prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for the ‘new media’ Category

The News Media Bubble

Posted by prof e on April 26, 2017

Politico, a left-leaning web magazine, just published an essay about the bubble in which journalists live. According to the authors the bubble is not just geographic, but also ideological. According to Politico, the media bubble served to insulate journalists from the people and issues that ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump. For most journalists it was not an issue of whether Hillary Clinton would win, but by how great a margin. Was it perhaps because they didn’t understand what was happening across the country? According to Politico,

Nearly 90 percent of all internet publishing employees work in a county where Clinton won, and 75 percent of them work in a county that she won by more than 30 percentage points.

Another essay, this one by pollster and statistician Nate Silver, (the golden boy of recent electoral race coverage), makes the argument that the national media were the victims of group think leading up to the 2016 Presidential election. Silver’s essay spends some time reviewing a premise introduced by James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds. Surowiecki’s thesis is that networking theory, applied to information flow, can yield superior results given certain conditions. Whether the crowd is professional journalists or citizen journalists, the idea is that collective wisdom is superior to the wisdom of any one member of the group. That is fine if the conditions are met. If not, group-think, an idea popularized in the 1970s by Irving Janis, leads to poor judgement and low-quality decision-making. According to Janis,

the more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups. (https://web.archive.org/web/20100401033524/http://apps.olin.wustl.edu/faculty/macdonald/GroupThink.pdf)

Both articles point to a serious problem for national media coverage of politics. More than ever, national journalists are more highly educated, more liberal, less religious, richer, younger, more urban, and much more likely to live in communities with like-minded neighbors. The liberal, coastal, elite journalist is becoming the norm when it comes to national media coverage, and that is a problem for the future of the industry. Some have argued that this trend has led to an erosion of trust and created a credibility vacuum where fake news and lies can thrive.

This was not always the case. Journalists have not always been so out of touch with the audience that they serve. The failure of local and regional newspapers is a significant contributing factor. According to Politico, labor statistics are a clear indication of the trend.

In late 2015, during Barack Obama’s second term, these two trend lines—jobs in newspapers, and jobs in internet publishing—finally crossed. For the first time, the number of workers in internet publishing exceeded the number of their newspaper brethren. Internet publishers are now adding workers at nearly twice the rate newspaper publishers are losing them.

As news shifts from local newspapers and local reporters who reflected their communities’ values, to national news organizations located in major metropolitan centers on the coasts, it has becoming increasingly likely that the news that we’re consuming on social media and television is out of touch with mainstream values and main street sensibilities.

 

Another theory that may be useful to understand what is happening is Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence theory. According to this theory, unpopular ideas are pushed to the margins, where they slowly lose favor and spiral downward to eventual silence. We’re fine with this if it’s a bad idea, one that does not deserve to be sustained. But what about when an unpopular idea is silenced because those in authority don’t want to give it a hearing? What about unpopular ideas that are banished to the margins because groupthink has created a hostile climate for those kinds of ideas? What if the lack of ideological diversity in our newsrooms creates an echo chamber that drowns out dissenting voices?

Conservatives have consistently accused the national media of having a liberal bias, and that appears to be supported by these essays. But I’ll close with this quote from the Politico article…

Resist—if you can—the conservative reflex to absorb this data and conclude that the media deliberately twists the news in favor of Democrats. Instead, take it the way a social scientist would take it: The people who report, edit, produce and publish news can’t help being affected—deeply affected—by the environment around them. Former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent got at this when he analyzed the decidedly liberal bent of his newspaper’s staff in a 2004 column that rewards rereading today. The “heart, mind, and habits” of the Times, he wrote, cannot be divorced from the ethos of the cosmopolitan city where it is produced. On such subjects as abortion, gay rights, gun control and environmental regulation, the Times’ news reporting is a pretty good reflection of its region’s dominant predisposition. And yes, a Times-ian ethos flourishes in all of internet publishing’s major cities—Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington. The Times thinks of itself as a centrist national newspaper, but it’s more accurate to say its politics are perfectly centered on the slices of America that look and think the most like Manhattan.

