DeFleur Distinguished Lectures

The College of Communication annually invites two distinguished scholars from outside to share their outstanding scholarship, expertise, and experience with the BU community. In recognition of the pioneering and inspirational contributions of Dr. Melvin L. DeFleur to the field of mass communication research and his service as a venerable and inexhaustible member of COM’s Communication Research Center (CRC), the faculty members of the CRC have named this series in his honor.

Upcoming Lectures

We look forward to welcoming you to our upcoming series of lectures that promise to enrich and expand our understanding of the ever-evolving academic landscape. Stay tuned for more engaging and thought-provoking topics that we can’t wait to explore together!

Past Lectures

Sensor-mediated Communication and the Internet of Things

Dr. Lee H. Humphreys
Professor & Chair, Department of Communication
Cornell University
March 2024

In this talk, Dr. Lee H. Humphreys will explore several theoretical approaches and methods of studying the ways that people adopt and integrate communication technologies into their everyday lives.

Drawing on a multi-year interdisciplinary project, this lecture will describe a case exploring the adoption of an Internet of Things network in small communities. It will also identify different characteristics of sensor-mediated communication.

The talk concludes with reflections about how we study various kinds of technologies with a communication lens.

News Exposure in a Datafied Media World

Dr. Kjerstin Thorson
Brandt Endowed Professor of Political Communication & Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives
Michigan State University
November 2023

Digital platform companies have inserted themselves into all the nooks and crannies of our civic lives. Our interests and actions online are increasingly quantified for use in tracking and algorithmic prediction —our civic lives are “datafied.” The concepts we use to analyze the role of news content in our everyday lives have not yet been sufficiently updated to account for datafication across digital platforms. As a result, we find it hard to comprehend unexpected empirical findings: News is disappearing from the everyday life of many people at the same moment that more news and news-like content is being produced than perhaps ever before; People who avoid news are more likely to be heavy news users; It is hard work to be informed even when it feels like news is everywhere. This presentation explores paths forward to ask new kinds of questions about news exposure in a datafied media world.

Believability: Sexual Violence, Media and the Digitization of Doubt

Dr. Sarah Banet-Weiser
Distinguished Professor of Communication, UPenn; Professor, University of Southern California; Director, Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication

One of the most concrete changes brought about by the #MeToo movement is that it has created a new public appetite for stories about sexual violence-based harms—an appetite that has been readily seized upon by Hollywood and the press, a growing market for anti-sexual violence products and services, and a renewed investment in digital media as a space where women are believed.

In this talk, Dr. Banet-Weiser evaluates this contemporary context through the lens of what she calls the digitization of doubt. The market for anti-sexual violence that has emerged in the aftermath of #MeToo is one that suggests that if only women can furnish more and better evidence of their assaults (photographs, videos, screenshots, and other ‘corroborating’ digital artifacts) then they will prevail in bids for believability, both in the court of public opinion and potentially in courts of law. At the core of this narrative are struggles over how, whether, and when different forms of evidence ought to bolster believability—especially now that such evidence can be freely circulated online, and highly public bids for belief are made without arbitration or intervention by the state.

Within the context of contemporary examples, she tests these assumptions by tracking what actually happens to and with these artifacts in a mediated struggles over believability, and how their evidentiary value—that is, their status as evidence—continues to be shaped by familiar structures of power.

Analyzing social media information quality with PIEGraph

Dr. Deen Freelon
Associate Professor at Hussman School of Journalism and Media; Principal Researcher at Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Quantitative social media research has traditionally been conducted from what might be called a platform-centric view, wherein researchers sample, collect, and analyzed data based on one or more topic- or user-specific keywords. Such studies have yielded many valuable insights, but they convey little about individual users’ tailored social media environments—what I call the user-eye view. Studies that investigate social media from a user-eye view are relatively rare because of the expense involved and a limited number of suitable tools.

