Letters from the Director

Letter from the Director: January 2024

By ajk90January 25th, 2024in Homepage, Letters From the Director

Growing Risk of Disinformation

By: Michelle Amazeen

An image of a newspaper with the headline 'Fact or Fake' and a subheading 'Truth or disinformation'.

The new year began with the World Economic Forum releasing its 2024 Global Risks Report which describes hazards occurring in the global landscape from year to year. Topping the 2024 report is the threat of mis- and disinformation intensifying societal divides around the world over the next two years.

Indeed, in the year ahead, the American public is facing numerous issues that require informed decisions. We are navigating a presidential election, military action in Ukraine and Gaza, continued resistance against taking meaningful action on climate change, and lingering waves of Covid-19, just to name a few. Each of these on its own is challenging enough. However, dealing with all of them simultaneously and combined with the increased use of generative artificial intelligence, the media ecosystem is poised for a tsunami of disinformation: deliberately false content intended to mislead.

Do we trust US media to get us this information accurately? According to a nationally representative poll COM conducted in 2022, roughly 60% of Americans said they trusted media to provide accurate information on the issues of climate change, elections, and vaccines. Even fewer (55%) trusted media to make a clear distinction between news and advertising. But there were stark differences in responses based upon political identity: Democrats were much more trusting of media on these topics (80%) than were Republicans (just over a third). Other national polls, such as from Gallup, indicate that Americans’ trust in media more generally is at a record low point with similar partisan divides.

The concern with misinformation is not just among elites, but is also held by everyday Americans. A recent national survey by MediaWise revealed that 4 out of 5 participants (81%) believed false or misleading online images were a problem for society. At the same time, roughly 3 in 4 respondents were not confident in their ability to identify misinformation. According to CRC fellow Dr. Joan Donovan, Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Studies and Journalism and author of Meme Wars, “The entire purpose of media manipulation campaigns is to trick you, so it’s not easy to quickly discern fakes from facts in today’s media. Viral memes are often missing the context needed to understand the motives of the author and really viral memes will shed any reference to the original source as it is distributed. This is why we need to be able to access more reputable news sources on social media.”

Thus, now, more than ever, is when media literacy is essential. Media literacy is the ability to critically analyze stories presented in the media and to determine their accuracy or credibility. My research has shown that the more people know about the media, the better able they are to resist online disinformation efforts. According to our latest Media & Technology poll among a nationally representative sample of US adults fielded this month, 72% of respondents agree that media literacy skills are important in helping people identify misinformation, yet only 42% report knowing how to access quality media literacy training online. Yet, there is demand for these skills as nearly 7 in 10 reported interest in learning how to better distinguish between true and false information online, especially when it comes to identifying misinformation generated with AI.

Given the challenging times before us, I am pleased to welcome a new voice among our CRC fellows who study mediated communication dysfunction. Dr. Betsi Grabe joins COM this month as the Dalton Family Professor and will be directing the Emerging Media Studies PhD program. While the first part of Dr. Grabe’s career was spent conducting research to understand the media’s role in facilitating informed citizenship, more recently her focus has shifted to researching disinformed citizenship. “My sense is that the integrity of the global information ecosystem is critical to the longevity of the democratic way of life,” Grabe tells me. “Actionable research that shapes public debate, informs policy, and empowers citizens is urgently necessary and arguably, part of our social responsibility as academics.”

We are fortunate to have so many esteemed researchers who are committed to understanding why and how media affect us and society at this time of extreme information disorder. I look forward to working with Dr. Grabe and the continued efforts among all CRC fellows in conducting research that matters.

Letter from the Director: December 2023

By ajk90December 22nd, 2023in Homepage, Letters From the Director

The Fall 2023 Semester in Review

By: Michelle Amazeen

A photo of the directory in the foreground, with two students studying, in the reception area, in the background.
Students studying in the CRC reception area. Photo courtesy of Derek Palmer.

