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CRC Fellow Presentations at 72nd Annual International Communication Association Conference

By Lindsy GoldbergMay 25th, 2022

Congratulations to the many CRC Fellows who will be presenting their research at the 72nd annual ICA conference this week! Please see below for a list of presentations and follow us on Twitter for more!

Conference Theme (courtesy of ICA): The 72nd Annual ICA Conference theme One World, One Network‽ invites reimagining communication scholarship on globalization and networks. The use of the interrobang glyph - a superposition of the exclamation and question punctuation marks – seeks to simultaneously celebrate and problematize the “one-ness” in the theme.

Amazeen, M.A., Krishna, A., & Eschmann, R. (2022). Cutting the bunk: Comparing the solo and aggregate effects of prebunking and debunking Covid-19 vaccine misinformation. Paper accepted for presentation to the Mass Communication Division at the International Communication Association annual conference, Paris, France, May, 2022.

Cahill, T. J. (2022). Motivated to feel better: Motivations for the use of games in coping and emotional regulation. To be presented at ICA 22, Paris, France.

Cahill, T. J. (2022). Staying inside: Virtual reality use as a coping strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic. To be presented at ICA 22, Paris, France.

Chan, N.K., Su, C.C., Shore, A. (2022). Policy as Platform Power: Uncovering the Socio-Political Factors Behind Tiktok’s Evolution. Communication Law & Policy Division, the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference.

Coleman, R., Wu, D. (2022).“There was blood coming out of her eyes . . .” -- Disgust, sadness, and happiness in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Journalism Studies Division, International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference. Paris, France.

Chen, H., Leon E., Jiang B., Wu X., Zhou Y., Mei L.M., Zhang S., Liu M., Su, C.C., Guo, L. (2022). Sovereign Debt Surveillance: An Analysis of Sovereign Debt Twitter Discussions During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Global Communication and Social Change Division, the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference. (Student Project).

Cummings, J. J. & Wertz, B. (2022). Capturing social presence: Concept explication through an empirical analysis of social presence measures. Paper to be presented at the 72nd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (Human-Machine Communication Interest Groups). Paris, France.

Huang D.; Annecston D., Li J.X., Chou M., Shore A., Su, C.C., Prena K. (2022). HCI in digital journalism: Innovation in the Fitness Community: Managing Fitness Needs in a Post Pandemic World. Sports Communication Division, the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference. (Student Project).

Ji, G, Tao, W. (2022). Channeling Employees’ Positive Moral Emotions in CEO Activism: The Role of Ethical Leadership Communication. Public Relations Division, International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference.

Krishna, A., Kim, S. (2022).Understanding the Roles of Party Identification and Political Cynicism in Predicting Relationship Dissolution Intention with Political Party. Public Relations Division, International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference.

Mays, K., Cummings, J. J., & Katz, J. (2022). The Perceived Robot Rights Entitlement Scale. Paper to be presented at the 72nd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (Human-Machine Communication Interest Group Pre-conference – “Bridging Worlds, Bridging Networks”). Paris, France.

Paik, S., Su, C.C. (2022). HCI in digital journalism: Exploring mobile news app design patterns through socio-technical infrastructures. Communication & Technology Division, the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference.

Shore, A. & Cummings, J. J. (2022). Social influence on the map: The effect of social proof and reciprocity norms on mobile location obscurity decisions. Paper to be presented at the 72nd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (Information Systems Division). Paris, France.

Yu, R., Zhang, Y., Huang, S., Wu, D. (2022). Motivated Political Reasoning: Examining the Predictors and Flow of Fake News Advancement and Refutation Across Media Platforms. Mass Communication Division, International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference. Paris, France.

Wu, D., Huang, S., Yu, R., Zhang, Y. (2022). The “populist imbecile” vs. the “heartless shrew” --How polarizing election coverage was associated with Taiwanese voters’ evaluation of candidates. Journalism Studies Division. International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference. Paris, France.

Letter from the Director: April 2022

By Michelle AmazeenApril 25th, 2022

The Dark Side of Comedy

When the Boston University Communication Research Center was first organized in the late 1950s, some of its earliest research involved the study of comics.

