MSU’s Crisis Forum: Notes on a Discussion at the Quello Center

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

MSU’s Crisis Forum: Raising Questions

Notes on the Forum of 9 February 2018

The Quello Center hosted a one-hour ‘conversation about communication and the abuse scandal’ on 9 February. A small group of colleagues shared their views on communication issues related to the sex abuse scandal as it continues to unfold at MSU. The discussion was held in the Quello Center Meeting Room under The Chatham House Rule, so that no quotes would be attributed to any participant. It was a lively discussion of sensitive topics that raised many questions. The key theme arising from the discussion was around ‘listening’.

First, it was argued by colleagues thinking hard about this issue that the most positive approach we can take to communication with not only external audiences, but also with those inside the university, is to listen, rather than focus on offering our opinions or answers. We don’t need to be a spokesperson for the University or the College. In fact, listening might well be the most valuable approach, particularly in these early days, when we are all still learning what happened. This can help us from being defensive and help demonstrate that we share many of the concerns and questions raised by others. Two days after our discussion, this theme featured in an editorial by the Lansing State Journal, entitled ‘move MSU forward by listening’ (11 Feb 2018).

Secondly, in discussing what we need to convey to all of our audiences, there was general consensus on one simple but powerful message conveyed by one of our group: “We all need to listen to women and girls.” Due process requires all parties to be heard and taken seriously when there are claims of sexual abuse.

“We all need to listen to women and girls.”

This message resonated more or less with all on several fronts. First, it is genuinely true, and applicable to all the actors involved with this disaster, from all the institutions to all the individuals associated with the victims and survivors. It is not simply a prescription for MSU. Also, it is a clear and simple message that avoids some of the ambiguities surrounding more abstract notions of the larger systemic or structural issues. There might well be serious structural problems, but at least one participant argued that such general points seem less likely to translate into concrete behavioral norms – certainly at the individual level – than the concrete prescription that we listen to women and girls.

Teal Ribbons Tied to MSU

The disaster around Larry Nassar has metastasized into other issue areas, such as the general safety of women at MSU and on other college campuses, and the governance of the university, as two examples. Since it is increasingly impossible to deal with specific issues in this developing mix of related issues, it may be that listening is one of the key approaches that are relevant to all of these assorted issues.

One participant argued that this should be put more broadly, such as applying to the ‘powerless’ and not only women and girls, such as: “We need to listen and empower the powerless.” Another argued that listening is more in the control of all of us, as opposed to empowering individuals and groups, which is a more ambitious and system-centric problem.

Another participant expressed concern that mandatory reporting rules could eliminate thoughtful, supportive conversations about discrimination and harassment. Instead, conversations might be avoided or immediately escalated to a formal investigation. There is no room for actual conversation of concerning or worrisome dynamics. Yet mandatory reporting rules could have the unintended consequence of undermining discussion of sensitive topics or questions, by leading to the response: “If you disclose to me a personal experience of sexual violence or sexual harassment, then I am required to notify ___”.

Other messages found resonance with many in the room, including the simple acknowledgement that “we screwed up and we are dedicated to fixing it.” While we debated the appropriateness of any given message, we also recognized the degree that all faculty and students will be part of the conversation, and it will be exceedingly difficult to orchestrate any given message. Nevertheless, it seemed to all that whatever the message, the College needs to have an authentic voice while also enabling students and faculty to join the conversation without being silenced by fears of saying the wrong thing, or hurting someone’s feelings.

A number of other questions were raised in the discussion, including the following:

A week ago, when this conversation was scheduled, there seemed to be a need for more communication about this disaster. Since that time there has been a virtual spasm of setting up meetings, conversations, teach-ins, free speech events, and more. This is good. However, we want to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts that are rapidly evolving across the university.

At the same time, we need to ensure that the conversation continues long after this initial flood of reactions fades, which it might well do over time. With that in mind, the Quello Center agreed to revisit this conversation in a couple of months to discuss whether there were some issues or activities not being adequately addressed. Given the many inquiries and reviews of this disaster, most only getting underway, there is a need for sustained attention over the coming years. How can we help ensure we continue to listen and learn as the lessons unfold from a predictably long, arduous, but necessary review process?

Bill Dutton[*]

Quello Center

[*] Compiled by Bill on behalf of all the participants in this discussion, which included Prabu David, David Ewoldsen, Carrie Heeter, Meredith Jagutis, Bianca Reisdorf, Nancy Rhodes, and Nicole Szymczak along with Bill Dutton.