December wraps up another busy semester for the CRC. Our Colloquium Series, which originated in 2009, consists of monthly research presentations that highlight current and original research of CRC fellows. Our Fall Colloquium Speakers were EMS PhD Candidate Alexis Shore (September), Dr. Deborah Jaramillo (October), and Dr. Joan Donovan (November). If you are interested in presenting your research as part of our Colloquium Series this Spring, please sign up here.

Every semester, the CRC also invites a distinguished scholar from outside the university to share their outstanding scholarship, expertise, and experience with the BU community. Our Fall 2023 DeFleur Distinguished Lecturer was Dr. Kjerstin Thorson (Michigan State University) who spoke about news exposure in a datafied media world.

An image of students facing a TV screen, half eaten pizza slices on paper plates on the table in front of them, with a Zoom video on display.
PhD fellow Briana Trifiro's second Lunch & Learn, with EMS alumnae, pictured here.

In promoting a culture of research and collaboration, our fellows met monthly as part of our Work-In-Progress meetings. Special guests this semester included representatives from BU’s Institutional Review Board and representatives from the offices of BU’s Federal and Foundation Relations. Moreover, our PhD fellow Briana Trifiro launched a Lunch & Learn series enabling doctoral students the opportunity to talk with faculty and Emerging Media Studies PhD alumni about their academic research and careers.

One of the unique technologies available in the CRC is our biometric tools which include devices for measuring heart rate, sweat levels in the skin, as well as facial and eye movements. For the first time ever, the CRC hosted an onsite workshop led by an iMotions Product Specialist. Attendees received hands-on training in our iMotions software, designing biometric studies, interpreting data, and drawing actionable conclusions. If you are interested in learning more about biometrics, a quick primer is available here.

Given the University’s commitment to involving students in research, the CRC continued to facilitate fellows’ efforts to recruit students as research participants via our SONA research participant management system. The SONA system gives both graduate and undergraduate students an opportunity to become involved with various research activities across COM while earning course credit for doing so. This semester, 13 research opportunities were available to students from 24 different COM courses. I hope you will consider including your courses in the Spring semester. To enroll your courses, please fill out this form. For more information about how our SONA program works, please visit our website or email comsona@bu.edu.

The CRC staff behind the reception desk in various stages of working and communication.
A typical day in the CRC. Photo courtesy of Derek Palmer.

I am incredibly grateful for the commitment and hard work of our staff this fall. Amanda King joined us in September as our Lab and Research Manager and has been quickly getting up to speed on CRC technologies and activities. I look forward to working with them in the Spring semester and beyond. I would also like to thank our wonderful graduate assistants who helped to keep the Center running. Zain Bali (MCR) was our SONA administrator doing the behind-the-scenes work on our research participant management system. Snigdha Bhowmik (FTV) was our Communications Assistant writing about and promoting our activities. And Xinyue “Tracy” Cui (FTV) was our Events Assistant capturing our activities for posterity and making them available on our website. Thanks to you all!

To our CRC community of fellows, I wish you all a joyous and restful holiday season and look forward to the many new and exciting activities we are planning for 2024!

Letter from the Director: November 2023

By ajk90November 22nd, 2023in Homepage, Letters From the Director

In Thanksgiving: Rosalynn Carter as Political Communicator (1927-2023)

By: Michelle Amazeen

A black and white photo of Mrs. Rosalynn Carter speaking at a podium in front of a poster titled 'Mental Health Association'.

With multiple wars raging and the world enduring infodemics, pandemics, and climate-related disasters, it may seem difficult to be grateful for much of anything at present. However, at this time of Thanksgiving in the United States, I wanted to pay homage to a former First Lady whose actions touched on all of these calamities. Rosalynn Carter died this past Sunday on November 19, 2023 at the age of 96 at her home in Plains, Georgia. To do so, I turned to COM’s Senior Associate Dean, Dr. Tammy R. Vigil, whose expertise includes women as political communicators and who has authored two books about First Ladies including Moms in Chief: The Rhetoric of Republican Motherhood and the Spouses of Presidential Nominees, 1992-2016 (University Press of Kansas, 2019) and Melania & Michelle: First Ladies in a New Era (Red Lightning Books, 2019). The following is a tribute from Dr. Vigil:

