Radicalised elders, Influencers, and more. In this episode, Andy and Adam are joined again by Justin Bullard, Founder and CEO of MPath Productions, to talk about the impact of social media and bullying in schools. Is there a danger with children wanting to mirror celebrity lifestyles? Is it the government’s job to make school teach pupils more about social media dangers? Plus, find out who wanted to be ‘Superman’ and who wanted to be a ‘Rockstar’ growing up.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
Welcome to The School of School podcast.
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Welcome back to another episode of School of School podcast. We're very fortunate today to be joined by Justin Bullard, CEO of Mpath Productions. Justin, welcome.
Hi there. Nice to be here. I'm really happy to continue this conversation.
Justin, where are you speaking from, and tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. I am not a Canadian, but I love Canada. I'm actually a permanent resident here, but I absolutely love Canada so... I am, as you mentioned, the CEO of Mpath Productions. Our goal is to create entertainment that inspires and develops empathy in kids and parents.
Cool. So, it's an online platform?
It is a lot of different things. You can actually check us out. We are in the Encantos world platform right now, so you can check out our animations, some of our story. Essentially, the idea behind Mpath is to create interactive universes and what that means is my background is in interactive storytelling, video games, primarily, and so we have an app that's launching soon which has interactive animations, storytelling, games, activities, that sort of thing. So primarily online, but I'm also a big fan of toys and the ability of things like collectibles to create memories and form those bonds. So we'll be out in the real world as well.
I saw, I think, there's a nice wee quote, on your website talking about, you knew that you'd made it when you, or not quite my words, not yours, but I can see the weird toy in the background that you were holding that I think that that was a big moment. It was a big moment-
Oh my God, yeah. It was a dream come true.
Justin, someone told me you were part alien. Is that true?
I can't confirm or deny that, Andy. I am from Roswell, New Mexico. So take that as you will, but sometimes you got to have a little alien in you. I think we all have a little alien in us, right? Don't we all feel like aliens.
We're all aliens somewhere.
So Justin you've come on today and it's really kind for you to give your time to the podcast. I want to talk today. I don't know, I probably am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to things online and certainly I know for a fact that social media... So I'm thinking about you create a lot of content online. You have done previous roles as well to be shared online and played across platforms and many people involved.
Adam, are you still using that CompuServe address?
I don't know how I don't know how to get out of it, Andy. I don't know how to get out of it. Once I'm in these things, I'm locked in for life. That's it, I'm done. I'm finished. So yeah. So yeah, no, everything about it, it's dinosaur. Now look, what I was going to say is that, I look at social media, and I almost have a knee-jerk reaction and saying it's a bad thing. It's negative. It leads to all these terrible things. In a previous life, I was full time in schools and I've worked all sorts of, worn different hats in schools. And unfortunately when it came to social media, I did see it at the sharp end and not the positive sharp end. It was mainly the negative stuff that it led to problems in schools. I suppose, I don't know, I want some form of enlightenment or education around the online world, social media, the role that it plays, your thoughts basically.
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. It's a complex subject and for me, social media is still a relatively new thing. It's one of those things that when I was growing up, there was no Facebook and Instagram and TikTok and Twitter, none of this stuff. And I think the real challenge is that when we have our kids especially this younger generation, they call it the alpha generation, that's been part of their life since day one. Their parents have been posting pictures of them on social media their entire lives so now it's something that is-
The day they were born.
Yeah, it's like it's the same as, I guess the equivalent would be like, TV. It's like, I've always had TV. It's one of those things that's just been a presence forever. And for kids, it's social media and online presence and the fact that they are being tracked and marketed to and analysed. And this is something that is a part of their day to day life. And I kind of feel the same way as you, a lot of the time, Adam, where I see social media as just this sort of... it has the potential to be extraordinarily negative especially when kids get a little bit older and they're putting themselves out into the world and there's all of this potential to be bullied and have negative people and have creeps. And it's funny, it's like growing up when the internet first came on, it's like never talk to a stranger on the internet. Oh man, and now that's what you want is like, you want as many strangers as possible liking you. It's really, really bizarre and-
It's interesting... Sorry to jump in Justin, my brain's just like, boom, it's just exploding, and it's interesting because I'm trying to think what's the historical context here? Something like this must have happened before where there was some kind of significant catalyst, boom everything changed — the printing press or whatever it is, where information, or the power shifted because of information or whatever, however we want to try to frame this. I'm trying to think. Can you guys think of... has something like this ever really happened before? Are we experiencing this for the first time?