This talk introduces PIEGraph, a novel system for user-eye view research that offers key advantages over existing systems. PIEGraph is lightweight, scalable, open-source, OS-independent, and collects Twitter data viewable from mobile and desktop interfaces directly from APIs. The system incorporates an extensible taxonomy that allows for straightforward classification of a wide range of political, social, and cultural phenomena. The presentation will focus on how our research team is using PIEGraph to examine the extent to which high- (academic/scientific/journalistic) and low-quality (disinformation/hyperpartisan) information sources populate users’ personalized information environments across lines of gender, race, ideology, and conspiracy belief.

Breaking All the Rules: The Racial Grammar of Cancel Culture in American News Media

Dr. Meredith Clark
Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University

So-called ‘cancel culture’ has emerged as a 21st century moral panic that threatens to silence disempowered people who use social and digital media to amplify Black vernacular practice in pursuit of material consequences. In this talk, Dr. Meredith D. Clark dissects the disproportionate influence mainstream and partisan news media has had in separating digital accountability practice from its roots in Black culture and communities. Attendees will be challenged to consider the pervasive nature of coded racial language in their lives and work, and to interrogate their roles in dismantling white dominance in our collective reality.

Bringing People & Technology Together in a New Kind of Social Network

Dr. Deb Roy
Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT
Director, MIT Center for Constructive Communication
Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School

In an era of growing social fragmentation, deteriorating trust, and information disorder, social media platforms add fuel to the fire and offer little hope in fostering understanding, deliberation, and real human connection. Even our in-person civic forums such as town halls and open meetings also fall short as civic spaces, attracting the “usual voices” of the same committed activists in what are often symbolic, yet ineffective efforts to capture real community input. Through a growing network of collaborators, we envision bringing people and technology together to strengthen democracy by creating the Local Voices Network (LVN), a new kind of social dialogue network. Our aim is to combine the depth and nuance of in-person dialogue with the power and scale of digital social networks to foster listening, empathy, and trust across divides. In this talk Dr. Roy will provide an overview of the LVN system, highlight some case studies, and sketch our research and
deployment plans.

Trust but Verify: The Role of Cognitive Skills & the Media Environment

Dr. Pippa Norris
Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

When citizens trust or mistrust government actors, under what circumstances do they make rational or erroneous judgments? In this talk, Dr. Pippa Norris presents a study (co-led by researchers from the University of Southampton and Canberra University) that focuses on several factors that potentially explain such errors, including a lack of cognitive capacity at an individual level and limits to the information environment, measured by macro-level indices of press freedom and mass communications in societies. This work draws on new cross-national time-series data from over 40 diverse societies contained in the World Values Surveys/European Values Surveys to explore how far—and under what conditions—subjective perceptions of institutional trust are related to the trustworthiness of national governments. Conclusions and implications are discussed.

More information about this research can be found at

The Resignation Industry and the Future of Media Studies

Dr. Joseph Turow
Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Communication, University of Pennsylvania
April 2019

In this presentation, Dr. Joseph Turow discusses the “resignation industry” that is developing in tandem with—and overlapping with—the growth of the digital interactive media system. The resignation industry carries out pervasive and purposeful corporate undertakings to encourage people to give up thinking they can change data collection by businesses.

These activities have the potential of corroding political and cultural democracy. We need a sociology of digital resignation to understand the industry. Research in this area is best carried out with a new understanding of the meaning and nature of “media research.”

Lessons from Pelicans: Multilevel Theorizing for the Expertise Economy

Dr. Janet Fulk
Professor of Communication and Professor of Management & Organization, University of Southern California
October 2018

The recent proliferation of multilevel models and research in management-related fields provides a stimulus for enriching our understanding of organizational phenomena that have not previously been conceptualized as primarily multilevel in nature. One such concept is expertise. In an “expertise economy” where crowds are wise and organizational technology such as enterprise social media offer glimpses into how collective knowledge can be a harnessed, what is multilevel expertise? Drawing on evolutionary theory, Dr. Janet Fulk builds a model of multilevel expertise and suggests how research can address the cross-level and multilevel processes involved in the communication and practice of multilevel expertise in organizations.