I recently posted a short overview of the findings of one of our projects on fake news, filter bubbles, and echo chambers in The Conversation. All three are foci of panic over the potential political implications of new technologies, such as search algorithms and social media friending and de-friending mechanisms. Given the comments received and the worries expressed in those comments, the fake news panic trumps all the others – no question.
One reason is that it is so new. The public debate over fake news only began to arise during the 2016 elections in the US, though it quickly spread internationally. I’m sure I could be corrected on that, but I believe that is roughly the case.
Secondly, the definition – to the degree that is fair to apply to this concept – is being constantly enlarged and blurred by pundits and politicians referring to more and more ‘news’ as fake. In fact, ‘fake’ is becoming an almost viral term. There are many ways to characterize much of the news, some of it is patriotic journalism, some partisan, some misinformation, some just poor reporting, etc. But more and more of the whole journalistic enterprise is being labelled as fake. But journalists are not the victim so much as among the major users of this term, increasingly characterizing mainstream media as real news versus blogging and social media as the sources of fake news. In such ways, it has become a pejorative term used to discredit the butt of the insult.
These are a few of the reasons why we did not use the term ‘fake news’ in our survey of Internet users. We asked other questions, such as how often they found wrong information on different media. That said, we found the a surprisingly large proportion of people tend to check information they believe to be suspect, such as by using a search engine or consulting other sources.
So despite the rising panic over fake news, I still believe it is under-researched and over-hyped.
I had a quick but engaging trip to Portugal to speak with students and faculty at CIES at the University Institute of Lisbon. I have given a number of talks on my concept of the Fifth Estate, but there are always new issues emerging that enable me to help students see the transformations around the Internet in light of current developments. In this case, they were most interested in the election of Donald Trump and the implications for Europe of his Presidency. I will post a link to the slides for my talk.
It was so rewarding to speak with the students, who were most appreciative. I don’t think students realize how much people like myself value hearing from students who have read their work. So, many thanks to my colleagues and the students of the University Institute of Lisbon for their feedback. You made my long trip even more worthwhile.
I also had the opportunity to meet with my wonderful colleague, Gustavo Cardosoa, a Professor of Media, Technology and Society at ISCTE – Lisbon University Institute. I met Gustavo when he was the adviser of information society policies for the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic from 1996-2006, and continued to work with him through the World Internet Project and more, such as his contribution to the Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies (OUP 2014).
On the anniversary of 9/11, and in light of the many recent stories about completion of the 9/11 memorial for Flight 93, I was reminded about my experience in reporting research on this tragedy, when I should have probably given a warning so that members of the audience might have avoided my talk.
Of course, it is well known that Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all onboard, and inspired much writing and even movies about the heroic efforts of those onboard to stop the hijacking. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I was struck by the reported use of wireless communications, cell phones and in-flight phones, in this disaster, as well as at all the crash sites, such as calling their families to say “goodbye”. So much was reported that I worked with a student to collect as much publicly available information as possible about the use of wireless phones at all the crash sites during the 9/11 tragedy. Our paper was published* and is available online on SSRN.
I spoke about my study at a few conferences and events in the year following 9/11, and for the first and last time in my career, I experienced individuals leaving during my talk in tears. I hadn’t appreciated the degree that discussion of the events on 9/11 would be so upsetting to individuals who had lost friends or family or had personally experienced events on that day. Perhaps academics can distance themselves from events through their studies. Study of the events was one way I felt I could respond, as an academic.
But I am reminded of those upset by my talks in the aftermath of 9/11, well before the concept of a trigger warning or safe space was a public issue. Perhaps this is a different issue, and in every case, the circumstances are often very different, but if I were to do a talk today, in an analogous situation, I would probably make an effort to warn students, who might not want to listen. I don’t think that would be coddling, but an opportunity to avoid exposing any individual to unwanted reminders of something that could be traumatizing.