Fears were so great in the U.S. about the potential harms of comic books on youth that Congress created a subcommittee to study their effects on juvenile delinquency.

Unlike the comics in books, newspapers, and magazines, a separate type of comics – the stand up kind – emerged as a phenomenon of study. Encompassed by the field of “humor studies,” researchers examined the psychological and physiological effects of humor – positive or negative – on individuals or groups of people.

At this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, audiences witnessed the dark side of comedy when Best Actor nominee Will Smith assaulted comedian and awards host Chris Rock on stage after he ad-libbed a joke about the hairstyle of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Given that CRC Fellow Dr. Patrice Oppliger is an Executive Board Member and Past President of the International Society for Humor Studies – and has even co-edited a book called The Dark Side of Stand-Up Comedy – it seemed fitting to get her perspective on how communication research can help us understand this media spectacle. Oppliger told me, “In putting together our book, we framed the contributions from academics and professional comedians focusing on the communication model components: sender (comedian’s background), message (type of jokes), channel (venues), and receiver (audience reception).” She explained,

These factors can also be used to analyze the “Oscar slap” heard ‘round the world on March 27, 2022. Issues of race and gender complicate matters as do the backgrounds of the players involved. Will Smith’s PTSD from not being able to protect his mother from his abusive father and Jada Pinkett Smith’s battle with an autoimmune condition and the loss of her hair culminated in Smith slapping Rock after he joked about her resemblance to the title character of the 1997 film G.I. Jane.

Talk radio and social media have been rife with mansplaining/whitesplaining about how the joke was harmless. There is perhaps more to the joke given the history of the actors involved. Years earlier, Rock made a disparaging remark about Jada’s #OscarsSoWhite boycott of the 2016 Oscars, joking that she had not been invited in the first place. Rock noted the 2022 joke was “a nice one.”

Aside from Netflix comedy specials, stand-up is generally performed in an intimate setting – in front of a live audience who have access to the performer. In The Dark Side of Stand-Up Comedy, we include stories of audience members attacking comics. Thus, assaults on stand-up comedians are not unprecedented. The juxtaposition of the Oscar slap highlights the difference between film comedy, where scripted lines go through several layers of editing, and the free-style stand-up stage (reports are that Rock improvised the line). There is also a tradition of roasting audience members at award shows. For example, earlier that night, Regina Hall made a humorous reference to Will and Jada’s open marriage. While her comment did not draw an assault from Smith, it may have primed his reaction.

Beyond the live audience (most of whom gave Smith a standing ovation after his Best Actor win), social media lit up with “Team Will,” “Team Chris,” and “Team Jada” tweets. The one-minute exchange presents fodder for academics and armchair analysts alike that will be debated for years to come.

Indeed, as evidenced from students in my CM180 “Understanding Media” class, their reception of the situation was decidedly mixed. We discussed the controversy on the day that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Smith would be barred from attending the awards ceremony for 10 years because of his “harmful behavior.” When eliciting feedback from students, they shared the following observations:

Student A: “10 years is too much. That’s a little extreme. 1 year would have been better.”

Student B: “On the one hand, 10 years is a long time. On the other hand, if we do not give the situation a proper punishment, those who observed the violence conducted by Will Smith will think that it’s okay to use violence to solve problems.”

Student C: “Will other actors be treated the exact same…like, is this the standard going forward?”

Student D: “I think there’s other people the Academy should also ban. There’s people in the Academy who have committed domestic violence –who have been prosecuted – and are still there.”

As clearly demonstrated by Smith’s reception of Rock’s joke – and the mixed reception of audiences wide and far to Smith’s response – humor studies and communication research can offer nuanced insights into the effects of humor on individuals and groups of people.

Letter from the Director: March 2022

By Michelle AmazeenMarch 23rd, 2022

Disinformation Warfare in Perpetuating World Tensions

The unfolding, grisly war in Ukraine has made clear that in 2022 – nearly a century after communication theorist Harold Lasswell’s dissertation on propaganda – battles take place not only with physical confrontations, but also continue via information warfare designed to win the hearts and minds of observers. Communication researchers play a special role in helping to understand this process.