Rosalynn Carter often appeared the picture of demure, middle-class femininity in a well-ironed blouse neatly tucked into a simple A-line skirt. Yet, behind the outward image of reserved simplicity stood a fearless first lady who broke barriers and pushed boundaries. Rosalynn Carter, well-known as a champion of mental health, served as the key White House administrator on behalf of the Mental Health Systems Act and testified in front of Congress as part of her advocacy efforts. She also vigorously supported the Equal Rights Amendment, led workshops on alleviating unemployment, and supported cultural exchange programs. Carter was frequently an official emissary of the president, embarking on diplomatic efforts in Brazil, Costa Rica, Rome, and Thailand, negotiating on behalf of the president and the nation in a manner few first ladies dared to do. Her courageous efforts to use the “velvet pulpit” of the first ladyship in a meaningful fashion resulted in Time magazine dubbing her “the second most powerful person in the United States” in 1979. Her high level of activity led to legislative efforts to curb her influence, yet she persisted. Rosalynn Carter helped formalize the Office of the First Lady, creating resources and space for future presidential spouses to more effectively advocate for causes that impact a wide range of constituents.

During the more than four decades since she left the East Wing, Rosalynn Carter travelled the world as an inspirational and assertive figure whose goals were, as she put it, “waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope.” She continued to crusade for causes she believed in and remained politically active throughout her life. Through the Carter Center, Rosalynn worked toward peace in the Middle East, led public conversations about sexual inequality, promoted childhood immunizations, and drew attention to the importance of caregiving. In 2018, she led a chorus of former first ladies who spoke out against the separation of migrant children from their families at the southern US border, drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis and calling for change. Two years later, she narrated a video segment for the 2020 Democratic National Convention in which she argued for national unity and optimism. Rosalynn Carter was a model of activism, compassion, determination, and empowerment.

I am grateful for the work of Mrs. Carter on behalf of our country and humanity. I am also grateful for the work of my colleagues whose communication research illuminates these important actors.

I wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving with time to reflect and reconnect.

A black and white photo of Mrs. Rosalynn Carter speaking in front of an audience.

Letter From The Director: October 2023

By ajk90October 10th, 2023in Homepage, Letters From the Director

By: Michelle Amazeen

An image of a furry mouse beneath the word 'Perception', opposite a computer mouse beneath the word 'Reality'. A Rolling Stone ad.

In the mid-1980s, Rolling Stone Magazine underwent an image transformation. Widely perceived of as a magazine carrying content that only appealed to a niche population of counterculture hippies, the award-winning “Perception. Reality.” advertising campaign, created by advertising agency Fallon McElligott, disputed that notion. Through a series of over 60 print executions, the ads conveyed that readers were actually mainstream and affluent.

Similarly, the Communication Research Center (CRC) is sometimes perceived of as having activities that primarily involve programming with speakers from other universities and/or research presentations by BU COM faculty. It’s true that since 2011, the Dr. Melvin L. DeFleur Lecture Series has annually invited two distinguished scholars from outside the university to share their scholarship, expertise, and experience with the BU community. Even before then, since October 2009, the Communication Research Colloquium Series has hosted monthly research presentations every semester that highlight current and original research of CRC fellows. However, to say that CRC activities are primarily limited to speaker series is not reflective of reality.

Since 2011, the CRC has facilitated scores of research studies, many involving surveys. Our fellows review survey research protocols to ensure the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in research. Dozens of these studies have sampled from the student population of COM made possible by our SONA participant recruitment and study management software that we acquired in 2016. Other studies are based upon non-student populations, such as this onecovered by CNBC – about U.S. adult perceptions of climate change.

Still other studies involve in-lab controlled experiments approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board. One study, for example, examined the ability of participants to recognize whether media content was a news article versus “native advertising,” a form of sponsored content that imitates journalism. Some participants who arrived at the CRC were provided an iPhone on which to view the content while others were provided with a laptop. As predicted by the Persuasion Knowledge Model, even the participants most motivated to engage with news were less likely to recognize that content was advertising when viewed via the iPhone.