Media & Communication Research and Policy Panel

Monday, December 4th, 2017

On Wednesday, November 29, the Quello Center hosted a discussion advancing policy and governance as a College focus area. This college-wide panel on media & communication research and policy discussed how policy is related to and involved in research activities across the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, as well as what kinds of synergies we can leverage across the college. The discussion served as an opportunity to bring together faculty and students with an interest in policy and governance as an important focus area for the College.

Moderator: Johannes M. Bauer, Department of Media and Information

Panelists: Daniel Bergan, Department of Communication; Dave Ewoldsen, Department of Media and Information; Keith Hampton, Department of Media and Information; Natascha Just, Department of Media and Information; Bibi Reisdorf, Quello Center.

 

 

Panelists (from left to right) Dave Ewoldsen, Department of Media and Information; Daniel Bergan, Department of Communication; Bibi Reisdorf, Quello Center; Natascha Just, Department of Media and Information; Keith Hampton, Department of Media and Information

 

Attendees: Shelia Cotton, Laleah Fernandez, Maria Lapinski, Dar Meshi, Jef Richards, Nora Rifon, Ashly Sanders-Jackson, Ruth Shillair, Rick Wash, Aleksandr Yankelevich

Unable to attend, but mentioned interest: Rachel Mourao, Kjerstin Thorson

*The following summary is organized by themes rather than chronological.

How can we make sure policy issues get the attention they deserve in both research and teaching?

Panelists and attendees discussed a broad range of tactics and strategies for gaining attention on policy topics ranging from informal (yet centralized) information sharing through the Quello Center to PhD training and culture changes at the college level (e.g. valuing policy-directed output for the tenure process). For example, better sharing of information, more cross departmental collaboration, and making everyone more aware of the policy implications of their research.

One panelist started the conversation by saying that perhaps it shouldn’t be the goal of research to gain attention because such efforts can jeopardize the objectivity of the research we do. From this view, the appeal of political gain, financial gain, and media attention have the capability of casting an academic into the role of being an “expert” even in areas that fall outside the boundaries of his/her expertise. In these cases, academics can do more damage than good or lose academic credibility.

One panelist suggested that we begin by finding a common ground, proposing the Quello could serve as a basis for that common ground. She pointed out that it is important to harness the reputation of the Quello Center and the College and to create the value of policy research. She warned that finding a common ground for policy research is not an easy task, pointing out “we all have different mind sets about how to engage in policy,” for example, describing policy or advocating are two very different approaches and the way we ask questions when policies are the object of analysis are different from questions that analyze something societal that might be relevant for policy. The starting point, therefore, might be the distinction between policy-focused research and policy-relevant research.

One panelist provided very pragmatic answers to this question. She noted a number of opportunities available through the Institute of Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) ranging from the Michigan Applied Public Policy Research grant to policy-focused learning opportunities for new and existing lawmakers as well as faculty. The IPPSR, for example, runs regular workshops for faculty who want to make their research more applicable to the policy realm. At the federal level, she suggests a college-wide effort to boost presence at the TPRC Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy in Washington D.C. as well as other similar conferences that bring together researchers, industry and policymakers.

The moderator pointed out that one challenge in the department is communicating clearly when the competition over ideas gets complicated. He added that politically some groups are doing a better job in that space, while academia appears to be generally unsure of their role. One attendee said that academics have a long tradition of playing an advisory role, and as long as technology is advancing new policy will be created, reactively. There is a space for academics to fill here. Another approach, as suggested by one panelist, is training the PhD students to appreciate how their work is important to potentially impacting policy. This concept could be included as we are currently restructuring the PhD program.

What is the difference between policy-relevant research and policy-research and why does it matter?

Concern over a lack of definition, ambiguous definitions and a negative connotation associated with the term policy research was echoed throughout the discussion. One attendee noted that the definition of policy-relevant research and policy research is very much a function of one’s position, perspective or discipline. Thus, all the research in the building is policy relevant, from these varying positions. His suggestion: work toward a shared definition, or change the terminology. The need for changed terminology is rooted in the stigma associated with the term “policy research” (with some colleagues in the communication field).  One panelist similarly suggested that not only are definitions based on discipline, but so are the questions that are asked. She added that these questions of policy apply to multiple levels, and there are different areas of policy to consider.

