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.
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.
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.
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.
PhD Candidate and Quello Research Assistant
Monday, April 2nd, 2018
Bill Dutton will be traveling to Lisbon, Portugal, for a couple of events on 9 April 2018. Before lunch, he will present his work on the role of search and social media in shaping public opinion. This will be at the Palace Foz on the 9th of April for a couple of dozen invitees from the media companies and regulators. The work he will discuss is based on his research in seven nations, reported here: http://quello.msu.edu/research/the-part-played-by-search-in-shaping-political-opinion-the-quello-search-project/ along with related work on fake news.
That evening, he will be speaking to faculty and students of ISCTE – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, abbreviated ISCTE-IUL, on the implications of social media as part of a panel on ‘Dating Through a Screen: New Technologies and Old Challenges’. http://www.cies.iscte-iul.pt/index.jsp Bill did work with Bernie Hogan and others around online dating, and related work on OxIS with respect to the implications of social media with Corinna di Gennaro and others.*
* di Gennaro, C., and Dutton, W. H. (2007), ‘Reconfiguring Friendships: Social Relationships and the Internet’, Information Communication and Society, 10 (5): 591-618.
Hogan, B., Li, N., and Dutton, W. H. (2011), A Global Shift in the Social Relationships of Networked Individuals: Meeting and Dating Online Comes of Age. (February 14, 2011). SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1763884 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1763884
Sunday, April 1st, 2018
Bill Dutton, Director of the Quello Center, has returned from a short visit to University of Wollongong Australia, which is located south of Sydney. He was invited by the School of Computing and Information Technology to contribute to a lecture series supported by a grant from the One Asia Foundation. He spoke on March 26th to a group of students and faculty about his concept of The Fifth Estate, and his research with colleagues on the role of search and social media in shaping public opinion, which challenges some of the conventional wisdom about filter bubbles and echo chambers.
His guest lecture was hosted by Professor Will Tibben, a colleague he had worked with at the Oxford Internet Institute on collective intelligence, and Dr Holly Tootell, as Senior Lecturer. Holly and Will both work in part through the Center for Persuasive Technology and Society at the university, which focuses on the development and assessment of information technologies applied in such areas as healthcare and ICT for development
. The University of Wollongong is a top university in its region of Australia, and emerging among the top tier of research universities nationally.
While Wollongong was anchored historically around a major steel mill, its costal location and natural resources have helped it become more anchored in tourism, with the university attracting an international range of students on the basis of its amenities as well as the strength of its faculty. It was a long trip, but a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues and bring some of the research of the Quello Center to Australia.
Sunday, January 14th, 2018
UNIVERSITY RESEARCH: A SKEPTICAL PERSPECTIVE
A. Michael Noll
January 13, 2018
© Copyright 2017 AMN
University research has skeptically made little contribution to the striking advances in communications technology of the last 50 or so years. This is hardly surprising, since most of the advances came from R&D at industrial facilities. The skeptical perspective in this piece is based on my early experience at an industrial research laboratory, in government, and later at a university. My conclusion is that university research is essential mostly for the education and training of students, who then graduate and conduct meaningful research for industry.
One important example of technological innovation in the communication area is communication satellites. But they were not the result of university research. Bell Labs pioneered satellite communications over a half century ago. In fact, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, as early as 1945, first proposed communication satellites. The Soviets (Sputnik in 1957) developed the first satellite. Then Bell Telephone Laboratories (Echo in 1960 and Telstar in 1962) developed early communication satellites — none of this was university research.
Another technological innovation is the Internet. Was it solely the result of university research? The precursor of today’s Internet was the Arpanet, which utilized packet switching to avoid then costly data service. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Federal defense department funded the development of the Arpanet, which was the brainchild of Dr. Larry Roberts, who directed the project at ARPA. Much of the actual development work was done at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN). Although university people were involved, the Arpanet was not solely the result of university research.
I am not familiar with chemical research and physics, and thus do not know how much practical research has occurred at university facilities. My expertise is in electrical engineering and telecommunications technology. Interesting university research has been done in astrophysics, but little relevance has occurred from this research – it deals with such topics as black holes and distances measured in millions on light years. Decades ago, John McCarthy at his laboratory at Stanford University, and the students he educated did exciting research in artificial intelligence and robotics.