Something akin to the Times ethos thrives in most major national newsrooms found on the Clinton coasts—CNN, CBS, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Politico and the rest. Their reporters, an admirable lot, can parachute into Appalachia or the rural Midwest on a monthly basis and still not shake their provincial sensibilities: Reporters tote their bubbles with them.

 

Posted in ethics, journalism, media effects, media industry, new media, politics | Leave a Comment »

Alternative Facts and Rogue Tweets from Alt Federal Agencies

Posted by prof e on January 27, 2017

Journalists have their work cut out for them. With public faith in journalistic credibility at an all-time low and a combative White House that uses social media to circumvent traditional news channels, journalists are facing new challenges that have the potential to either make or break the industry.

A democracy depends on an information electorate, and information, for most of our recent history, has been the responsibility of a free and fair press. Newspapers, magazines, television networks, and internet websites have been the backbone of the journalistic enterprise in recent decades. Investigating and exposing corruption, reporting without bias, holding those in power to account…these are the responsibilities of a profession that is recognized and protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. But more and more news consumers are turning to alternative sources of information, including social media and internet websites that frequently traffic in a different type of information.

Not all information is created equal and it is becoming increasingly difficult to ascertain the value and credibility of the barrage of information that vies for our attention. Take for example the estimates of the size of the crowd attending the Presidential Inauguration. Competing claims, some with photographic evidence, were made by partisan sources and reported by journalists…facts and “alternative facts” if you will.

On Facebook the other day I followed a link to a report of a catastrophic pipeline rupture. A photograph was presented as evidence, calling into question the safety of the Dakota Access pipeline. But the article falsely represented a photo from 2010 (taken in Texas) as a current photo from a Pennsylvania spill by the company connected to the Dakota Access project. Regardless of whether you support or object to a pipeline near this Native American community, this is not journalism.

You may have seen the eruption on Twitter from various “alternative” governmental organizations after President Trump ordered a suspension of the official social media accounts. While these rogue accounts may be just that…actions of government employees acting on their own initiative on their own time…it is also possible that they are simply fake accounts created by partisans who are participating in a grass-roots resistance to the new administration.

As such they are newsworthy, but not for the same reason they would be if indeed they are actually the work of federal employees. According to one blog,

For now, at least, most of these unverified accounts seem to be pushing positive agendas: the climate change facts that many of them tweet are unequivocal, and the planned march of scientists on Washington promises to raise legitimate concerns about scientific progress in the United States. But a dejected left-wing and liberal group should remember that these accounts are emotionally gratifying, not edifying. Embracing such gratification without critical analysis veers close to the Trump administration’s embracing of “alternative facts” — lies that suit the narrative you’d prefer.

Disclaimer: the above quote is from The Verge, a website that has a mixed record as a credible source of news/information.

 

Posted in ethics, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, social media | 1 Comment »

I Hope I’m Not Being Too Pushy

Posted by prof e on January 9, 2017

attentionNew Years is a time of reflection and looking forward. It is a time to take stock of what is working and what is not…making plans to maximize the good and minimize the bad. I just finished an interesting book…The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu, and, if I may be so bold, I would like to make a suggestion that I think will improve your focus and productivity in 2017. And that suggestion is…..(drum roll)…..change the way you currently give your attention to media.

Media companies want your attention. No great revelation there. Your attention is valuable, and the more of it that they can collect and sell, the more money they make. So they work really hard at finding new ways to collect your attention. Sometimes in tiny fragments (e.g., preroll ads and billboards), and sometimes for long periods at a time (e.g., binge viewing).

Media companies know that you’re busy, and that they can’t always count on you to volunteer your attention. They can’t count on you to remember to go to their website or click on their app. So they devise ways to bring the content to you. This strategy has been around for quite a while and it is known as “pushing” content to the consumer. Rather than counting on the consumer to “pull” in the content that they want, media companies “push” it out to those who have opted in. You have probably opted in to all kinds of push notifications…typically when you initially sign up for some neat bit of content that you want to receive. From that point on, they have permission to push new content to you…to notify you that there’s something new to see, hear, read, etc.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that our attention is not infinite. If we’re going to focus on anything worthwhile, we need uninterrupted attention. We need to be free of the distractions that push media provide. Social media may be the most obvious and blatant example of constant clamoring for your attention, but it’s not the only form of media that is working overtime to suck you in.