Another atendee later added that it is difficult to move issues forward with a lack of consensus. Her suggested solution is to examine models for engaging with policy centers and advocating for engaged scholarship. Another attendee added that we figure out ways to keep our thumb on the pulse in terms of advocacy work, more specifically, she called on faculty to “know what the advocates are trying to figure out,” to help guide our research. One panelist warned that mixing advocacy and research had the potential to muddy objectivity. One attendee countered that it is possible to balance both, admitting that in her own research her ultimate goal is to see the world become a little better.

While a shared definition of policy-relevant and policy-focused research was not explicitly agreed upon there was consensus among panelists and participants that in some way everyone was doing work that was policy relevant. In other words, policy can be expressed at multiple levels, in countless contexts and through various lenses – it can mean law making, it can mean interpreting existing law, it can be normative behaviors and cultures, it can be pre-emptive or reactive. As such, in our research an organic expression of and relationship to policy tends to emerge, even in the absence of intention. This idea, therefore, lends itself to ways to deliberately nurture and articulate that policy relevance by devising shared techniques and best practices.

One attendee noted that, for some, policy includes law, regulation, code, social norms and culture. From this perspective, law is used as a back-up when norms and culture don’t work. Other attendees and panelists echoed this idea noting that American politics do not necessarily combine studies of a sociological nature with policy decisions, whereas other countries throughout Europe do.

What is the role of communication arts and sciences in policy (relevant) research?

The role of communication arts and sciences in policy research was another area that was highly dependent on one’s discipline, training, goal and comfort level. For example, one panelist pointed out that some communication scholars are sociologists, and from his perspective there is “no natural entry point” for policy focused research, adding that there is a difference between advocates and academics. However, even in the absence of advocacy work there is a place for communication scholarship in the production and distribution of data in multiple public outlets. He added that there are risks associated with aligning our research interests to policy issues because you may be called upon to speak to related issues — not necessarily within your area of expertise. He asks “do you become a communicator of ideology” or “stay in your lane, acknowledging the borders of your expertise?” This panelist asked others, if we head down this road “are we vulnerable to stepping beyond our safe spot?”

However, another panelist pointed out that in communication studies the focus on psychology has a history of policy implications. For example, the role of psychology in understanding the impact of information on people and policy implications of such impacts. This relationship is evident in areas of study such as media policy, press restraints and the public’s reaction to such restraints, and product placement research. This panelist added that there are a number of models and theories in the field that can be and are used to understand and predict public reaction to information, and used to influence policy. One specific example described to illustrate these points is a study of the under reporting of the media on the impact of alcohol in criminal behavior.

While some panelists and attendees shied away from the idea of expressing their research expertise in addressing policy issues, others quickly and deliberately position themselves to be heard by decision makers. One attendee summarized by saying “policy will happen regardless of whether we weigh in or not, best to contribute what we know,” to help informed decision making. He noted the value of the advisory role as academics and noted that research focused on the process of technology development (or restriction of development) is particularly relevant to policy research. More specifically, “understanding how tech gets built, or restricted” leads to a better understanding of influencing factors related to policy outcomes.

Panelists suggested a number of areas where communication and media research could contribute including: changes of values, networking, regulations of Internet platforms, tolerance, diversity, digital inequality, role of technology in inequities, how technology is altered and exasperated by policy, how social media change policy, understanding how tech are being created and how people use technology.

Some specific examples of ongoing work in these areas, as cited by attendees and panelists included: research around algorithms to improve social outcomes; the role of communication studies related to perceptions of the world through the lens of social media, and how that perception by lawmakers influences policy. Another example is how major digital companies, such as Amazon, intentional and directly influence policy. Another panelists concluded by saying “policy research can also be used to call B.S. on existing arguments.”

How can we create a thematic focus in the college to increase impact?

The group as a whole agreed that continued discussions and long-term effort with this goal in mind are necessary to create this thematic focus. Such efforts could and should be directed and overseen by the Quello Center.

One attendee said such a thematic focus should consider ways to influence people who have questions in order to create better interventions. Another attendee said college-wide collaboration from multiple perspectives will provide a starting point for this goal. Another attendee suggested the model used by the Health and Risk Communication Center (HRCC). More specifically, she described a rotating research core that involved policy research that brings in tangential people to focus activities more closely to policy relevance and social translation. She also reminded attendees and panelists that Michigan Environmental Science program, and infrastructure, is readily accessible yet under-utilized source for CAS faculty.

