get up and actually leave the house, go for a little walk. It might be a minute around the block and then come back or other rituals, whatever works for you. For me, I have just the habit of getting up in the morning, making my coffee and watching a talk or so in the morning on YouTube, Ted Talk. Then I get my headphones on and start listening to some ambient music. That really helps me get into the headset that I’m starting my workday.
Also, for parents, again, it’s like having conversations with the kids around mom or dad is actually working. I saw one lady on Twitter this week. She sat down with her six-year-old and created little hangers for the door handle of her office that said “Do not disturb” or “Okay to enter” and her daughter helped her do this. Because her daughter helped her, the child now understands the importance of it and feels involved and feel they have some control. I just thought that was such a neat thing to do.
[00:13:57] Patrick O’Keefe: My fiancée has to have that talk with me because she has to work from home now [laughs]. I’m getting work done over here. Before the show, you told me how important chapter leads are to Grow Remote. What do they do?
[00:14:10] Rose Barrett: The way we see it is pretty much chapter leads our local leaders already. They’re people who are involved in the community. They understand the benefits and the potential of remote work. How they come to us is there is a platform we use called ChangeX. They go there, they apply to be chapter lead. Now, chapter lead, not necessarily suited to everybody because there’s an element of leadership in there and you do need a certain amount of time to put to it. They will organize local meetups, they might give presentations. We try to create as many central resources as possible. We have the schools talk, obviously, not happening at the moment, but somebody could just come in and get that and go to the local school and give information.
Different chapters have different goals. We’ll talk to them about that if they are on-boarding. Some of them are more around the isolation part for the local remote workers, maybe more so around education for other chapters. It depends. Say, our chapter in Dublin would act very differently to a chapter from my hometown here in Ballina, Mayo because it’s a much smaller place. Here in Ballina, we probably do more of the education piece. You know it’s funny, it’s like you say to somebody, have you ever considered remote work? They’ll just go, you know what, it wasn’t on my radar. Whereas in Dublin you have people already remote working, but maybe they’d like the opportunity to move to a place where they have more bang for their buck or maybe they’re into a certain hobby or activity and they want to get out to the city or maybe they just want to go from. They might be working for one of the big tech companies in Dublin and they would like to be able to work remotely. It’s just depending chapter to chapter, what the chapter leads themselves are doing.
Then a lot of it’s their communication with us, letting us know what their needs are and then again, we’re trying to find ways of creating the resources and joining dots, and that’s been another wonderful thing. Chapter leads throughout Ireland and across the world have been joining up and doing amazing things together. For some reason, we’ve a huge representation from Portugal, which is pretty awesome. Obviously the home of Grow Remote is Ireland. It just happens to have spread without us intending to yet.
[00:16:05] Patrick O’Keefe: We mentioned this briefly at the start of our conversation. Obviously, you had to cancel a meetup that was targeted at chapter leads. How has this crisis impacted your ability to keep them engaged?
[00:16:15] Rose Barrett: It’s always difficult I think when the community has been built in a certain set of processes to change quite suddenly. We’re having to be very deliberate about that unintentional. So, Tracy, my co-founder, actually spent a lot of this morning picking up the phone to chapter leads so that they know. We’re having a town hall on Thursday. We would have them every few months anyway online, virtual town hall, to help people know what’s happening within the community, but I guess for us it’s just that putting more time into picking the phone up, sending emails just that people know that if they want to come in and actually find out what’s happening and get any support, that we’re here for them.
We do what we can do. For some people, they just don’t have the bandwidth right now. They’re dealing with family stuff, they’re dealing with work stuff, and then we keep archives of information as much as possible that if somebody wants to come back in and check that they have the space to do that as well.
[00:17:07] Patrick O’Keefe: You tweeted on Friday, “My job might not survive this, but I’m grateful to know what really good management looks like.” You had a good conversation with your manager, I guess, about the realities of what’s happening right now. Was that related to COVID-19? Iis your job at risk because of this?
[00:17:21] Rose Barrett: Yes, absolutely. Actually we’ve had a huge amount of people already lose their jobs in Ireland, especially in hospitality and retail. I happened to do a part-time remote position in the mornings. My boss called me on Friday. He’s just one of those really, really good people. We’ve never met face to face, but I’ve always felt very supported in the role. I guessed this already because I know what their business model is, but he was just saying I can’t be sure, and I understand that as well. Nobody knows what’s happening exactly. I felt a huge amount of respect for him that he would pick the phone up and say we don’t know, but I will keep you informed.