Honestly, I think it's very unique. I think you could draw parallels to things like radio. It's like suddenly a president could speak to the entire country at once. I think that's one of those things that's sort of changed everything. And it became the-
People could actually hear what the president sounds like.
Yeah. But I think you'd be hard pressed to find something that was as far reaching and influential as social media. I don't know.
I suppose one of the big differences, you couldn't talk back to the radio, could you? It was all one way traffic so if you're printing things, you-
That was the shift.
Yeah, the transmission was always one way, whereas now, like you say, ridiculously, I'd never really thought of that. That say no to strange-... It's stranger danger, all the rest of it. That's right out the window, isn't it? So that's just sort of floored me when you said. I was thinking yeah, invite as many strangers in, as you can. Not only that start a dialogue with it. And not only that form a good enough relationship with a stranger that they keep coming back for more. That's just bizarre.
Yeah, it is.
Flies in the face of everything you've ever told your kids.
It is. And that's the thing, you'd spend a lot of time teaching your kids to be safe and watch out for themselves, watch out for each other. And then they see this other side of it and kids know. Kids, especially if you as a parent are really into your social media and you care about that, and you're worried about people liking you, kids could see that and that influences them. They put a lot of importance on that because you put a lot of importance on it. And for all of its ills, I think that there is a lot of power. There's a lot of potential for good in social media. It does connect people. And I think for me personally, I use it as a way to stay connected with all of the people that I love.
Like I said, I'm not from Canada and I have a lot of family in the States and sort of everywhere and the thing that I love about it is I feel like I know what is going on, in some ways, with the people I love. And it used to be... I remember going to my 10 year high school reunion and being like, oh my God, I haven't seen you in so long and this is crazy and wow. And now you have a sense of where people are in their lives. And I think that's great and I think it has a lot of power to bring people together, but it also has the power to tear people apart.
I find it interesting and I didn't come up with this, but it's the idea that we have the world's information at our fingertips but we don't know what to believe. Any sort of point of view is out there and there's so much out there and it's really hard to sort of parse what's real and what's not, and what's true and what's not. And for me, I think that's part of what I want to do is help kids develop their own point of view and have not a blind belief in what they believe and what they feel is right but have the ability to look outside and examine things from different ways, have empathy towards different people in different situations.
Just to circle back around to the idea of bullying and cyber bullying and again, it's a really difficult, difficult thing, but I think part of it is helping kids not put too much of their identity at stake in social media and just like with everything it's so, so important, especially with preteens and younger kids that are on social media more and more is to keep an eye on it. Monitor it. Don't just assume it's okay. I think it's-
So let me ask you a question, Justin, can I jump in there? Because a lot of the people who are massively influential, they put everything out there. There is nothing that is out of bounds. So if I'm growing up, if I'm 10, 15, doesn't matter now and I'm seeing these people who are revered, like millions and millions and millions of followers. And they're telling me what they had for breakfast and what they're wearing and what went wrong and how they just, you name it. And it's there. That would suggest to me that putting everything personal out there is a good thing to do. Look at the lavish lifestyle, look at this and they've put everything out there so if I do that, then all the great things will pour down on me and isn't that wonderful.
So at what point is there a responsibility for these people to educate that this is a job for them and that this is something that's different? Or like say if I was a boxer, I was a professional boxer, I might say to a child, "Listen, yeah, you train to be a boxer and you only box inside the ring but as soon as you're outside of the ring, you don't hit anyone at all. You use your manners and you're polite and you don't do this and you don't do that." At what point do we say for these people who have such enormous influence over the way... Because if you are saying that as a dad, and I'm saying that as a dad, "Hey, listen, don't put your stuff out there, it's a really bad thing to do." And then you look at someone who's just, I don't know for lack of a less stereotypical example, is just jumping on a private jet to fly to The Bahamas to lounge by the pool for a little bit whilst telling us about some healthcare regime they were just doing.