One panelist suggested that an overall awareness of policy relevance is a reasonable first step. More specifically, he proposed that the recognition that there are policy implications to the research that we are already doing is one way to start developing this theme. For example, research that looks at how to handle people playing Pokémon Go might result in the restriction of public spaces from your research perspective, whereas another researcher might say it is better to facilitate this gathering in public spaces for the sake of democratic deliberation and encouraging a public sphere. This example prompted one attendee to chime in by saying, from his perspective, research into the constitutionality of restricting such spaces is yet another perspective. This dialogue further emphasized the ubiquitous nature of policy research and the varying definitions based on individual perspectives.

Some discussed the need to prioritize. One attendee conceded that through our research we can get a fairly descriptive picture of policy and social issues, but having a perfect models doesn’t allow people to make good decisions. From a pragmatic perspective, she adds, we have to prioritize areas of greatest concern.

The moderator brought up the challenge of the dynamic nature of socio-technological systems. He cautioned against the assumption that components of such systems are stable, citing the instance of Smart Cities research and traffic jams. One panelist said that some models can account for that type of change or instability.

In terms of next steps, one attendee suggested that we focus on translation and bring together faculty to discuss and decide upon models that are most effective. The idea here is to move research into the hands of people who can use it. She suggested that events like Brews and Views have been successful in other areas of research and might work for our purposes as well.

How can we improve our presence in policy (relevant) research across MSU?

Formal and informal information sharing networks, in combination with ongoing discussions, led by the Quello Center, are necessary to improve our presence. The moderator suggested that Quello take the lead in bringing together people of practice and policy.

One panelist suggested that we leverage existing resources at the University, specifically utilizing connections with the Institute of Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR). This center has a number of mechanisms for direct interaction with law makers including: monthly forums and round tables to inform current legislators and staff of timely issues and research at MSU, learning opportunities for new lawmakers, and small grants available for policy relevant research that is shared with lawmakers upon completion. One attendee echoed this call, noting that she makes a deliberate effort to interface with decision makers whenever possible through her internal network of contacts and strategic choices about conference attendance. More specifically, she chooses conferences in which she knows that lawmakers, and agency heads will be attending. She adds that the academic culture is not exactly conducive to this approach of information sharing and collaboration, in fact, within academic circles she has been criticized for her choice to interface and engage regularly with policy makers.

Another attendee suggested using HRC workshops to communicate research and draw attention. She also noted that additional forums to talk about the ways to communicate research and draw attention and developing or identifying better resources to get the word out.

One attendee shared efforts (pre-2016 election) to collect information directly from FTC employees and compile a book of issues that “kept them up at night.” Despite the utility of this information, she noted that there currently is not an appropriate or useful venue to share this with colleagues or faculty that might find it useful for their own research, asking “where are the platforms to share this information?” She noted that focusing on public policy and marketing conferences might be one way to reach the intended audience and boost presence in this area.

One attendee said it is necessary to make strategic decisions about where we publish, aiming to publish in journal and publications with a policy-oriented audience rather than a strictly academic audience. She emphasized the importance of translation in academic work, particularly among those in government with questions who are designing interventions. The moderator echoed that it is worth re-examining the way we value published research in the tenure and promotion processes.

One attendee said that we should consider stepping away from the idea that research in this area needs to be cutting-edge and instead think about things that everyone in the field or discipline already knows. Perhaps, these tried and true approaches and models are best applied if we are able to translate for policy purposes. Another attendee added that while our research may not have all the answers, at least it is thoughtful and generally fact driven.

One attendee suggested that we create a pipeline to funnel translated research to broader audiences such as through the New York Times. She added a dedicated journal is also worth considering. Another attendee pointed out that Quello has the potential to be a pipeline, however, it is important to respect relationships that others have developed with policy-makers, public officials or agencies in any such type of information-sharing endeavors.

Steve Wildman Keynoting ICMC 2018 in Abu Dhabi

Friday, November 24th, 2017

The 1st INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION (ICMC 2018), hosted by the Department of Communication Studies of Abu Dhabi University, will be held on March 19-21, 2018 at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE. The former director of the Quello Center, Emeritus Professor Steve Wildman, will be presenting one of two keynotes.

The Aims and Objectives of ICMC 2018 are to exchange best practices and promote international partnership and cooperation among academia and media practitioners worldwide and to create an international forum to present, discuss and exchange the latest academic research in media and communication.