In the first days of the Ukraine invasion near the end of February 2022, I heard a live interview on the BBC Newshour where host James Menendez interviewed a member of the Russian Federal Assembly, Vitaly Milonov. For four minutes – with minor pushback from Menendez – Milonov parroted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talking points, including that “the UK, European Union, and United States have provoked the invasion, that Ukraine's president lacks public support, and that Russia has valid rights to keep Ukraine under its influence.” This interview was followed by another with former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul who proceeded to tear into Menendez for airing “nonsense” from a Russian MP. McFaul asked,

…if it was September 1st, 1939, would you put on the air a member of the Nazi Party to try to explain this ridiculous, absolute falsification of history and information that we just heard from Mr. Milonov? Because this is complete, utter nonsense what he just said, and I’m wondering if we’re doing a service to the world by giving him a voice on the BBC?

Herein is another exemplary case where the gatekeeping and framing responsibilities of journalists is crucial amidst a tidal wave of propaganda. Adding to the complex decisions traditional journalists must make when reporting on wars is the ascendance and accessibility of social media platforms. Citizens are now able to help narrate the first draft of history, highlighting the heroism of everyday Ukrainians as they resist and fight back against the Russian military. Of course, the danger is that this digital front is also vulnerable to propaganda and outright disinformation campaigns to demoralize or deceive Ukrainians and the wider world.

To help make sense of this complex environment, I turned to two of the CRC’s Research Fellows with expertise in international communication.

According to H. Denis Wu, Professor of Communication, “International news about wars has been immensely critical to people’s surveillance of the state of the world because of the nature of the subject matter as well as the information about it.” He explained,

The news about wars is more impactful for people and inevitably riskier, harder, and more expensive for the media to deliver. The coverage of Ukraine so far reflects what communication researchers have long indicated: it shows what has happened as well as the emotions behind the stories. The news has covered not just the military activities and economic sanctions – which is extremely important – but also the bravery, resistance, and resilience of the Ukrainians who face an almost insurmountable enemy. The former category of news belongs to the first-level agenda while the latter is affect-based, thus second-level agenda. It is crucial in shaping the sentiment of audiences and their actions, as illustrated in Image and emotion in voter decisions: The affect agenda.

Of course, shaping perceptions of wars has a long history. Michael G. Elasmar, Associate Professor of communication provides some of this background:

Shortly after the end of World War II, the United States, under the auspices of UNESCO, launched a major research initiative for determining the conditions that affect international understanding, intergroup perceptions, and support for military conflict among nations. It was called the World Tensions Project. The overarching goal was to determine what can be done to preempt a repetition of the devastation witnessed during World War II. The initial World Tensions Project resulted in numerous studies that examined the role that communication and media play in contributing to how other countries and people living in those countries exist in our minds. It is worth noting here that, at that time, the field of communication science did not yet exist, and the study of media impact was scattered across sociology, psychology, education, and other classical disciplines. Interest in conducting this type of research waned and mostly disappeared after the 1960s when there was a growing belief that another world war was no longer a probable event.

I asked Elasmar what the knowledge gained from the original World Tensions Project tells us about the likely changes in the reaction of Americans over time to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He explained,

Studies conducted in the two decades following the launch of the World Tensions Project taught us that news and entertainment media play an important role in creating, reinforcing, and/or modifying the images of countries in our heads and these images can influence attitudes toward other countries and support for military action. And that pre-existing information about a country will determine which portions of the new information about this specific country the human brain will focus on and retain in its memory. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, surveys of Americans conducted in 2020 by the Pew Center for the People and the Press (PCPP) and by Gallup in early February of 2022 have consistently found an unfavorable opinion of Russia among a vast majority (70% and 85% respectively) of survey respondents. Between 2007 and 2020, PCPP found that favorable opinion of Russia among Americans had fallen by 25%. Gallup found that favorable opinion of Russia dropped from 51% in early February of 2012 to 15% in early February of 2022. These patterns show that the preexisting information about Russia’s government was already overwhelmingly negative prior to its invasion of Ukraine.