Delighted to be on the Advisory Board of a new ESRC Project, entitled ‘Ways of Being in a Digital Age: A Systematic Review’.
The project is led by the Institute of Cultural Capital at the University of Liverpool in collaboration with 17 other partner Universities and organizations. It is a scoping review designed to inform potential future ESRC initiatives in this area.
This scoping review will focus on how digital technology mediates our lives, and of the way technological and social change co-evolve and impact on each other. The project will undertake: a Delphi review of expert opinion; a systematic literature review; and an overall synthesis to identify gaps in current research. The project will also run a programme of events to build and extend networks among the academic community, other stakeholders and potential funding partners. The project pulls together an impressive interdisciplinary research team with experience in running digital projects with partners across the social sciences, arts and humanities, engineering, physical sciences and health, representing 16 universities from the UK, EU, USA and Singapore. The core team of co-investigators from eight UK universities will provide expertise across a range of social science, arts, engineering and science backgrounds. The team also includes a broader international steering group, of which I am a member.
Its initial plans are to focus on seven domains:
Citizenship and politics
Communities and identities
Communication and relationships
Health and wellbeing
Economy and sustainability
Data and representation
Governance and security
For each domain the project will undertake:
A Delphi panel review of international experts’ opinions on the state of the art in digital facing social research.
A ‘concept mapping’ of identified literature using digital humanities tools
A systematic review of a sample of the literature
Engagement events with non-academic stakeholders from the public and private sectors
An assessment of the theory and methods applied in each domain
The project will also conduct a feedback questionnaire on the findings, run workshops throughout, and hold sessions at a number of international conferences. The project will conclude with a symposium to feedback the findings and to discuss the future of digital research in the social sciences.
I was very fortunate to have been selected as an ICA Fellow at the 2015 ICA Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was among wonderful and international company, including Lance Bennett, Noshir Contractor, Hans Mathias Kepplinger, Hak-Soo Kim, Malcolm R. Parks, and Steven R. Wilson.
The College of Communication Arts & Sciences at MSU put together a terrific blog about the award, which follows:
Quello Center Director Elected ICA Fellow
William Dutton, Quello Professor of Media and Information Policy in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and Director of the Quello Center, recently was inducted into the prestigious group of International Communication Association (ICA) Fellows in recognition of his distinguished scholarly contributions to the field of communication.
“William Dutton is the outstandingly successful founding Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, as well as an Oxford Don and currently channeling scholarly input into Washington in the area of telecommunications policy,” the ICA said in a statement. “He has been exceptionally productive and influential in a variety of areas concerning communication and information technologies and communication policy for nearly four decades.
“His contributions range from research on implications of computing and the Internet for society, his international collaborations, and his highly influential development of and commitment to institution-building, through journals (especially helping to found and edit Information, Communication and Society), the Oxford Internet Institute, and now the Quello Center.”
Dutton was the first Professor of Internet Studies at the University of Oxford, a position he held from 2002 to 2014, where he was Founding Director of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and a Professorial Fellow of Balliol College. He also is a Professor Emeritus at the Annenberg School at USC, where he was elected President of the University’s Faculty Senate.
“This is a well-deserved recognition for pioneering research on the Internet and a wealth of contributions to the field,” said Prabu David, Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “This is a great honor. Less than 2 percent of current ICA members are fellows.”
Dutton has received numerous grants for his research and is widely published. His research interests include a wide range of issues concerning the Internet and society, policy and regulation, such as initiatives around digital divides, the role of networked, distributed collaboration and digital social research, and politics and the Internet, including his influential conception of the Internet’s Fifth Estate.
“His long and distinguished career in the areas of ICTs (information and communication technology) and policy is also distinguished by his early promotion of the socio-technical systems approach, public policy issues involving ICTs, the critical understanding of ‘wired cities,’ and the ‘ecology of games’ theory. Notably, he early on highlighted a more international perspective on ICT research and policy,” the ICA said in its statement.