Dr Mike Friedrichsen, President, Berlin University of Digital Sciences, Germany, will be presenting the other keynote.

Steve Wildman at the Quello Center

Fake News and Filter Bubbles: The Quello Search Project

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Bill Dutton will present the findings of the Quello Search Project to kick off a workshop on fake news and filter bubbles at Bruegel, a European think tank, specializing in economics, that is based in Brussels. Background on the Quello Search Project can be found in the initial report of the project, Search and Politics: The Uses and Impacts of Search in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United States. A short blog about the thrust of our findings is also online, entitled “Fake News, Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles: Underresearched and Overhyped“.

Brussels

The Next Generation of Broadcasting: A Talk by Vincent Curren

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Vincent Curren, Principal at Breakthrough Public Media Consulting, Inc., provided his perspective on the future of public broadcasting, focusing on the new IP-based standard created by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), called ATSC 3.0. This new standard will enable real synergies between the Internet and broadcasting, and much much more. So join us to learn about the future of public broadcasting, and the next generation of television, as well as developments on the ground here in East Lansing at WKAR.

Quello Center presents: Next Generation Broadcasting by Vincent Curren from Quello Center on Vimeo.

Biographical Sketch of Speaker

Vincent Curren is principal of Breakthrough Public Media Consulting, a firm that helps public media companies navigate today’s dynamic and competitive media world. Vinnie is working with the Public Media Company to help public television stations leverage the power of ATSC 3.0, the next generation, broadcast television standard.

Before leaving to start his own firm, Vinnie served as Chief Operating Officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a position that he held for nearly a decade. While at CPB, Vinnie had overall responsibility for managing station policy, grant-making and station support activities, ensuring that all Americans receive robust public media services for free and commercial-free. Prior to being named COO, Vinnie was the Senior Vice President for Radio at CPB.
Vinnie has been a major market station general manager (WXPN, Philadelphia), has held programming, fundraising, and engineering positions in radio, been a commercial television producer/director, and has served on the boards of the Development Exchange (now Greater Public) and the Station Resource Group. Vinnie holds a BA from SUNY Buffalo (Psychology) and an MS from the University of Pennsylvania (Organizational Dynamics)

Quello Assistant Director to Present Research Findings at TPRC Capitol Hill Briefing

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Dr. Bianca (Bibi) Reisdorf, Quello Assistant Director and Assistant Professor in Media and Information, has been invited to present her research findings on race and digital inequalities at the TPRC Capitol Hill Briefing on Thursday, September 7, 2017. Each year, the TPRC (The 45th Research Conference on Communications, Information, and Internet Policy) panel invites four conference presenters to discuss how their research affects policies at a briefing on Capitol Hill on the day prior to the main conference.

This year’s discussion will be moderated by Dr. Carleen Maitland (Pennsylvania State University), who is also the current chair of the TPRC. Speakers include Professor Michelle P. Connolly (Duke University), who will discuss U.S. Spectrum; Dr. Jonathan Cave (University of Warwick), who will present on Privacy andSecurity; and Professor Philip M. Napoli (Duke University), who will present his work on the First Amendment and Fake News. Dr. Reisdorf will present findings from her work with Dr. Colin Rhinesmith, who is an Assistant Professor at Simmons College, and a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. In their paper, titled Race and Digital Inequality: Policy Implications, they combined quantitative data analyses using Pew data, American Community Survey data, and FCC Form 477 data with qualitative data from a Benton Foundation study on digital inclusion initiatives in several cities across the US. The combination of these rich data sources brought forward deeper insights into what is keeping some of the economically hardest-hit communities offline and how policy can help increase digital equity. For example, quantitative analyses of data on Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, KS, emphasized existing digital inequalities along factors such as race, income, and education, and showed that fewer fixed broadband providers offer their services in poor urban neighborhoods. The qualitative case study of digital inclusion initiatives across these neighborhoods, however, showed that local, well-designed digital equity programs have a positive impact in mitigating these inequalities. While federal policies can help to provide more infrastructure and service to hard-hit neighborhoods through programs such as Lifeline, local organizations and policymakers can provide context-specific on-the-ground support that builds on the resources and assets already available in the communities to allow meaningful broadband adoption.

The TPRC Capitol Hill Briefing takes place at the 2075 Rayburn House Office Building on Thursday, September 7, 2017, from 3:30-5:00 P.M. and is open to the public. Please register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/telecom-policy-congressional-briefing-2017-tickets-36809648650 if you would like to attend this talk.