An image of a rectangular table lined with chairs, a one-way mirror lines the back wall.

Beyond surveys and experiments, the CRC has hosted focus groups in our state-of-the art focus group facility. The adjacent viewing room with a one-way mirror allows for unobtrusive observation, and the digital recording tower can create audio/video recordings of sessions.

Our on-site data analysis and coding lab with dual-monitor computer stations facilitates the analysis and coding of media content. In one study, for instance, researchers conducted a content analysis of commonly binge-watched online original TV programs for portrayals of violence. Consistent with Cultivation Theory, the programs were often violent, with non-white women more likely to be targets of sexual violence and non-white men more likely to be the perpetrators.

A researcher sitting in front of two monitors, analyzing and coding data.You can learn more about this study from the news coverage it generated in 2019 on Boston 25 News.

Many other studies conducted by CRC fellows rely upon social media data obtained from the varying social media listening tools we offer or leverage COM’s Media & Technology surveys that poll nationally representative samples of U.S. residents.For example, one such study reported by the Boston Globe examined adults’ perceptions of dating apps and another, reported by eWeek, examined artificial intelligence.

Indeed, the reality is that, more than just a forum for scholars to present their research, the CRC has been helping its fellows produce research that has been covered in national news media, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to CNN. That’s research that matters.

Letter From The Director: September 2023

By: Michelle Amazeen

Welcome to the Fall 2023 Semester!

With the start of the academic year, I’d like to welcome you to the fall 2023 semester and share some information about the CRC.

First established at Boston University in 1959, the CRC serves to support its fellows as thought leaders who advance communication-related theory and methods in addressing society’s challenges. We are located in the lower level (basement) of Alden Hall at 704 Commonwealth Avenue. You can read about our facilities and technologies and bookmark our website at https://sites.bu.edu/crc/. 

Image of the BU CRC office

We are excited to welcome our new full-time Lab and Research Manager, Amanda King, effective September 18th. Amanda is a COM graduate, earning a Master's in Emerging Media Studies in 2021. We are joined by three graduate students who will be working in the Center this fall:

  • Zain Bali (MCR), SONA Administrator
  • Snigdha Bhowmik (FTV), Communications Assistant
  • Xinyue “Tracy” Cui (FTV), Events Assistant

This fall, we have several events lined up:

Colloquium Series:

  1. Thursday, September 28th at 3:30 pm, Alexis Shore, EMS PhD Candidate: Platforms as Rulemakers for Interpersonal Communication: The Case of the Screenshot Feature
  2. Thursday, October 26th at 3:30 pm, Dr. Deborah Jaramillo (FTV)
  3. Thursday, November 30th at 3:30 pm, Dr. Joan Donovan (JO/EMS)

Dr. Melvin L. DeFleur Distinguished Lecture:

  1. Wednesday, November 15th at 3:30 pm, Dr. Kjerstin Thorson, Brandt Endowed Professor of Political Communication, Michigan State University

CRC Policies:

Fellows interested in reserving rooms for research purposes or reserving our technologies may do so using QReserve. To make reservations you will need to create your own QReserve account, associated with the CRC. Instructions for how to do so are included in the CRC Resource Guide. New and returning fellows are encouraged to review the CRC Resource Guide to (re)familiarize yourselves with our resources. Please also familiarize yourself with the policies and protocols of conducting research at the CRC, available here. Note: the Request for Research Study Details form (in step 2) is currently not available. To help us plan for use of the CRC this fall, in lieu of this form please email the following information to crccom@bu.edu. 

  1. The name(s), titles and email addresses of you and any co-researchers
  2. A preliminary title for your research project
  3. If applicable, the faculty advisor associated with your project
  4. Approximate start date, end date, and deadline (if applicable) for your project
  5. Details regarding IRB approval/status (if applicable)
  6. Whether you will require an iMotions-enabled laptop for your project
  7. Whether you will require long-term storage for your research data

For researchers planning to use the SONA Research Participation Pool, the CRC will continue to offer its COM Research Review Board (RRB) as an alternative to IRB for review of survey-based studies that adhere to the COM Master Protocol. To fairly allocate the workload, all faculty fellows who utilize SONA are expected to serve on the RRB. 