Dutton currently is the principal investigator of an MSU research team working on a Net Neutrality Impact Study. The goal of this research is to provide a non-partisan, unbiased assessment of the short-, medium- and long-term implications of the FCC’s new order approving rules that support net neutrality. He also is leading a Quello Center team focused on the use of the Internet for the social and economic revitalization of Detroit, and is a co-principal on an Oxford cybersecurity project.
Dutton was recognized as an ICA Fellow at the International Communication Association annual conference May 21-25 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He expressed his appreciation of this recognition, saying: “I thank ICA for this honor as well as the many colleagues in our burgeoning global field of communication arts and sciences who have supported my work on the policies and practices shaping the Internet and its societal implications. I believe James H. Quello would be proud of his center.”
ICA 2015, Jan Juan, Puerto Rico
Colleagues Remember Mark R. Levy
Sat, May 23, 18:00 to 19:15, Caribe Hilton, Salon Del Mar
The Journal of Communication
Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences
Nanyang Technological University Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
University of Maryland Department of Communication
University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism
Please join a special session at the ICA conference in San Juan honoring Professor Mark Levy, who died on Saturday, February 7, 2015. Levy served on the faculty at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences for more than 15 years. Prior to coming to MSU, he served as Associate Dean and Professor of the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. He also had taught at the State University of New York in Albany, Columbia University in New York City, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Levy’s research focused on the use and impact of communication technologies on individuals and on economic and social development. He was the author, co-author, or editor of 10 books and more than 100 refereed journal articles and conference presentations. From 1991 to 1996, he was Editor of the Journal of Communication.
Chair and Speaker: Edward L. Fink, University of Maryland, USA
Akiba A. Cohen, The Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, ISRAEL
Johannes M. Bauer, Michigan State University, USA
Frank Biocca, Syracuse University, USA
Maurine Beasley , University of Maryland, USA
Ang Peng Hwa, Nanyang Technological University, SINGAPORE
Benjamin H. Detenber, Nanyang Technological University, SINGAPORE
I am just back from a stimulating symposium at Northwestern University focused on rethinking scholarship on online news, which led me to reflect on the value of such events, and a related seminar series we have an MSU for the Media and Information Department. Of course, the Quello Center that I direct organises many seminars, roundtables and lectures as well. While I appreciate these experiences, their very success leads me to worry about how to sustain a culture of academic engagement in the face of a developing – what should I call it – production culture. We might not fully appreciate and need to continually reinforce the significance of such opportunities for academics to engage each other face to face in constructive debates about issues and research.
Academics continue to enjoy a wonderful work environment, in my opinion, but we sometimes take these opportunities for listening to our colleagues, and discussing issues, theories and methods as just another event on our calendars. Instead, these occasions are an important part of the lifeblood of a university – something that makes the university and its academic units worth their existence. When academics are facing metrics on a number of fronts – publications, citations, outreach, impact, course evaluations, papers delivered and more – it is easy to view the seminar or conference as a distraction from the real work. You can almost hear colleagues thinking: ‘I better stay in at my computer screen and work on my paper / book / review / lecture.’
The last thing we need is another metric for participation in seminars. That would kill the real payoffs of academic engagement, which are largely tacit learning that stimulates and broadens your own thinking about your research and teaching. The traditional Oxford colleges can bring their fellows together everyday for lunch. A social scientist will be sitting by a physicist or Buddhist scholar, and explaining their work to each other. We don’t have such regular opportunities as most American universities, but we do have the department seminars and related academic events that bring us together to engage with colleagues from different perspectives.
Fight against the academic metrics of the production culture by pushing away from the computer screen to sit down with other colleagues and discuss, critique, support and otherwise engage with their work. The more distant from your own focus, the better to connect with ideas you never imagined to be of value to you and whatever sits waiting for you on the computer screen.
Thanks to my colleagues for organising the events that provide such opportunities.