 

Quello Lecture by Richard Stallman, Free Software Foundation (the uncut version)

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

On April 11th, 2017, Richard Stallman, the President and Founder of the Free Software Foundation, gave a Quello Lecture at Michigan State University on “A Free Digital Society”. Here is the unedited version of this full talk, which you are free to use for educational purposes. The first hour is focus on ‘free software’, and the second hour moves into the discussion of surveillance, censorship, problems with Internet services, and discussion of electronic voting, and the war on sharing. There is also a short video of an interview with Richard here.

Richard Stallman talk at MSU from Quello Center on Vimeo.

A Click Away from the Quello Center: Founding Director Steve Wildman

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Emeritus Professor Steve Wildman, who held the Quello Chair of Telecommunication Studies at MSU, and was founding Director of the Quello Center, may be away, but he has certainly not stopped contributing to studies of policy and practice. He remains active in our Advisory Board, contributes as an affiliated faculty member to the Silicon Flatirons Center where he is also a Visiting Scholar in the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

This spring, Steve will be teaching a two-week graduate class in information technology and the organization of economic activity at the University of Cologne. The class runs during the weeks of May 15 and May 22.

Steve Wildman at the Quello Center

The invitation to teach at Cologne was arranged by Professor Christian Wellbrock, a Professor of Media Management at the University of Cologne. He moved to Cologne recently from the University of Hamburg, where Steve had been teaching a similar course over the previous three summers. Christian Wellbrock is one of a number of Quello Center ‘alums’, having been a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Information (then the department of Telecommunications, Information systems and Management (TISM) in 2012, which enabled him to also serve as a visiting scholar with the Quello Center.

The students Steve will be teaching are masters’ students in the business school at Cologne. He says he will be “emphasizing recent research on platform management”, a topic that connects to work he undertook at MSU on social media, such as with the Quello Center’s Governance of Social Media Workshop at Georgetown University in 2011.

The week before his course begins, he will be presenting a paper at an annual meeting of the European Media Management Association (EMMA), which will be held in Ghent, Belgium. The title of his paper is: “The Competition is Only a Click Away? The Behavioral Economics of Lock-in and Leveraging for Online Services.” With apologies for the pun, we are delighted that Steve remains only a click away from the Quello Center.

Missing the Internet

Monday, February 13th, 2017

A BBC reporter, Rachel Nuwer, wrote a nice piece on what would it mean to people if the Internet stopped working. It was entitled “What if the Internet Stopped for a Day“. I stressed that there are some empirical cases, such as a power outage in NYC, and the pager blackout across the US, that provide some concrete evidence of possible outcomes, and I was impressed how well she embedded these cases and more in a well developed article. I recommend it.

Bill Dutton

See: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170207-what-if-the-internet-stopped-for-a-day

Media and Information Policy Issues

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

From discussions in courses and within the Quello Center Advisory Board, the Center has been developing a set of key issues tied to media, communication and information policy and practice. We’d welcome you thoughts on issues we’ve missed or issues noted that do not merit more sustained research and debate. Your feedback on this list would be most welcome, and will be posted as comments on this post.

Quello Advisory Board Meeting

I. Innovation-led Policy Issues

New Developments around Robotics and Artificial Intelligence: What are the implications for individual control, privacy, and security? Security is no longer so clearly a cyber issue as cyber security increasingly shapes the physical world of autonomous vehicles, drones, and robots.

Internet of Things (IoT): With tens of billions of things moving online, how can individuals protect their privacy and safety and well being as their environments are monitored and controlled by their movement through space? There are likely to be implications for urban informatics, transportation and environmental systems, systems in the household, and worn (wearables above). A possible focus within this set would be on developments in households.

Wearables: What appears to be an incremental step in the IoT space could have major implications across many sectors, from health to privacy and surveillance.

The Future of Content Delivery: Content delivery, particularly around broadcasting of film and television, in the digital age: technology, business models, and social impact of the rapidly developing ecosystem, such as on localism, diversity, and quality.

Free (and Open Source) Software: The prominence and future of free as well as open source software continues to evolve. Are rules, licensing, and institutional support, such as around the Free Software Foundation, meeting the needs of this free software community?

Big Data: How can individuals protect their privacy in the age of computational analytics and increasing capture of personal data and mass surveillance? What policies or practices can be developed to guide data collection, analysis, and public awareness?