For the fall 2023 semester, we will be unable to accept the use of SONA for class projects of individual students. Should you be willing to oversee the administration of such an effort as chair of the COM SONA Review Board, please email me.

Finally, please join me in welcoming several new CRC fellows who are now part of the COM community:

  • Dr. Joan Donovan, Assistant Professor of Journalism
  • Dr. AnneMarie McClain, Assistant Professor of Media Science
  • James Crissman, EMS PhD student 
  • Lilian Naa Korkoi Tackie, EMS PhD student
  • Jiaxin Wang, EMS PhD student

I wish you all a successful start to the fall semester and look forward to seeing you in the CRC.

Letter from the Director: August 2023

By: Michelle Amazeen

Barbie: Covert Influence and Representation

Google search bar with 'Barbie movie' as the search term.

The billion-dollar blockbuster movie this summer was Barbie. As I prepared to go see it with my mother in July, I reminded myself that I was going to see what amounts to a 2-hour advertisement for a child’s toy, a practice also known as branded entertainment. As a scholar who studies covert influence, I am particularly aware of the goals of this strategy: don’t make the content into an explicit sales pitch but also create positive associations for your brand. While not as insidious as branded content that imitates news, the commercialization of media content – especially content directed at children – has been expanding.

This technique isn’t new. In 1931, the radio drama “March of Time” documented the work of journalists by reenacting famous news events such as the Hindenburg disaster or the disappearance of pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart. In reality, it was actually branded content, produced by Madison Avenue ad agency Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO) that was intended to cross promote Time magazine to radio audiences. In other words, it was an ad, just like the Barbie movie.

Watching the movie with this critical mind-set, I found myself enjoying it more than I expected. As a misinformation researcher, I was surprised by the intellectual winks to psychological theories such as Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance and William J. McGuire’s inoculation theory. As one Barbie says to another, “By giving voice to the cognitive dissonance required to be a woman under the patriarchy, you robbed it of its power.” That is, exposing patriarchy will build immunity against it. Alas, just talking about patriarchy doesn’t confer resistance to it. Indeed, most Americans believe there is more work to do in attaining gender equality.

Although I enjoyed the movie, my expertise is not in examining media representations. This expertise is, however, in the purview of the Communication Research Center’s newest Fellow, Dr. AnneMarie McClain. As an Assistant Professor of Media Science, Dr. McClain focuses on understanding how media – and conversations around media – can be used to promote positive outcomes for children and families, especially marginalized children and families. I asked Dr. McClain her thoughts on the Barbie movie, and this is what she shared:

The girl power! The outsmarting of the boys! The nostalgic rollerblades! As a millennial who loved Barbies, there were many elements of the new Barbie movie that struck right to my childhood core. However, as a mother raising small children and an academic who studies representation and identity socialization, it is important to highlight that the film missed some opportunities to be truly expansive in its representation and boundary-pushing.

The film had loud chords of feminism, some progressive commentary on various issues in our real human world, and unflinchingly included a trans Barbie, Barbies with bigger bodies, and dolls of various ethnic-racial identities as just part of the gang. Yet, the film largely stuck to the gender binary: real and fictional worlds of only females and males, rendering nonbinary individuals, gender fluid people, and people of other genders essentially invisible. The theory of invisibility (Fryberg & Townsend, 2008) suggests that without representation, it becomes harder to see yourself positively and to navigate your environments. The film missed moments to capture how the Barbie franchise has inspired people of all genders, not just girls. Importantly, Mattel has a line called Creatable World with dolls that can change their gender expression; featuring those dolls in the film, too, would have more accurately represented the world that we live in -- and that we need to celebrate.