Also, we’re blessed in Ireland. The government have…They were a little bit slow to act initially, but within the last week, they really have been taking great moves and trying to keep people as informed as possible. There are payments available for anybody that lose their job due to the virus. If you have lost your job beyond that, then there are ways to apply for funding for payments and that and there’s also funding made available for businesses. There’s a lot happening. It’s uncertain times for so many people. Again, I’m pretty lucky because I run quite lean. I don’t have kids, and I have a nice roof over my head at the moment. We take each day as it comes.
[00:18:35] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I know what you mean. I feel super fortunate as well to be able to stay home and not go out in Los Angeles and to do my part. Doing my part, in this case, is just staying inside, so I’m very fortunate. Yes, it’s a tough time for a lot of people, and I think you say Ireland reacted slowly. Over here in the US I think a lot of us feel like that about our government as well, so yes, I sympathize.
[00:19:02] Rose Barrett: Well, what could I say, oh to live in interesting times.
[00:19:04] Patrick O’Keefe: We sure do. Rose, thank you for making it more interesting. Thank you for stopping by the show.
[00:19:09] Rose Barrett: Patrick, absolute pleasure.
[00:19:12] Patrick O’Keefe: Finally, let’s talk with Serena Snoad. Serena is an online community manager running a peer support community at Alzheimer’s Society, a charity in the UK. She lives and works in London and manages Talking Point Alzheimer’s Society’s 16-year-old online community. Outside of work, Serena organizes community management meetups in London and also blogs about community management for nonprofits. Serena previously worked in a social media management and communicate, wait, let me say that. Serena previously worked in social media management and communications and holds a qualification in public relations from the CIPR, and she’s also a supporter of the show on Patreon. Serena, welcome back to the show.
[00:19:47] Serena Snoad: Thanks. Nice to be back Patrick.
[00:19:49] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re in a very critical spot because around 95% of the people who develop Alzheimer’s symptoms do so after the age of 65, and as such, most of the members you’re supporting in your community are either very vulnerable or caring for someone who is. As coronavirus spread, you made sure to conduct risk assessments for your employees and volunteers. Tell us about them.
[00:20:09] Serena Snoad: Yes. It’s been quite difficult for Alzheimer’s Society and for other organizations that support older people because, of course, we need to keep the balance between keeping services available and making sure we’ve got availability to run support services for people and also make sure people are safe. In the organization, we’ve been doing quite a lot of work around whether or not we should carry on continuing to deliver certain types of services, which, of course, means remote services like online community that I run, Talking Point, and our helpline, our services that are really critical, even more critical to continue to run.
A lot of what I’ve had to do over the last few days, at least, is really intensively looking at how the volunteers are doing and how the staff team is doing, whether anybody’s in those high-risk groups and then work out what sorts of contingency we need to put in place.
Now, for some people, it may be that they’re over 65 and they’re relatively healthy, but we obviously still need to advise them to look after themselves. For others, it may be that there’s another health condition that could be affecting their respiratory systems, like asthma or something, where there could be immunosuppressant drugs, and that’s something where also you need to make sure people are looking after themselves. The organization is now looking at things like whether or not people should be working remotely. That’s something that my team is definitely going to be looking at very closely. I think we’ve just made a call on that today, but obviously, I just need to double-check a few things. For a lot of it, it’s mainly around making sure that we can carry on delivering services and just keep people safe.
[00:21:46] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a tough moment for a lot of people, but I think it’s also a moment where, because of the work that you’ve done, at the Alzheimer’s Society over these years, that to set up an online community and to set up an infrastructure around it and to really normalize that as a means of care and of support to people who are caring for others, I feel like it’s something that people will turn to in a really big way in moments like this when they are forced as much as possible to be, I don’t know, isolated, is the worst way to put it. Some might say just being at home, but isolated for a lot of people. Are you seeing an uptick? Are you seeing more people come, new people come to the community as they’re driven online?
[00:22:24] Serena Snoad: I think we’re going to see more and more of that over the next few days at least. We’ve certainly seen more discussions around coronavirus, COVID-19, and certainly lots of discussions around what people do if they’re no longer able to visit care homes. If domiciliary care who people who come into your house to help you with care, if those services stop. Also if collect daytime support groups, peer support groups, if they stop. There’s a lot of people who are having those discussions and trying to work out either what do I do now, these decisions are being made or what contingency can I put in place. Yes, there’re a lot of people that are quite concerned.
I think one thing we’ve done really well in the community is to be quite responsive to what people needed. We’ve actually created the COVID-19 forum where people can talk specifically about those issues if they need to.
[00:23:18] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned that the Alzheimer’s Society is reviewing services it offers and making adjustments where needed to address this. Are there any services that have been almost redirected to the online community, I don’t know if that’s the right term, but something that was being provided and now it’s recommended that you actually go to the community for that if you can?