So I know you asking Justin the question, but I just can't stop myself. I noticed a shift in my own kids up and around the time when Facebook was up and coming. So Anthea, my oldest, she was just starting high school just as Facebook was becoming a thing for high school kids. So that's quite a long time ago because if you ask them... It's funny, because Sebastian, who's my second oldest kid, the other day, and he's in university now, he said, "Oh yeah, Facebook. Yeah. That's, that's the tool for radicalising old people." So somewhere in its existence, it went from being the coolest thing for the coolest generation to being a tool for radicalising old people. But anyway, let's not go down that rabbit hole. What's interesting about that whole thing to me anyway... And you know what? I just lost my thread here. I forgot what I was going to say. This is so embarrassing. Okay. I was going to say something really profound. I forgot what it was.
I can bring you back Andy. I can bring you back. I was saying that the influences of people and the fact that they're presenting something that how on earth can we then manage and say keep yourself safe. Don't give yourself away. Don't say all this, when we're watching it unfold in technicolour, HD. Does that help?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So at some point 12, 13, 14 year old Anthea decided that what she wanted to be was famous. That was her aspiration. Now that's kind of interesting because I don't think I ever thought... I mean, I might have thought when I was 13 that I wanted to be a rockstar, but maybe because that would make me famous.
I like the way you say might. You absolutely wanted to be a rockstar at 13. Anyway, sorry. Carry on. Carry on.
But fame was maybe the ultimate goal, but it wasn't... Around that point, people started becoming famous for being famous and that never really existed before. And I think social media played a big role in that.
Yeah. You're right, man. And just to circle back around a bit on that, Adam, I think you mentioned these super, super popular influencers that put everything out there and are clearly extremely popular because of it. And then what's their responsibility to temper that? One, I think when it comes to things like social media, there's a lot of value placed on honesty and openness and putting your real self out there and putting everything out there and I think what happens a lot of the time is that people, kids especially, will start doing that stuff. And what they see is they start getting a lot of negative things like there's creeps that go around and troll and kind of try to make you feel bad and then that can really hurt them because they've been told, "Oh, if you're honest and you're true to yourself and put it out there, that's the right thing to do."
And then you get a lot of negative blow back and it could really hurt you. And I think what kids don't see is especially any of name giant influencer X, they get tonnes of negative stuff, tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of negative stuff. And they either don't read it because they don't care or their publicist handles it for them. Or it's just there's this whole side of things that kids don't see and Andy talking about wanting to be famous, I think every kid wants that. They want to be a famous YouTube kid or they want to be famous, but they don't really know what that means. They don't know what the cost of that is or what it would actually entail. They just know that they like that and they want to be like that.
It's like, I wanted to be Superman growing up. The difference is it would be like the equivalent of me going and jumping off the roof because I wanted to be Superman. I knew enough to not jump off of the roof and I think kids need to know enough to not just put everything out there to try to be famous. It's really interesting.
Honestly, I don't necessarily think that there is any responsibility on these influencers to put out... to start saying this is the negative side and this is that. That's not part of the job, necessarily and I think good ones do. I think you mentioned a professional boxer that would say, "Oh, only box in the ring and you don't take it outside." It's a personality thing. You have a good boxer, I think... Who do I like? It's like Dave Batista, who's not a boxer, but that guy's awesome and the sort of things that he says outside and about being a good guy, I think that's all great, but then I'm sure there's a lot that are like I'm a gangster and I'll kill you. And it's all just part of their personality, part of their brand. And I don't think that there's any inherent responsibility for any of these influencers to do these things. They hopefully would, if they're good people and care about it. But I think that it's up to us. It's up to parents to do that and-
Yeah, and we got to remember, we invented the internet. Like that's a product of us and then we threw our kids into it. And I think we didn't really think all that much about what was going to happen.
Yeah. And I think, hopefully-
I suppose that happens a lot in society.
It's going to be really interesting in the next few years, man, as I think that social media and the internet... And man, the internet is amazing. And I think we are so fortunate as a world to have had a situation like this pandemic hit at a time when we can still stay connected. We can still work. We can work from home. We can have conversations like this, where I can see you guys on my computer screen. We have so much to be thankful for when it comes to technology and social media and the internet. But I think that the next few years will be really interesting because one, the pandemic's going to have a lot of impact on kids and adults psychologically in the way they work and the way they think, the way they kind of communicate with each other.
But hopefully we're hitting a bit of a watershed moment where there is more thought put towards that and there is less value placed on pure image and hopefully... I think Apple, for instance, has taken some pretty good steps where they let you know that you're being tracked and give you the option to opt out and this idea that we can take some of that control back to ourselves.
