68th ICA Conference in Prague—Voices

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Between 24-28 May, thousands of communication scholars from all over the world gathered for the 68th International Communication Association Conference in Prague, Czech Republic. The College of Communication Arts & Sciences had a particularly strong presence at the conference with more than 80 faculty and students presenting their research. The Quello Center’s Assistant Director Bibi Reisdorf and Research Fellow Laleah Fernandez were among those presentations with some of the results from the Quello Search Project.

Dr. Fernandez presenting about The Vulnerables at ICA 2018

As part of the large program, the team working on the Quello Search Project, Grant Blank (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford), Elizabeth Dubois (Department of Communication, University of Ottawa), Bill Dutton, Laleah Fernandez, and Bibi Reisdorf, put together a panel on “Personalization, Politics, and Policy: Cross-National Perspectives”. Despite the early morning start (8am) on the day following all the big ICA receptions, a good crowd turned up to hear about our results pertaining to how people make use of a diverse range of media to find information on political matters. The papers presented in this panel ranged from a focus on personalization of search, to a critical discussion of algorithmic literacy, from exploring “the vulnerable” (i.e. those who have low search skills and little interest in politics) to discussing the policy implications of citizens’ complex media habits. The panel presentations were followed by a critical discussion of the presented results by Cornelius Puschmann, Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research.

Immediately after this early morning panel, Bibi Reisdorf also took part in a panel on “Filter Bubbles: From Academic Debate to Robust Empirical Analysis”, which she co-organized together with Anja Bechmann, Aarhus University, and Oscar Westlund, University of Gothenburg & Volda University College. This panel paid specific attention to empirical evidence of the extent (or lack thereof) of filter bubbles around the globe. Despite different foci and datasets, all four panelists, Anja Bechmann, Aarhus University, Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology, Neil Thurman, LM University Munich, and Quello’s Bibi Reisdorf, presented findings that supported results from our Quello Search Project, which showed that although filter bubbles and echo chambers do exist, the magnitude is largely overstated and the resulting panics are unnecessary and unhelpful. The results were discussed and responded to by MSU’s very own newest ICA Fellow, Prof. Esther Thorson, who pointed out that this type of research needs to be more closely investigated and critically evaluated in light of existing communication theories, such as Uses and Gratifications or Confirmation Bias, to name just a few.

Dr. Reisdorf presenting about Algorithmic Literacy at ICA 2018

Overall, the conference was a great success for the Quello team, who also participated in a pre-conference workshop on survey design and survey questions on internet use organized by Prof. Eszter Hargittai, University of Zurich. In addition, we took a few hours each to enjoy beautiful Prague and the amazing culinary treats, including, of course, the fantastic beer and wine that can be found in this beautiful region of Europe.

Now, back in East Lansing, the team is busy finishing up a few book chapters and journal articles that revolve around the issues that were discussed at the ICA conference. Our next big conference will be TPRC in Washington, DC in September, where Laleah Fernandez will present some of our exciting results from the Detroit Study.

The Danger of Talking about ‘Junk’ News

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Discussion of so-called fake news is gradually – maybe rapidly – shifting to the concept of ‘junk news’, and I fear this could be a dangerous move. I agree that the concept of fake news has many downsides, not the least of which is the degree it has been politicized. However, the shift to junk news might have even worse implications. My main concern is that it provides more of a rationale for blocking or filtering news, as if it were spam, for example.

This evening, the science reporter at PBS, Miles O’Brien, delivered an informative story about ‘Junk News‘. It was well produced, but it captured a concern of mine that has been growing throughout the debate over misinformation. It also gradually moved into a discussion of work at Facebook designed to move so called junk news off the screens of more users. Facebook representatives were thankfully adverse to agreeing they should edit the news, as if they were a newspaper, but they felt justified in looking for algorithms to diminish the visibility of news they viewed of low quality.

I for one am worried about this drive, as it will clearly do more than accomplish its stated objective. It will also be likely to promote mainstream news outlets even more than presently favored, since they will be safe sources. It will downgrade blogs and the opinions and views of networked individuals, which are at the heart of a more democratic collective intelligence.