[00:23:36] Serena Snoad: I think that’s likely to happen over the next few days. I know telephone support service are looking at signposting more to the online community as lots and lots of different local groups are going to have to make their own decisions about when they might have to make a call on whether large groups that can continue to meet. I think also organizations like ours have to keep an eye on what local authorities and what the government is saying. I think the position seems to be changing pretty much every day. I’m imagining more and more is likely to be signposted, hopefully only in the short term, and hopefully, people will still be able to carry on meeting in person because I know how valuable that is for people affected by dementia. Definitely, we’re going to be there to support people and to welcome them if they need us.
[00:24:24] Patrick O’Keefe: Sticking with changing information because it’s changing rapidly, how are you tackling the spread of misinformation?
[00:24:31] Serena Snoad: Yes. It’s been really interesting to watch how misinformation, and particularly the current political age, is having an impact on how people discuss health information online. We started to see people sharing things that they’d seen online and sharing things that they thought might be good advice. That was something we wanted to be very careful about on our online community, particularly if people are sharing things where they’re not quite sure where that information has come from.
I did some research myself earlier this week and found a really fantastic article on Medium that somebody had basically put together just around the four-step model that you can use to spot misinformation, and this was something Will Oremus put it together. S is for stop, I is investigate the source, F is find better coverage, and T is trace those claims back to the original context. I think that’s a really nice acronym if anybody wants to use it for their online community which can really help hone down on any possible misinformation.
[00:25:37] Patrick O’Keefe: I had one of my moderators at KarateForums.com, far less critical than Alzheimer’s Society, but still we all have our part to play. He sent me a message at the start of this and said something along the lines of do we need change our guidelines, do we need to reaffirm to the community what our principles are, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I was like, “Okay. I think we’re in a good spot right now with our community guidelines, and we just need to apply them, and be vigilant, and keep an eye on things.” It’s interesting because I think there’s always the potential for any community to be targeted for misinformation and for the spread of misinformation. Who knows why some communities get picked.
Sometimes it’s literally just the bad luck of the Google draw, I think, but you have a lot of people asking well-meaning questions. Like the World Health Organization page on coronavirus, lists out things that, I guess, people have asked like should I spray alcohol and chlorine all over my body?
Apparently, people ask this question, and there are some people who ask that well-meaning. We can parlay this into a larger question, I guess, but dealing with people who are well-meaning, dealing with people who might not be well-meaning, but the larger question is how has this impacted your moderation?
[00:26:41] Serena Snoad: It has impacted our moderation in the sense that we are taking a harder line on handling anything where it’s clear that the source is unknown. Particularly, when you’re a health charity, when you are supporting people who are affected by a condition that could affect their cognition, I think you have to be very careful. With dementia, somebody could have difficulties with being able to process information, and they may not be taking those steps to consider the source of information and where it’s come from. I think that’s something to bear in mind.
Also, if you’ve got people who perhaps aren’t used to understanding and analyzing digital information. If you’ve got a whole generation of people out there from generation X onwards who know how to handle digital information, who know how to be quite savvy about what’s posted online, and perhaps you’ve got generations prior to that that might not have as much experience in those areas, I know from my community quite a lot of people are quite new to using online forums and quite new to using social media, so actually the skills of digital literacy are something where generations are able to help each other, so to speak. I think for me it’s been really helpful to be able to share a very simple framework around how to spot misinformation with the community.
I posted that on Friday, and I’ve also told the moderators we need to take a slightly harder line or anything where it’s clearly, we don’t know where this information is coming from. It could be a miss, it could be a rumor. Because if it’s posted on Alzheimer’s Society’s online community and if it takes off and people start sharing it, we don’t really want to be held responsible for sharing information that’s not accurate. Every online community is going to have a different approach to this. If there are organizations out there that handle health information that haven’t thought through what their approach should be to misinformation, I’d really strongly advise that they consider putting that SIFT framework in place.
[00:28:49] Patrick O’Keefe: Serena, thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate you making time during this evolving crisis.
[00:28:54] Serena Snoad: Thanks, Patrick. I appreciate it.
[00:28:57] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Carol Benovic-Bradley, community strategist at Zagat. You can follow Carol on Twitter @CarAnnBen. That’s C-A-R-A-N-N-B-E-N and her website is cabb.me. Rose Barrett, co-founder of Grow Remote at growremote.ie. Follow her on Twitter @RemoteRose. And Serena Snoad, online community manager at the Alzheimer’s Society. Check out their online community at forum.alzheimers.org.uk and read Serena’s blog at goodcommunity.co.uk.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Stay safe, stay healthy, and help flatten the curve.
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