Additionally, although the film featured BIPOC Barbie and human characters, the favorite doll of the Latine family was the white so-called "stereotypical Barbie.” This racial element was never addressed. Given concerns about how play may reflect BIPOC girls’ beliefs about their identity (e.g., Sturdivant & Alanis, 2021), this wide-reaching film missed opportunities to explicitly affirm that brown and Black dolls can be favorites, too. Barbieland also had a Barbie-version Mount Rushmore replica, a monument of European settlers carved into the sacred Black Hills of the Lakota Sioux, along with an unnecessary analogy that referenced smallpox harming Indigenous populations. Though these examples were not the center of the film, they could cause harm to Indigenous communities, who are already unfairly and minimally represented in U.S. media (e.g., Leavitt et al., 2015). The film also leaves room for more sensitive language around mental health – for example, it could have avoided using ableist language like “crazy” and “insane” and removed the commercial that makes light of mental health challenges where various conditions like OCD were “sold separately.” The Barbie movie tried to drive home an important message about how girls and women can be anything they want to be, but it could have also more explicitly celebrated another key part of inclusivity as well: that whoever any of us are is already enough, too.

While it might be unfair to demand a summer movie be all things to all people, Barbie’s social failures go beyond identity dynamics.

In an interesting postscript to the movie, the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO) – an environmental activist group – employed a classic technique of protest, called culture jamming, to draw attention to the overwhelming use of plastics in society. Given how much oil it takes to produce a single Barbie, more than three cups, the environmental damage caused by the production of Barbies and all of her accessories is concerning to those who care about the environment. The BLO produced a series of press releases purportedly from Mattel that announced its commitment to entirely stop using plastics by 2030 as well as the launch of a new decomposible line of Barbie dolls made from organic materials such as mushrooms, algae, seaweed, clay, and bamboo. At least three national news organizations fell for the influence campaign and published articles about the pledge and new doll line including People, The Washington Times, and Dow News Wire.

Composite showing different images of dolls.

In response to questions about the ethics of their culture jamming efforts, a BLO activist stated that, “What we’re fighting against is half a century of misinformation from the plastics industry and from fossil fuel companies and interests that are trying to convince people that recycling is a viable solution to the plastic waste problem.”

Thus, the Barbie movie has been a case study in how covert influence campaigns are being used to both entertain us as well as to hold powerful corporate interests to account.

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Letter from the Director: July 2023

By: Michelle Amazeen

Speaking Out: Then They Came for the Academics…

During my spring 2023 research sabbatical, I have continued my studies of disinformation. While having the time, resources, and support to focus exclusively on research is an increasingly rare privilege in academia, as I prepared to return as COM’s Director of the Communication Research Center, I have been reflecting on some of the challenges academic researchers face, especially those that study disinformation.

In 1943, the U.S. Department of War (today known as the Defense Department) released a short film called “Don’t Be a Sucker.” With anti-racist and anti-fascist themes, the film was intended to educate the public about prejudice and discrimination. At 14:56 into the clip (available here from the U.S. National Archives), the narrator – a Hungarian immigrant – remembers how the German Nazis came for academics and others who spoke for truth, exposing, among other things, the scientific fallacy of a “master” human race. These academics, writers, and scientists were exiled from Germany, jailed, or even put in concentration camps.

Eighty years on, the New York Times posted an article indicating that academics are once again under attack by their government. This time, it’s disinformation researchers who are being targeted by government legislators, not in some far away country, but right here in the United States. The goal is to undermine research into false claims about elections, vaccines, and other topics. The similarities to the historic descent into fascism are chilling.


Unfortunately, government suppression of academic inquiry is not new in the U.S. Among its wide-ranging investigations, in 1959, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) subpoenaed 40 public elementary and high school teachers in San Francisco accusing them of being Communists. Despite having little prosecutorial powers, the stigma of being called before the HUAC ended the careers of many including some of these educators.

Even with tenure – a mechanism that is supposed to protect academics from losing their position because of their speech, publications, or research findings – there are many examples of legislative and political interference with academic freedom.

PEN America – a non-profit defending freedom of expression – has noted a growing trend in legislative actions around the country attempting to influence what can be taught in public schools, colleges, universities, and libraries.

