Written by Master of Communication alumna Tatiana Carter.
If you’ve ever read the children's novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you would have come across the iconic scene where the main character, Alice, falls down the rabbit hole. While mostly serving as a metaphor for falling into absurd and disorienting reality, Alice’s descent into Wonderland is how I felt during my Master of Communication degree at Bond. Instead of white rabbits, smoking caterpillars, and mad hatters, my experience down the rabbit hole took a different turn, and was instead filled with COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news. Standing on the edge of this uncharted territory, I knew I had to dedicate my master’s to understanding its complexities.
How I got started
One of the most challenging aspects of the Master of Communication is the Major Research Project – which involves a 25,000-word dissertation split into two parts, or a singular Research Project undertaken during one semester. Having just completed my Bachelor of Journalism, where most of my research problems were selected for me, it was exciting to be able explore topics of my own.
By the time I had to brainstorm research ideas, COVID-19 had already established itself as a fixture in our everyday lives. My daily scrolls through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were jam-packed with false information about the virus. Between poorly-drawn memes of Donald Trump, clickbait about ‘miracle cures for COVID-19,’ and my family members arguing over mask mandates, my time on social media had become engulfed by this new and deadly global phenomenon.
Misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news were all daily features on my newsfeed. I had encountered more problematic information in a few months than I had in my entire digital lifetime. When I recognised this problem, I felt empowered to work against it.
From passion to purpose
My project supervisor, Professor Jeffrey Brand (who does some incredible work in the digital media space), pushed me to venture into uncharted territory and to try and understand how COVID-19 misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories spread through social media.
Months of research, academic journals, and data analyses led me on one of the greatest endeavours of my life. I was researching a topic that was unfolding in front of my very eyes – using new trends to inform my work and contribute to greater knowledge of the topic. It felt incredibly rewarding to try and understand complex problems, although I soon discovered the more I researched, the less I knew.
When my master’s degree was coming to an end, I still felt like I had a lot to learn. My dissertation had taken me down a rabbit hole to a fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, place. I discovered a passion for this area of research and have made it my goal to transform my work into a purpose – researching, understanding, and debating complex issues about information and digital media.
In addition to the dissertation I submitted for my research project, I also developed a website and research blog to house my data and new findings. My blog has been useful for reaching a wider audience and putting my work on public display. It’s helped to create some great publishing and speaking opportunities on radio and podcasts.
Through Bond’s support of my research, I’ve felt extra driven to write about this topic and share my work through popular media channels like Pedestrian TV and Hit Network. It means so much to me that people are interested in my work and want to talk about my research – I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without chasing my interests, and without having the unwavering support of my supervisor at Bond.
My advice to future Master of Communication students
If there’s one thing I wish someone would have told me before I started my master’s degree, it would be to follow your interests, even if they seem disconnected to your overall course. For example, if you’re a person who is interested in TikTok, I’m sure there is a communications-related research problem or knowledge gap waiting for you to dive into.
Finding something that excites you can make your overall experience much more enjoyable – and who knows, you may even find your passion along the way. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience I did, and I’m excited to see more great work come out of this program.
At the end of the day, my greatest piece of advice is to be open to falling down your own rabbit hole – while you may meet some interesting characters and have strange experiences along the way, you just might find your own version of Wonderland.