Encryption: Advances in encryption technologies at a time of increasing threats to the privacy of individual communications, such as email, could lead to a massive uptake of tools to keep private communications private. How can this development be accelerated and spread across all sectors of the Internet community?

Internet2: Just as the development of the Internet within academia has shaped the future of communications, so might the next generation of the Internet – so-called Internet2 – have even greater implications in shaping the future of research and educational networking in the first instance, but public communications in the longer-term. Who is tracking its development and potential implications?

Other Contending Issues: Drones, Cloud computing, …

II. Problem-led Initiatives

Transparency: Many new issues of the digital age, such as concerns over privacy and surveillance, are tied to a lack of transparency. What is being done with your data, by whom, and for what purposes? In commercial and governmental settings, many public concerns could be addressed to a degree through the provision of greater transparency, and the accountability that should follow.

Censorship and Internet Filtering: Internet filtering and censorship was limited to a few states at the turn of the century. But over the last decade, fueled by fear of radical extremist content, and associated fears of self-radicalization, censorship has spread to most nation states. Are we entering a new digital world in which Internet content filtering is the norm? What can be done to mitigate the impact on freedom of expression and freedom of connection?

Psychological Manipulation: Citizen and consumers are increasingly worried about the ways in which they can be manipulated by advertising, (fake) news, social media and more that leads them to vote, buy, protest, or otherwise act in ways that the purveyors of the new propaganda of the digital age would like. While many worried about propaganda around the mass media, should there be comparable attention given to the hacking of psychological processes by the designers of digital media content? Is this a critical focus for consumer protection?

(In)Equities in Access: Inequalities in access to communication and information services might be growing locally and globally, despite the move to digital media and ICTs. The concept of a digital divide may no longer be adequate to capture these developments.

Privacy and Surveillance: The release of documents by Edward Snowden has joined with other events to draw increasing attention to the threats of mass unwarranted surveillance. It has been an enduring issue, but it is increasingly clear that developments heretofore perceived to be impossible are increasingly feasible and being used to monitor individuals. What can be done?

ICT4D or Internet for Development: Policy and technology initiatives in communication to support developing nations and regions, both in emergency responses, such as in relation to infectious diseases, or around more explicit economic development issues.

Digital Preservation: Despite discussion over more than a decade, it merits more attention, and stronger links with policy developments, such as ‘right to forget’. ‘Our cultural and historical records are at stake.’

III. Enduring Policy Issues Reshaped by Digital Media and Information Developments

Media Concentration and the Plurality of Voices: Trends in the diversity and plurality of ownership, and sources of content, particularly around news. Early work on media concentration needs new frameworks for addressing global trends on the Web, with new media, in print media, automated text generation, and more.

Diversity of Content: In a global Internet context, how can we reasonably quantify or address issues of diversity in local and national media? Does diversity become more important in a digital age in which individuals will go online or on satellite services if the mainstream media in a nation ignore content of interest to their background?

Privacy and Privacy Policy: Efforts to balance security, surveillance and privacy, post-Snowden, and in wake of concerns over social media, and big data. White House work in 2014 on big data and privacy should be considered. Policy and practice in industry v government could be a focus. Is there a unifying sector specific perspective?

Freedom of Expression: New and enduring challenges to expression in the digital age.

IV. Changing Media and Information Policy and Governance

Communication Policy: Rewrite of the 1934 Communications Act, last up-dated in 1996: This is unlikely to occur in the current political environment, but is nevertheless a critical focus.

Universal Access v Universal Service: With citizens and consumers dropping some traditional services, such as fixed line phones, how can universal service be best translated into the digital age of broadband services?

Network Neutrality: Should there be Internet fast lanes and more? Efforts to ensure the fair treatment of content, from multiple providers, through regulation has been one of the more contentious issues in the USA. To some, the issue has been ‘beaten to death’, but it has been brought to life again through the regulatory initiatives of FCC Chairman Wheeler, and more recently with the new Trump Administration, where the fate of net neutrality is problematic. Can we research the implications of this policy?

Internet Governance and Policy: Normative and empirical perspectives on governance of the Internet at the global and national level. Timely issue critical to future of the Internet, and a global information age, and rise of national Internet policy initiatives.

Acknowledgements: In addition to the Quello Advisory Board, special thanks to some of my students for their stimulating discussion that surfaced many of these issues. Thanks to Jingwei Cheng, Bingzhe Li, and Irem Yildirim, for their contributions to this list.