In Florida, for example, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill requiring review of professors’ tenure every five years and is also proposing that trustees should be able to call for a tenure review at any time.

There is a long history of communication scholars, in particular, who have been targeted for their attempts to study media and communication systems. Some of them have been denied tenure at their institutions, others have been harassed, and some even received death threats.

One recent case includes Nicole Hannah-Jones being denied tenure in 2021 by the trustees (most of whom were elected or appointed by the state legislature) of the University of North Carolina over concerns about how her research depicted the historical record on slavery in the U.S. Another local example is that of Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor emeritus who researches linguistics but has also extensively criticized the U.S. media system – most notably in his book Manufacturing Consent – and is a political activist. Over the years, he has endured being harassed by the Nixon administration as well as “death threats, bomb threats, [and] hysterical accusations” by others.

At its best, communication research aids legislators in policy making. “Through all periods of research on the uses and effects of media,” note scholars Byron Reeves and James L. Baughman, “scholars actively studied questions that concerned the public, the communications industries, or government regulators and legislators, and the researchers expected that their efforts could in some form result in social change.”

Yet, when ideological differences exist in just what social change is warranted, conflict arises.

History tells us what happens when those who are clinging to power do not wish to sincerely debate the empirical evidence on what is best for the public:

  • They take control of the media, outlawing any news or programming not controlled by the government as when Adolf Hitler took power in 1933 or when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
  • Books are banned or burned, as occurred during the Nazi regime, to “purify” literature. Disconcertingly, in the 2022-2023 academic school year, book bans in U.S. public schools are up by 28%.
  • They manufacture evidence and block others from examining it.

Rather than harassing the academics who try to examine our media systems for the nature and effects of disinformation, legislators should be facilitating that research and utilizing it to develop evidence-based policy.

With the turn of the calendar to the 2023-2024 academic year, I look forward continuing my research on disinformation, supporting others with their own research efforts, and engaging with those interested in developing evidence-based communication policies.

Letter from the Director: December 2022

By: Michelle Amazeen

As the Fall 2022 semester wraps up, there is an impressive number of new faces and activities at the CRC to reflect on. We welcomed four new faculty research fellows: Dr. Nivea Cannali Bona, Lecturer, Media Science; Dr. Katy Coduto, Assistant Professor, Media Science; Dr. Pablo Miño, Assistant Professor, Public Relations, and Dr. Emily Saidel, Lecturer, Television Studies. We also welcomed 3 new PhD student fellows: Nicole Hash, Dongpeng Huang, and Yihan "Danny" Jia.

Given the University’s commitment to involving students in research, the CRC once again had a busy semester in facilitating fellows’ efforts to recruit students as research participants via our SONA research participant management system. The SONA pool gives students an opportunity to become involved with various research activities across COM while earning course credit for doing so. This semester, 17 studies were conducted, recruiting students from 26 different COM courses to participate in 24 research opportunities.

Our fellows have also been using the CRC’s biometric technology which includes devices for measuring heart rate, sweat levels in the skin, and eye movements. Our Lab and Research Manager, Lindsy Goldberg, has been certified by iMotions on use of this technology and has hosted numerous classes and individual students for demonstrations of our iMotions equipment. She has offered workshops on biometrics in media effects research with specific modules on galvanic skin response, facial expression analysis, and eye tracking. A quick primer on demystifying biometrics is available here.

With the assistance of Master Lecturer Anne Danehy, the CRC continued its Media and Technology Survey highlighting the expertise of several of our fellows. The questions were administered by Ipsos, the market research company, using their eNation Omnibus, a nationally representative online survey that measures attitudes and opinions of 1,000 adults across the United States. We fielded one survey about artificial intelligence in the workplace, led by Dr. James E. Katz along with two PhD students, Ekaterina “Katya” Novozhilova and Dongpeng Huang. The other survey involved public perceptions of climate change, led by Dr. Arunima Krishna and Dr. Chris Wells.