The broader question is what is the purpose and mission of universities, and what is the role of university research? This can become the domain of self-serving opinion. It is a controversial topic with “muddy waters” on its importance depending on personal opinions and perspectives.
Sitting here at my desk with the computer on which I am writing this article, I think of the technology around me. The graphical interface on the computer was invented at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC); the mouse was invented at the Stanford Research Institute; researchers at Bell Telephone Laboratories invented the Unix operating system. None of this was university research. Many innovations are the result of discoveries by many researchers at different organizations – credit frequently should be more collectively attributed.
The Federal government through a peer-review process sponsors much university research. The process in seeking support for peer-reviewed research is lengthy and elaborate. It sometimes appears that more thought and effort goes into writing the proposal than the actual conduct of the research. The peer review process assures that the research will be mostly mainstream.
Decades ago, when I worked in Washington and collaborated with the Office of Management and Budget, I wondered whether university research funded by the National Science Foundation was a form of welfare for academics. It was also a reason for being released from teaching a course or two — teaching is real work.
I wonder whether it would be simpler and would result in more innovative groundbreaking research if the university simply supported the research from its endowment and own funds. But these funds would need to be distributed evenly and might not be sufficient to support current levels of research. However, avoiding proposal writing might add efficiency.
University research frequently is more theoretical, not very practical, and long term. It usually is not the kind of proprietary research that leads to breakthroughs and pioneering innovations with practical industrial application. The mission of university research frequently is “new knowledge for its own sake,” as contrasted with industrial research that supports the mission of the industrial firm. It is not the mission of the university to make new products and provide new services.
The best research supports the mission of the sponsoring organization. The mission of a university is education – not providing telecommunication service, space craft, refrigerators, and so forth. Indeed, the major mission of the university should be education. If doctoral students are to be educated and trained, then they need the opportunity to perform some form of research. After they graduate, these doctorial students then frequently go to work at industry performing practical and relevant work. The career path for doctoral students that seems to be most applauded by the faculty is to graduate and work at another university, where their doctoral students then apply to yet another graduate program – not for industry or on practical problems. “Practical” and “relevant” seem to be characterizations to be avoided at many universities.
Research usually tackled practical problems in support of a real-world mission of the sponsor. A good way for a university to be involved in such research is through a separate for-profit research unit. The researchers would not teach nor be tenured – they would be employees. Patents would be obtained, along with other intellectual property. Students and faculty could also work part-time at the research facility. The management of the research unit would evaluate the research. An issue with university research is that the departmental administration does not evaluate it and instead relies on outside peer review.
The “product” of universities is its graduates. Research universities educate and train doctoral students. As graduates these newly minted doctorates go to work in industry performing propriety industrial research and devolvement. The results of this R&D makes their way back to the university, affecting and refining the topics of research done by faculty and current doctoral students. This is a tight loop.
I have taken a skeptical and controversial tone in this piece. But in the end, what should matter is meaningful research that solves real problems or leads to new knowledge and innovations — not where it is performed. Research should make our lives better through new products and services.
Friday, January 5th, 2018
Recently we posted a blog that outlined three key findings in our Detroit Digital Divide Project. These findings focused on issues of Internet connectivity, use, and interest among Detroit residents. We argued that the findings of our research run counter to a number of perceptions about Internet digital divides in Detroit, and to a degree that they might be better understood as myths. However, just the recognition of misguided assumptions is not enough. As we continue to analyze the data further, and refine the patterns emerging, the Quello research team has begun to examine what can be done to address these divides in light of our findings.
Below we briefly review these myths before moving to an outline of three possible steps forward.
Myth #1: Detroiters are under-connected
When asked if they have home Internet access, about 78 percent of respondents in our three examined neighborhoods said they do have home access, yet only about 60 percent report having a contract with an ISP. However, almost our whole sample identified themselves as using the Internet in some form. This suggests that Detroiters are finding their way online, but they have to be innovative in order to connect. The problem is that unstable, unreliable or mobile-only connections are simply not good enough.