So I will stop using junk news except as a target of criticism. I lean towards crowd sourced ratings of blogs and posts as I’d prefer the wisdom of the crowd over the wisdom of Facebook monitors, but that is what search seeks to accomplish. At least fake news is understood to be a politically charged concept, but junk news is a concept which also has serious political implications, if my fears are justified.

AT&T’s Tarnished Brand by A. Michael Noll

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

AT&T’s Tarnished Brand

A. Michael Noll

May 16, 2018

© Copyright 2018 AMN

The payment by AT&T of over $1/2 million to President Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen has tarnished AT&T’s reputation and brand. It also raises concerns about the wisdom and competence of AT&T’s senior management.

Decades ago, the AT&T brand meant a lot to most consumers in the United States. AT&T owned the Bell System, which supplied telecommunication service as a regulated monopoly. In those old days, AT&T took its responsibility to the public strongly to supply quality service at affordable prices. However, AT&T was broken up and went through various divestitures, until in 2005, what was left of AT&T was acquired by Southwestern Bell. In effect, Southwestern Bell, a former Bell telephone company, cloaked itself in the AT&T identity (its former parent). And now the AT&T brand has been tarnished, as it has been revealed that AT&T paid over a $1/2 million to Michael Cohen, virtually as a gift, with no real work expected or received.

The two large remaining Baby Bells today are AT&T and Verizon, and they usually act in concert. If AT&T paid off Cohen and Verizon did not, a plausible explanation is that AT&T clearly was hoping that Cohen would exert influence to obtain government approval of AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner.

The proposed acquisition of Time Warner by ATT is fraught with questions. Would this acquisition create far too much control over content and the network conduit? Would it be too much vertical integration with no benefit to consumers? What does AT&T know about the entertainment business, other than that its antics certainty seem entertaining?
_________________________________

A. Michael Noll is a retired professor emeritus of communications. His earlier opinion of the AT&T proposed acquisition of Time Warner is at: http://quello.msu.edu/att-goes-hollywood/

A. Michael Noll

Vint Cerf Speaking at MSU on 10 May @ 3:30PM

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

THE QUELLO CENTER PRESENTS
INTERNET PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
BY VINTON CERF
THURSDAY, MAY 10TH @ 3:30 PM // COMM ARTS RM. 147

The Internet grew out of a successful US Defense Department experiment in packet switching and became a platform upon which a wide range of new applications have evolved. New technologies such as smart phones have reinforced the utility of the Internet by spreading access to it at increasing bandwidths and geographic scope. The Internet is estimated to have reached about 50% of the world’s population. As this decade comes to a close, what challenges remain and what new ideas may be pursued? Security, safety, reliability, misinformation, botnets, privacy, and a host of other concerns clamor for attention. Powerful machine learning tools and collaborative technologies are increasing our capacity to solve problems and ask new and challenging questions.

This talk raises questions and poses problems that need attention if we are to make of the Internet the tool it has the capacity to become.

Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. He has served in executive positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and on the faculty of Stanford University.

Vint Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from 2000-2007 and has been a Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1998. Cerf served as founding president of the Internet Society (ISOC) from 1992-1995. Cerf is a Foreign Member of the British Royal Society and Swedish Academy of Engineering, and Fellow of IEEE, ACM, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Engineering Consortium, the Computer History Museum, the British Computer Society, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has served as President of the Association for Computing Machinery, chairman of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and completed a term as Chairman of the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology for the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. President Obama appointed him to the National Science Board in 2012.

Cerf is a recipient of numerous awards and commendations in connection with his work on the Internet, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Tunisian National Medal of Science, the Japan Prize, the Charles Stark Draper award, the ACM Turing Award, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and 29 honorary degrees. In December 1994, People magazine identified Cerf as one of that year’s “25 Most Intriguing People.”

His personal interests include fine wine, gourmet cooking and science fiction. Cerf and his wife, Sigrid, were married in 1966 and have two sons, David and Bennett.

Notes on the RSA Cybersecurity Conference, San Francisco, by Ruth Shillair

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

[Written by Quello’s Ruth Shillair and posted by Bill Dutton, with her permission]

I was honored to be selected as one of the 50 cybersecurity scholars from around the world to attend the annual global RSA cybersecurity conference. It is a gathering of 50,000 cybersecurity professionals and researchers held in San Francisco. The theme this year was “Now Matters” and cybersecurity issues certainly something that we need to address “now” rather than in the future.

