Response to Pre-Hearing Ouestions from the Majority by Commissioner James H. Ouello before the Confirmation Hearing at the Senate Office Building

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July 20th, 2017


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The Director Presents in Europe on our Quello Search Project

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July 17th, 2017

Bill Dutton had a productive and challenging week in Europe speaking about the Quello Center’s work on search and politics. The findings of our project, called ‘The Part Played by Search in Shaping Public Opinion’, suggested that concerns over fake news, echo chambers, and filter bubbles is ‘overhyped and underresearched’. The project was supported by Google, and the findings and methodology are publicly available online (see references), along with the slides I adapted for each of the particular talks. The slides are posted here: https://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/search-and-politics-fake-news-echo-chambers-and-filter-bubbles-july2017

In Paris, on the 10th and 11th, Bill was able to speak at a UNESCO Knowledge Café for a seminar chaired by the Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger, for UNESCO staff, which included UNESCO’s Xianhong Hu. He then met with members of the French Audio Visual Regulator, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA); and then members of the Ministère de la Culture (Ministry of Culture); and gave a lecture at Sciences Po, which was jointly organized by Thierry Vedel for the MediaLab and CEVIPOF. Bill was also able to meet over lunch with a former colleague in the President’s office at the French National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL), which is central to data protection in France.

Thierry Vedel and Bill Dutton

On the 12th, Bill was in Rome, where he first spoke at a roundtable over a wonderful lunch at the Centro Studi Americani – the Center for American Studies. That evening, he spoke on the Terrazza dei Cesari with members of YouTrend, an organization of political communicators in Italy, which was picked up by over a thousand on a Facebook Live video stream. The talk was sandwiched by an aperitif and dinner, and sequentially translated.

American Studies Center in Roma

His last stop was in Berlin, where Bill was able to meet at the Ministry for Culture with representatives of the state media authorities, representing the German Lander governments. He finished his talks with a roundtable at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute für Internet und Gesellschaft (HIIG – Germany’s first Internet Institute), chaired by Professor Dr. Wolfgang Schulz and joined by Professor Dr. Dr. Ingolf Pernice. Bill is a member of HIIG’s Advisory Committee, and noted how great it was to end his trip with a sense of the quality and diversity of faculty, fellows and visitors at the Institute.

Berlin

This week was an incredible outreach opportunity for the Quello Center to convey the results of our research. The Center wants to thank all of those who helped organize and attended these events; thank all the faculty on the project, including Grant Blank, Elizabeth Dubois, and Bibi Reisdorf, in addition to Bill, as well as our graduate assistants, Sabrina Ahmed and Craig Robertson; and thank our colleagues at Google for their confidence in the Quello Search Project.

References

Dutton, W. H. Talking Points that Formed the Basis for the Talks in Europe: https://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/search-and-politics-fake-news-echo-chambers-and-filter-bubbles-july2017

Dutton, W.H., Reisdorf, B.C., Dubois, E., and Blank, G. (2017), Search and Politics: The Uses and Impacts of Search in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United States, Quello Center Working Paper available on SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2960697

Dutton, W.H. (2017), ‘Fake News, Echo Chambers, and Filter Bubbles: Underresearched and Overhyped’: https://theconversation.com/fake-news-echo-chambers-and-filter-bubbles-underresearched-and-overhyped-76688

Dutton, W. H. (2017), ‘Bubblebusters’, NESTA. http://readie.eu/bubblebusters-countering-fake-news-filter-bubbles-and-echo-chambers/

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The Greece-Euro Crisis: Much at Stake and Much to Learn

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As the Euro crisis enters a new high-risk phase pregnant with opportunity for either long-awaited progress or regrettable and widespread harm, I find myself pondering the value of research focused on how traditional and online/social media are treating the crisis and their role in easing or exacerbating its risks.  Such a study might include how media coverage and social media dynamics vary across countries, media types and specific media channels, and how these correlate with public opinion in different countries and key decisions, events and outcomes related to the unfolding situation.

There’s certainly a lot at stake in the crisis, including the future of the admirable but now increasingly in question “European Project.”  My hope is that there’s also a lot to learn—-for communication scholars; political leaders; media outlets, platforms and journalists; as well as individual citizens impacted by and/or concerned about the crisis and its outcome…and that this learning leads to more positive outcomes for all involved.

As a non-expert in this field, I found myself wondering whether any such studies have already been done or are currently underway.  And as I often do when I’m wondering about something,  I asked Google.  My brief and very preliminary web search discovered a handful of fairly recent studies on this general topic (see herehere, here and here), all of which seem to focus mainly on traditional media coverage.  If anyone reading this knows of other studies that might be relevant here–especially ones that include both traditional and online media–please share your thoughts on them (along with a link, if available).

Though I’ve never been involved in such a study, and am sure others have better ideas, what strikes me as a potentially effective model is for an international team of media research experts (including some that are familiar with the specific issues and players involved in the current crisis) to develop a research design that could be executed in large part by trained university students with appropriate language and research skills.

I think such a study would be both fascinating and valuable, especially if it could shed some helpful light on the complex communication dynamics and impacts related to the Euro crisis.  These include language and cross-cultural barriers aggravated by longstanding resentments and negative stereotypes, all of which hinder trust, empathy and mutual understanding; the constantly evolving interactions between traditional and online/social media; and fundamental disagreements among political leaders and citizens from different countries and political parties–and among economists–regarding the value and impacts of economic theories and policies.  And all of this is taking place within a multi-layered and still somewhat formative European system of economic and political governance, which most see as admirable in its unifying ambitions, but may not be sufficiently well designed and field tested to achieve them in the face of the current (or some future) crisis.

Some preliminary thoughts on some of these issues below:

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