You might think that you can handle it…that you can manage several streams of incoming data at the same time. But you would be wrong. All of the research indicates that multi-tasking is a myth. What your brain is doing is switching quickly from one stream to the other, not doing anything particularly well.

There are several ways to reduce this threat and I’ll let you figure out which one works best for you. But I can assure you that taking control of who’s in control of your attention will make you a more focused and productive student (friend/employee/etc.) in 2017.

Posted in advertising, applications, interactive media, media industry, new media, social media | 1 Comment »

The Sky is FALLING…And You Won’t Believe Who’s Responsible!

Posted by prof e on November 23, 2016

misleading-fake-news-sitesThere’s been a lot of discussion lately about the potential danger of fake news. Apparently we’re a lot more gullible and susceptible to misinformation than anyone imagined, and IT IS KILLING DEMOCRACY! Okay, that conclusion may be overstating it a bit, but the number of media and political analysts who are wringing their hands over the outcome of the recent election seems to be growing. And seeking an explanation (or scapegoat), some are pointing the finger at fake news.

The proliferation of satire, fake news, clickbait, propaganda, and commentary masquerading as news is undeniable. While there have always been people with an agenda spreading lies and hearsay, the dynamics have changed in recent years. Social media platforms provide opportunities to people who, before social media, had to work a lot harder to gain an audience. For those familiar with Ryan Holiday’s “trading up the chain” approach to media manipulation, this should come as no surprise.

There have been quite a few excellent summaries of the issue. Some have questioned whether media platforms like Google and Facebook bear responsibility (here, here, and here); others have reported on specific case studies (here, and here), and efforts to combat (or at least categorize) the growing number of questionable sites (here). A new report from Stanford suggests that we have a lot of work to do while MediaShift proposes a role for journalism programs.

I have a few suggestions of my own.

  1. In a world where anyone can be a source of news, what we need is for everyone to behave like a journalist when confronted with new information. Remember the motto of skeptical journalists everywhere: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!” We need more skepticism and less single-source research.
  2. For those of you who prefer social media for your news…because it’s free, quick, and often fun…remember that you get what you pay for. Unless you read in-depth from multiple and diverse sources you can’t consider yourself an informed consumer of news.
  3. Learn about confirmation bias and make a commitment to discovering your own vulnerability. Until we take a long, hard look in the mirror we have no right to point out the bias in others.
  4. And finally, don’t share anything on social media unless you’re willing to vouch for its accuracy and authenticity. That rule alone will do wonders to improve the overall news IQ of our democracy.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, regulation, social media | 1 Comment »

Not Safe for Advertising?

Posted by prof e on September 3, 2016

We’ve all seen the acronym NSF, which stands for Not Safe for Work. YouTube has generally been pretty careful to ensure that content on its site is devoid of overtly offensive material. But now they’ve gone a step further to protect advertisers who may be squeamish about appearing alongside content that pushes the boundaries. A new policy announced by YouTube allows them to remove certain videos from their monetization program if the contents of the videos is potentially offensive to advertisers.

YouTube producers are pushing back claiming the new policies are too strict and have a chilling effect on their creative output. According to AdAge, “On Wednesday, YouTube video creator Philip DeFranco, with 4.5 million subscribers, said he was put on the no-ad list after he mocked ‘political correctness.'”

According to Google’s guidelines, videos with the intent to “inform or entertain” and more likely to get a pass than those intended to “offend or shock.”

This is nothing new for websites and apps that rely on user-generated content. Again, according to AdAge,

The video site is just the latest to find itself embroiled in a social media battle with voices that oppose “political correctness” or claim free-speech violations over any pushback to their activities on a given platform. Last month, right-wing advocate Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for allegedly leading a bullying blitz against “SNL” and “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones.