Applying what we learned from the World Tensions Project, we can predict that the images of atrocities and destruction stemming from the Ukraine invasion will strongly reinforce the pre-existing negative information about the Russian government held by Americans. One direct implication of this effect is that American consumers might shy away from traveling for leisure to Russia and/or consuming Russian-made goods and services for a long period after the Ukraine war no longer dominates international news. Another indirect implication is that the images of destruction and atrocities emerging out of Ukraine might interact with other negative factors prevailing in the minds of Americans in ways that no one could have predicted just a few weeks ago. The longer the war in Ukraine goes on, and the more its effects are felt in their daily lives (through price increases of everyday necessities, threats of cyberattacks, news about the potential of nuclear bombs by the Russian military, predictions of a recession etc.) the more likely will Americans demand for and support a direct military intervention to end what they perceive as a Russian threat to their safety and the safety of their families. Americans will want to hold the Russian government accountable for destroying a modern European country and committing atrocities against civilians, and to punish the Russian government for a war that is causing an impending economic recession and stifling American optimism about the end of the pandemic.

As the war in Ukraine drags on, our CRC Fellows continue to monitor the important role of mediated communication in forming, changing, and reinforcing perceptions of war, countries, governments, and people around the world.

Letter from the Director: February 2022

By Michelle AmazeenFebruary 22nd, 2022

Following the Playbook of Our Earliest Broadcasters

The continuing concerns about the spread of misinformation are at the forefront of news again in early 2022, engulfing celebrities Joe Rogan and Whoopi Goldberg and their employers.

In Rogan’s case, accusations of Covid-19 vaccine misinformation have dogged his “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast that is on the Spotify streaming service platform. Recent reporting indicates Spotify has paid Rogan at least $200 million to exclusively license his podcast. After inviting Dr. Robert Malone on his show – an aggrieved infectious-disease researcher who claims to be the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology yet has spread baseless conspiracy theories about the vaccines – a coalition of over 250 public health officials, scientists, and academics wrote an open letter to Spotify calling for it to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform. This was followed by several artists, led by Neil Young, requesting the removal of their music catalogs from Spotify if Rogan’s podcast was allowed to continue. In response, Spotify agreed to add “content advisory” warnings to virus-related content and Rogan stated he will try to offer a better balance of expert perspectives going forward.

In the case of Whoopi Goldberg, a co-host of ABC-TV’s talk show The View, it was a discussion about a school district banning the Pulitzer-prize winning Maus – a graphic novel about the Holocaust – that landed Goldberg in trouble. She repeatedly claimed that the Holocaust was not based upon racial hatred because it involved “two white groups of people.” Although she later apologized and conceded she was misinformed about the Holocaust, she was suspended for two weeks by ABC.

Like many professors, I have been examining these controversies with students in my “Understanding Media” course. Not only are these cases instructive as examples of misinformation circulating beyond social media platforms, but they also serve as an entree to discuss limits of free expression and the gatekeeping obligations of private companies such as Spotify in contrast to broadcast networks, such as ABC (which is owned by The Walt Disney Company), and the stations that air ABC content.

To enrich our understanding of this last point, I turn to CRC Fellow Deborah L. Jaramillo who is an associate professor of film and television at COM. Based upon her expertise of the U.S. television industry’s historical attempts to censor its programs and regulate its business practices, she offered this perspective:

In 1950 a man wrote to television entertainer Arthur Godfrey, incensed at the risqué content in the previous week’s program. Godfrey’s “coarseness and vulgarity” had no place within earshot of the letter writer’s wife and daughter; indeed, the man demanded an apology from Godfrey, himself. This man was one of many who flooded networks, advertisers, stations, and government officials with complaints about this emerging medium called television. Struggles over content have only escalated since the first complaint letter reached the desks of government regulators, but U.S. media companies have clung rather successfully to a strategy employed since early radio and encouraged by the government, which cannot censor: self-regulation.