The overwhelming theme that I saw was that cybersecurity has gotten over the “silver bullet” fantasy. We realize there will be no killer app or magic formula that will ultimately solve cyber insecurities and protect networks, systems, and individuals from attack. The human factor has often been cited as the weakness of cybersecurity; however, it was refreshing to hear that many leaders are realizing that humans are also the strength and core of cybersecurity. Many sessions discussed how cybersecurity needs to be holistic, a long-term commitment, an imbedded culture and an overall mindset.

Chris Young, CEO of McAfee spoke on the importance of building a cybersecurity culture- part of a “sustained cycle of measures, rewards, and advocacy.” Even though technical advances make systems stronger than ever, the attackers also are intelligent and adaptive, making it important for us to work as a team. He quoted Christopher Painter, former coordinator for cyber issues at the U.S. State Department, “The failure to ‘mainstream’ cyber issues into larger national security and policy debates has real consequences” (Click here to read more from Mr. Painter ). Mr. Young went on to compare the current Facebook issues as the Exon of today. After the oil spills people start to re-think the costs and benefits that cheap energy policies had on the overall environment. Even though cheap oil prices had caused a boom in the economy, there was a price to pay. Now, people are starting to re-think the costs and benefits of “free” social networking services that facilitate networking and the exchange of information. The surveillance economy has caused an economic boom also, but there are long term implications that we are just beginning to understand.

This cybersecurity mindset takes a team mentality. Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft used the metaphor of a crew rowing a boat together. Stakeholders need to learn to trust each other and communicate well in order to navigate the uncertain waters ahead. He also shared about the human impacts of the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks. This was a cyber based state-backed attack on citizens during a time of peace. It crippled the national health service in Great Britain, shutting off access to critical health records and blocking individuals from all but critical emergency care. As a result, Microsoft, and many other companies are working together at unprecedented levels to help build resilience against similar attacks in the future.

The hundreds of possible sessions ranged from technical training on the latest penetration testing techniques to policy discussions. Several sessions discussed the implications of artificial intelligence and the growing concerns about how human bias and discrimination are magnified by these systems if not guided by policies and standards to protect individuals. An entire track of sessions was dedicated to the human dimensions of cybersecurity and the importance of policy. The recent congressional meetings with Mark Zuckerberg illustrated the challenge ahead to reach policy makers so they understand the basics of cybersecurity, privacy, and what can or can’t be done to help improve our current systems.

One of my favorite sessions was led by Bruce Schneier (Schneier on Security and of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University). He spoke of the urgency to build policy and regulations for the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). It used to be that cybersecurity threats were ultimately losing control of files of data, now threats are physical, real and imminent. Instead of just attacking one self-driving car and taking it over, what will happen once hackers take control of all the self-driving cars of a particular make or model? He spoke of the complexity of keeping a device up to date as systems become compromised and updates may have unintended consequences. To check updates before rolling them out to car owners, car manufacturers will have to keep track of all the makes and models to test updates and make sure systems don’t fail as patches are rolled out. Beyond cars being basically computers on wheels, many of the devices in our homes and factories are now IoT devices. In today’s marketplace consumers have no idea which IoT devices are safe, have backdoors, or if they are even updatable. His upcoming book, Click Here to Kill Everybody, should be very interesting.

Overall, this conference was encouraging and overwhelming all at the same time. It was encouraged to see progress in viewing cybersecurity as a cultural and mindset issue rather than just a technical problem. It was encouraging to see so many young scholars, educators, and technologists working tirelessly to make the world a better place. It was discouraging to see so few women in the conference. Yes, there were special “Women in Cybersecurity” sessions -and there was some tremendous mentoring going on- but there are few women and minorities in this field. The telling point was during session breaks where the men’s bathrooms had long lines going down the hall, at the same time the women’s bathrooms had no lines at all. However, seeing the mixture of young cybersecurity scholars I am hopeful that in the future we will see a representation that is more diverse, bringing with them the insights and experiences that will help build a cybersecurity mindset that can be widely embraced and core to our culture.

Ruth Shillair
PhD Candidate and Quello Research Assistant

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)

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