Myth #2: Detroiters go online primarily for entertainment
Despite claims that Detroiters use the Internet primarily for entertainment purposes, our study found that entertainment and leisure activities are decidedly less central than information seeking and communication activities. In other words, far fewer people are streaming music or watching videos online than the number of people who are emailing, getting news, or health information. For example, just over 50 percent say they go online to watch videos while about 85 percent go online to email.
Myth #3: Detroiters are not interested in home Internet access
We did not find evidence to support the notion that Detroit residents avoid the Internet because of a lack of interest. First, most Detroiters are online. But often, they are limited to using a mobile device to access the Internet. Second, a majority of those who do not have an ISP at home say they would like home access. Third, among those who do not have home access most have access at work or some other public space, and the lack of home access most often comes down to price, not interest. For example, focus group participants who expressed ambivalence on the subject of home access cited barriers such as costs, a loss of family time, and duplication of services as some of the reasons for their “lack of interest”. In other words, among those who say they are not interested in home access are those who have Internet access elsewhere.
A deeper exploration of these three myths requires a discussion of what can and should be done to dispel such misconceptions. For those who care about Detroit and issues of the digital divide, the following guidelines could serve as a starting point for setting the record straight.
To learn more about this research, please visit our Project Page.
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.
Saturday, August 19th, 2017
Faculty and staff of the Quello Center will be actively engaged in this year’s Telecommunication Policy Research Conference (TPRC). The following papers on the schedule for the 45th TPRC Research Conference on Communications, Information, and Internet Policy, at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia:
“Social Shaping of the Politics of Internet Search and Networking: Moving Beyond Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Fake News,” by William H. Dutton and Bianca C. Reisdorf (presenter), Quello Center, Michigan State University; Elizabeth Dubois, Department of Communication, University of Ottawa; and Grant Blank, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
“Race and Digital Inequality: Policy Implications,” by C.H. Rhinesmith, Simmons College (presenter), and B.C. Reisdorf, Quello Center.
“Price-Cap Regulation of Firms That Supply Their Rivals,” Omar A. Nayeem, Deloitte Tax; and Aleksandr Yankelevich, Quello Center (presenter).
“Cyber Security Capacity: Does it Matter?” by William H. Dutton, Quello Center; Sadie Creese, Computer Science, Oxford University; Ruth Shillair, Quello Center (presenter), Maria Bada, Oxford Martin, University of Oxford; Taylor Roberts US Dept of Management and Budget.
“Regulating the Open Internet: Past Developments and Emerging Challenges,” by Kendall J. Koning, Department of Media and Information, Michigan State University (presenter); and Aleksandr Yankelevich, Quello Center.
We hope you can join the conference and provide feedback on our papers.
Thursday, August 10th, 2017
Our Quello Research Fellow, Professor Keith N. Hampton, a Professor in the Department of Media & Information in MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has received a prestigious award from the Sociological Research Association (SRA) in being elected as a new member. The SRA is an honor society that elects up to only 14 new members a year, based on their excellence in research. As the officers of SRA noted: “SRA election signifies the esteem of your colleagues in the profession and their enthusiasm for your scholarship.”
Professor Hampton joined MSU last year and has already been incredibly active in developing new grant proposals, and continuing his stream of academic publications around use of the Internet in shaping many dimensions of community. He is presently involved with the Quello Center’s research on digital divides and social capital in Detroit, and an ambitious proposal on the future of the Internet and community enabled by next generation broadcast standards.
Our congratulations and thanks to Keith for enhancing the stature of the Center, Department, and College of Communication Arts & Sciences at MSU. It goes without saying that his colleagues share the SRA’s enthusiasm for his scholarship, and particularly his presence and impact on our students, faculty and many colleagues.
Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
Bill Dutton work with UNESCO staff to draft a document for their Connecting the Dots conference, which was entitled ‘Keystones to Foster Inclusive Knowledge Societies‘. It is available online at:
The report was one of the first projects Bill undertook in 2014, when he joined MSU as Director of the Quello Center. Last week, while presenting his work on search and politics at UNESCO, dealing with echo chambers and filter bubbles, he was pleased to hear that the keystones report is now available in eight languages, most recently in Russian, and is continuing to be useful for UNESCO’s discussions of basic principles for guiding policy and practice around the Internet in shaping society.