Many different stakeholders grappled with the perceived excesses of early television programming. Eager to keep the commercial system intact and alternative systems (like non-commercial and subscription TV) at bay, the National Association of Broadcasters, the networks, and advertisers drafted codes, standards, and editorial policies to manage programming. The 1952 Television Code, for example, propped up conservative values, policing content pertaining to religion, marriage, gender norms, and law enforcement. But it also prohibited content that demeaned people of different racial backgrounds, religions, and abilities. Stakeholders like the NAB wanted to ease TV into homes so that it complemented middle-class sensibilities and caused the least disruption to viewers’ spending habits. Although they seemed draconian and an affront to creative freedom, these self-regulatory maneuvers largely lacked teeth. For legal reasons, stations subscribed to the radio and TV codes voluntarily; violation of the codes could not trigger a license revocation. That was the FCC’s department. Nevertheless, self-regulatory efforts like industry codes and network censorship departments persisted. Simply put, they looked good. If a set of standards could convince the FCC and television reformers that broadcasting could be clean and serve the public interest—that broadcasters cared about viewers—then advertiser-supported television could become a normal part of household routines across the U.S.

As entertainment media have multiplied and platforms have proliferated, standards have relaxed, but they have not disappeared. From TV to streaming audio, media companies remain averse to government interference, and they still use these policies to convince the public and lawmakers that they are, at heart, ethical businesses that care about their audiences’ wellbeing—even if the material they harbor is out of step with social norms. That Spotify opted to release its content standards to the public in the wake of the Joe Rogan controversy demonstrates that public-facing codes are still believed to have currency, even if their efficacy is up for debate.

Content standards are not neutral; they uphold particular values and imagine particular audiences. Additionally, they are not and cannot be static; programs are cultural artifacts as much as they are industrial outputs, so they will always challenge efforts to contain them. Standards adapt to shifting norms and industrial circumstances, but they also bend according to the perceived value of talent, audiences, and media brands. High-profile creatives like Norman Lear and Steven Bochco were famous for negotiating with network censors to get boundary-pushing content on air. The cases of Joe Rogan at Spotify and Whoopi Goldberg at The View on ABC offer a set of circumstances decidedly different from Lear’s and Bochco’s, but they are emblematic of the tension between policing content and spurning high-performing talent. The swift, temporary suspension of Goldberg is unsurprising, given the reputation of network news, the historical relationship between news and the public interest, and broadcast stations’ proximity to government regulation. Spotify, by contrast, has no such history or proximity. It can more easily (but not without bad press) contort its standards to protect its earners, but it still follows the playbook of our earliest broadcasters. At the end of the day, neither the nearly 80-year old network nor the 16-year-old streaming platform opted to blow up their talent. We were instead treated to two versions of self-regulation that, when placed in historical context, demonstrate that legacy media and new media have more in common than we might think.

As self regulation continues to dominate in controlling U.S. media content, two cautionary tales are worth noting. Despite often lacking teeth, as Jaramillo writes, self regulation led to the deplatforming of Father Coughlin in 1940 from his long-running syndicated radio show. With his anti-Semitic proselytizing, Coughlin was considered “an enemy of democracy, a disciple of fascism, an advocate of violence, and a purveyor of racial hatred.” Out of fear of losing their broadcast licenses due to “purposeful untruths that debase radio as an instrument of racial or religious persecution,” the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) strengthened its Code of Ethics in 1939 prohibiting the sale of airtime for divisive political or religious commentary. Under threat from the Federal Communications Commission and concern about losing authority among member stations, the NAB proceeded with the messy task of pressuring stations – some of which were resistant – to voluntarily terminate their business relationships with Coughlin.

More recently was the deplatforming of the then-president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, from Twitter for violating its “Civic Integrity” policies by inciting violence related to the January 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. Other social media platforms followed Twitter’s lead.

In both cases, it was ultimately the apparent threats to democracy where media companies took the extreme measures of blowing up their talent. Will contemporary media companies such as Spotify continue to follow the broadcaster playbook? Our fellows will be watching and listening.