So do you think it's going to have to happen through regulation or is there a role there because, education seems to be decades behind really in dealing with this? Does this need to be part of the curriculum? There's a couple things like if you look at the curriculum today... So Adam and I and Robin, and obviously we spent most of our time thinking and working around education. I read the national curriculum every day. I know that sounds really sad, but I'm authoring right now and I read that document every day and I'm sure Adam does too because I know he's authoring as well. Oops, just kicked my trash can here. Is it the government's job to say, "Okay, you got to teach kids about this stuff," because there's serious things.
Some people figure that the curriculum is bloated as it is. There's a lot of stuff. There's too much stuff in there. We're expecting teachers to teach too many things, but there's some real gaps in there. This is a big gap. Financial literacy is one that comes up all the time as well. What about leadership and entrepreneurship and things like that. Those skills, they seem to be more important now than they ever were. When we built schools and the concept of schools effectively, we were trying to create a bunch of factory workers. So we needed people that were competent enough to work in a factory. And then the Cold War happened and then there was this emphasis on STEM. We need more scientists because that's the world that we live in. So there was this shift, but it largely... that's the world, I think we still live in, is this STEM world that maybe we're emphasising too much on things like calculus. Does everybody need to know calculus? Like this kind of a thing. Okay, look I make my living off-
I hope not because I don't know it.
Yeah. Well, no, but I make my living off producing products to teach people mathematics. That's what we do, but the reality is does everybody needs to know calculus? Calculus is beautiful. It's a wonderful invention, one of the greatest discoveries of all time. What a wonderful, amazing thing. Does everybody need to know it? Should they be learning it instead of learning some basic social skills, social management skills, digital social management skills or whatever we want to call it? Is that maybe more important for society right now then? What's the responsibility of the establishment in this?
Man, that's a great thread, Andy.
I just wonder if that can be done. Sorry to jump in there, Justin, I'm just thinking about it. So maths has been around for a while. History's been around for a while. The languages have been around for a while. So we-
History's been around for a while. I'm going to write a book. I'm going to write a history book called History's been around for a while.
It's a statement of fact, Andy. That is a statement of fact. There's nothing but the truth on this podcast, I'm telling you. But what I was thinking is we've got a little bit of breathing room when it comes to developing a curriculum for this. It is the pace at which, like you said, talking about Facebook, that's yesterday, that's so yesterday. If someone said, "All right, Adam, we're going to introduce some things around social media in school and try to help the children out," here comes dinosaur, Mr. Gifford talking about Facebook. And it's just like, that's last century. It's like the dangers of gold panning or something. Like teach us something new. Is it accelerating at such a rate and developing and evolving at such a rate? Is it actually possible? Is it literally possible or the same core threads that you've talked about before Justin like just being empathetic and understanding, those good core values that no matter what comes at us, these things will hold us in good stead? I don't know which one is it, because it just seems that frighteningly quick.
Yeah. Here's my take on this and the thing I really love Andy is you've mentioned in the old days we were training kids to be factory workers, because that's what we needed, cold war, we needed scientists. And I think the cool thing about that is really when you're teaching anything, you've got to ask yourself, why are you teaching that. Why is it important? And I think that not everybody needs to know calculus, but everybody should be aware of calculus and have a basic understanding of what calculus is and how it's used and why it's important. And I think that when it comes to something like teaching kids about, obviously, emotional intelligence is crucial, but things like social media literacy and what that means and I think that you should have some of that in schools, but the question is why.
And if the reason is that it's to help kids protect themselves and be smart and be strong when they're going out there, then that's a good reason why. And I don't think you necessarily need a full term of social media etiquette. It's like you could really get a lot of impact with a very short course. And when I was growing up, we had all the basic stuff, but we had the one subject that was freeform and it would change a lot. And that's when I took typing and I took home ec, and it's like that sort of thing.
I want to say that there is some responsibility for the government to put some emphasis on that, but it is, even just thinking, okay, what would it be, what would the values be, why would we teaching it, what do you want kids to get out of it, I think it's a really interesting thing and I think it would make a really fascinating proposal if an educator was, this is really important, this is why we need to do it, this is what that curriculum would be. I would love to see that and see what that would see what that would look like because it's social media, internet, this stuff is baked into every facet of our society. It's clearly important enough to be everywhere, we should probably have some education about it.
Justin, thank you so much for joining us again. Thanks everyone. Justin, we'll have to have you back.
My pleasure. I would love to. Thank you so much, guys.
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