Here’s a link to a somewhat lengthy video (the first 4 min is about this issue, but the rest is pretty informative on related topics) from DeFranco that explains his position. (warning: graphic language)

 

Posted in 1st amendment, advertising, interactive media, new media, social media | 2 Comments »

What’s NOT Trending on Facebook?

Posted by prof e on May 16, 2016

TrendingWell, for starters there’s less conservative news from conservative sources than one might expect. A recent report by Gizmodo reveals that the Trending feed on Facebook may be less objective than many thought. One might fairly assume that these are organic results based on what is popular and being shared on Facebook…and you would be partly right. But the revelation that has the media world talking is that insiders say that Facebook intentionally directs human curators to leave out conservative news and opinions while injecting other news stories that are not actually trending.

Now, just to be clear, we fully expect traditional news sources to make decisions regarding what is news worthy and which stories to place on the front page. This is standard practice and any debate about the ethics of this practice is only to the extent that the editorial policies of any given news organization are consistent and transparent. The objection here is that Facebook appeared to be suggesting that the Trending stories were simply the result of algorithms analyzing Facebook for popular results. But if that’s not the case, and Facebook is injecting some stories and holding others back, then there is a real problem that deserves a response.

Sure, the news industry has long been viewed as an uneven playing field where liberal voices have had an upper hand. More recently talk radio and Fox News tilted things back towards the other side. The rise of the internet was seen as a solution for the potential threat of big media controlling access to information. But if Facebook (or Apple, Google, Microsoft, or any other new media mega-corporation) is willing to inject their own biases into their products and platforms, the playing field will become a swamp where no one will dare to venture. This idea that platforms ought to be agnostic is at the very core of the argument in favor of Net Neutrality.

Social media is increasingly becoming a source of news. While mainstream news media (broadcast and cable TV, newspapers, and news magazines) struggle to remain relevant, social media has stepped up to offer bite-sized morsels of news for the highly-distracted audience. Facebook, Google, Snap Chat, and others have been competing for the attention of this audience.

The enormity of the power that can be deployed by a company the size of Facebook is staggering. Just a short time ago Facebook was caught manipulating the emotional state of its users by selectively posting content to their wall intended to make them feel certain emotions. An earlier experiment was designed to discover if manipulating a person’s news feed could make them more inclined to vote in an upcoming election. Now, imagine for a moment if that same persuasive power were exerted for one side or the other in an ideological or political contest.

In response to the allegations Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has denied the charges but has offered to meet with conservative leaders. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18th and one of the conservative leaders who will meet with Zuckerberg is MCCNM alumnus Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, interactive media, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, social media | 1 Comment »

Living Inside the Bubble

Posted by prof e on March 2, 2016

I’ve posted about the “Filter Bubble” and mentioned it in another post, but a new trend is emerging that takes the concept and makes it even more troubling.

First, let me take a minute to review the idea behind the filter bubble. According to Eli Pariser’s Ted Talk, the filter bubble is a dangerous and unintentional consequence of software algorithms that social media platforms use to customize our user experience. In an attempt to keep us online and engaged, social media platforms feed us the content stream that they believe is of greatest interest to us.

DrumpfinatorSounds good so far, right? But the problem is that by putting some things in and leaving others out our social media experience can begin to reflect and reinforce our personally held biases. Pretty soon we’re only seeing Facebook posts from people who agree with our political/social/religious positions. And while that may make us more comfortable it doesn’t do much to make us more aware of, and sensitive to, other points of view.

Now imagine for a moment a software hack that allows you to create your own filter bubble. Google’s Chrome browser allows users to download and install extensions that can do any number of things, including changing your browser to display certain words instead of other words.

This gained quite a bit of attention recently when John Oliver’s rant about Donald Trump went viral. With more than 13 million views in just a couple of days, the video makes reference to a claim that Donald Trump’s family name was originally Drumpf. That was all that some clever software programmer needed to create a Google Chrome extension that is designed to turn every mention of Trump into Drumpf! That’s right, the next time you search for Donald Trump, the results page will display results for Donald Drumpf. When your friends post about Trump on Facebook, your browser will automatically change it to Drumpf. Presto Chango, out with Trump and in with Drumpf!

