The ABCs of a Social Media Wellbeing Advisor

A conversation with Nicolle White, Social Media Wellbeing Advisor at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

What is your role and what does it involve? 

I’m the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Social Media Wellbeing Advisor.

From what I gather after rudimentary LinkedIn searches and speaking with local and global news organisations, the role seems to be the first full-time position of its kind in the media landscape (note: I am more than happy to be corrected on this and would love to speak to anyone else doing this work!).

As an advisor in the Health, Safety and Wellbeing team I provide advice and support to staff and external contributors experiencing social media safety incidents. The support is both through personal intervention and building resources that empower others to bolster resilience, reduce unwanted interactions and access support mechanisms – be it security, accessing our Peer Support program or counselling through our Employee Assistance Program. This also includes working with managers and producers to ensure they’re aware of their role in providing support.

I also develop research-based strategies to proactively prepare for, and manage the risk of, social media safety incidents. This includes guidelines for managers when onboarding staff and steps to take at the content commissioning stage. The goal is to empower managers and producers through information, training, risk management approaches and steps for mitigating those incidents that do occur.

Why did your media outlet create this role?

The ABC recognises social media safety as a workplace health and safety issue, and one that disproportionately impacts our female staff, Indigenous staff, LGBTQI+ staff, staff living with disability and culturally and linguistically diverse staff.

Whether the incident occurs while moderating an ABC-owned social media account or on a personal social media account, the goal is to ensure staff are empowered and supported.

In creating this role, the ABC has provided staff and management with a clear point of contact to assist with incidents and triage a response. Importantly, having someone whose role is solely dedicated to social media wellbeing signals to staff that the organisation takes the threat seriously.

What does an average day in this role entail? 

Certainly, that no day is average.

Some days there can be several incidents requiring immediate response. When these are reported I reach out to the affected individuals and work with their managers, our security team, and Trauma Programs Manager to ensure there is a triaged response.

Other days I might be pulled into a pre-publication meeting about content that presents higher social media safety risk to our journalists, talent or social media producers. We will come up with a plan to reduce the risk, be it increasing social media restrictions, muting keywords, ensuring we have appropriate moderation plans in place and the like.

A large part of my role is creating up to date resources and training on best practice and increasing understanding of the issue to help contextualise what our staff and contributors may experience.

What advice do you have for other newsrooms looking to tackle online abuse?

There needs to be a culture shift in how the media industry think about social media abuse.

Research shows journalists, and particularly diverse journalists, are unlikely to report abuse to their employers. When they do, management can be dismissive, seeing social media abuse as their own issue to manage or disregarding the severity of the situation.

Understandably, some journalists are hesitant to share their experiences for fear their performance may be judged, or they may be removed from covering certain topics. Unfortunately, unless journalists can feel safe to do so, they are left to manage what can be an extremely traumatic and isolating experience alone. This can result in self-censoring or stepping away from visible roles in the media.

When you consider that journalists from diverse backgrounds and female journalists are more likely to experience harm, this self-censoring and decreasing visibility has a disastrous impact on the health of our online discussions and newsrooms. To combat this, the culture shift must come from the top down. Managers need be visibly discussing social media safety – addressing cyber safety in editorial meetings, actively promoting support mechanisms, and building trust with staff that their experience will be heard.