ChoiceLanguageChromeExtensionsSounds like a great idea, right? But consider this. The Chrome extension website offers up some other “fixes” that are slightly less funny. Don’t like your news feed filled with comments about pro-life or pro-choice arguments. Just download the Chrome extension Choice Language or ProLife. Your webpage will no longer display the offending terms. Choice Language changes the words “Pro-Life” into “Anti-Choice”, while the Pro Life extension changes “Anti-Choice” or “Anti-Abortion” into “Pro-Life.” Simple as that you can browse the web and never encounter an offending phrase.

Ahhh, if life could be so simple. Imagine being able to rewrite the evening news or edit a popular film so that is more closely reflects your view of the world. Imagine the joy of never having to encounter an uncomfortable idea or thought. Imagine living in a bubble…a self-made filter bubble.

 

 

Posted in ethics, media effects, new media, social media, websites | Leave a Comment »

Selling Out

Posted by prof e on November 27, 2015

I bought an Amazon Fire tablet today for the ridiculously low price of $34.99. That’s $15 less than their usual ridiculously low price. Today’s special is not just a Black Friday “door buster” bargain. No, the additional $15 off is available to anyone who is willing to let Amazon place an ad on the tablet in place of the lockscreen image. That’s right, I sold the lockscreen on my tablet to Amazon, and invited them to use it to advertise to me so that I could save $15. I don’t know whether to feel like a smart shopper or a sell out. Actually I do, but I’d rather think of myself as a smart shopper.FireLockScreenAd

Posted in advertising, ethics, media industry, new media | Leave a Comment »

Internet Cats to the Rescue

Posted by prof e on November 23, 2015

Everyone knows that the Internet is for cats. Keyboard Cat, Colonel Meow, Grumpy Cat, and now…the BrusselsLockdown Cats! In response to recent attacks in Europe, Belgian security forces have been conducting raids intending to root out remaining terrorists. Police

In response to requests for social media silence by Belgium’s minister of defense and local police, Belgians and members of the international community have responded with the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown and lots and lots of cat photos.

BrusselsLockdown

Every once in awhile the concerted silliness of the millions of inhabitants of the interwebs gives one reason for hope…even if you’re not a cat person.

Posted in global media, interactive media, new media, social media | Leave a Comment »

Security v Privacy: Choose Carefully

Posted by prof e on November 18, 2015

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have raised new questions about safety and security in a globally connected world. According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, readily available encryption is easy to use, and impossible to access even by government agents with warrants.

Some of the most powerful technologies are free, easily available encryption apps with names like Signal, Wickr and Telegram, which encode mobile messages from cellphones. Islamic State militants used Telegram two weeks ago to claim responsibility for the crash of the Russian jet in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 224 people, and used it again last week, in Arabic, English and French, to broadcast responsibility for the Paris carnage.

Another report, this one published in the Wall Street Journal, provided the following graphic to show which apps are most secure, and therefore most likely to be deployed by those intent on avoiding the attention of military and police counter-terrorism forces.

TerrorTech

A lower-tech approach to terrorist communications is to use the online gaming platforms, e.g. PS4, to share information. According to this approach the terrorist are counting on the sheer volume of messages using similar violent language to mask their terrorist communications.

Meanwhile the cyber-hacking group Anonymous is waging its own war on ISIS. “Vowing to silence extremist propaganda and expose undercover operatives,” Anonymous claims to have deleted 5,500 Twitter accounts that had been used by ISIS. In a video just released they warned, “Expect massive cyber attacks. War is declared. Get prepared.”

According to the WSJ,

The bloodshed in Paris will likely exacerbate a tense debate between governments that want inside access to those encrypted tools and tech companies that say [they] are trying to protect customer data and are wary of government overreach.

What do you think? Does personal privacy trump security, or vice versa?

Posted in 1st amendment, applications, ethics, global media, interactive media, new media, politics | Leave a Comment »