The CRC hosted numerous events this fall. Our Colloquium Series, which originated in 2009, consists of monthly research presentations that highlight current and original research of faculty in COM. Our Fall Colloquium Speakers were Dr. Patrice Oppliger (September) and Dr. Charlotte Howell (October). Every semester, the CRC also invites a distinguished scholar from outside the university to share their outstanding scholarship, expertise, and experience with the BU community. Our Fall 2022 DeFleur Distinguished Lecturer was Dr. Sarah Banet-Weiser (University of Pennsylvania).  The CRC also co-sponsored a panel with COM’s Career Services on Careers in Communication Research. The panel included COM alumni discussing their current research jobs and offered tips to students about how to enter the burgeoning field of communication research.

I am incredibly grateful for the commitment and hard work of our staff this fall. Lindsy has been nothing short of outstanding in managing the CRC. She has been involved in every aspect of upkeeping the center, offering workshops on our technologies, overseeing technology and facility reservations, promoting the news and accomplishments of the CRC research fellows and our lecture series, overseeing the creation of this fall’s newsletter, and much more. Sadly, we are saying goodbye to our longtime graduate assistant, Jenna Vigre as she completes her MS in Advertising this semester. She has been a tremendous asset to the CRC with her creative design skills and assistance in promoting and administering our events. We wish you the best, Jenna, as you embark upon your professional career!

Finally, I will be on a much-anticipated research sabbatical in the Spring 2023 semester. The CRC will be in the very capable hands of Interim Director, Dr. Michael Elasmar, with Lindsy continuing as Lab and Research Manager. I will return as CRC Director in the fall of 2023.

I wish you all a joyous and restful holiday season.

Letter from the Director: October 2022

AI: Cause to Rejoice or Frankenstein-like Foreboding?

Artificial intelligence (or AI) has moved from science fiction to mainstream computer science. No longer is it simply the lore of Frankenstein-like creations but rather something that people use in their everyday lives. For instance, web searches using Google rely upon AI. So do the recommendation systems in Netflix and Spotify. If we command Siri or Alexa to do something for us, it is AI that allows them to understand our speech.

As AI advances, the possibilities of its partnering with humans on everyday tasks or even outright replacing humans are becoming increasingly realistic (e.g. self-driving cars). A recent COM Media & Technology Survey examined how the American public feels about AI replacing humans in certain professions. To gain a better understanding of what AI is and what the survey results reveal, I’ve turned to CRC fellows from our Division of Emerging Media Studies. Dr. James Katz is the Feld Professor of Emerging Media and Director of the Division. Ekaterina “Katya” Novozhilova and Dongpeng Huang are PhD students with research interests in AI.

When I asked what AI is, and why it is of interest to communication researchers, Katz explained:

AI is designed to do things that people can do, only much faster and also has its own kind of creativity and learning activities. As such it has the potential to transform society, and therefore is of interest to those of us who study society and its communication processes.

For Novozhilova, AI systems have become frequent human interlocutors. “From children talking with Siri/Alexa to the use of chatbots in therapy by teenagers and adults to the interaction with social robots in senior citizens' homes -- AI might become our lifetime conversational partner,” she said.

One of the things that intrigues Huang about artificial intelligence is that “it is not a living organism, yet it exhibits life-like qualities. AI is able to transmit information and even create information, which makes it a communicator and a social actor.”

When asked what aspects of AI their research examines, Katz indicated, “I am interested in understanding how the public perceives the benefits and risks of AI, and how they might wish to see policy towards AI changed or improved.” Both Novozhilova and Huang are interested in how the public perceives AI in various workplace settings. “Our current study hopes to understand how Americans feel about replacing humans with AI for a variety of jobs,” Huang said.

“Consistent with previous research,” Novozhilova explained, the survey results indicated that “women, people with less income, and older citizens are less welcoming of AI in various occupational roles.” Conversely, Huang added that “Men, minorities, and higher income groups are generally more open to AI replacing human jobs.”

Among the several professions examined in the survey, “the public was most inclined to see journalists replaced by AI compared to other professions,” said Katz. “To me, this suggests that people have reservations about the quality of human-based journalism in the current environment.”

The survey also asked about AI replacing certain religious occupations such as spiritual advisors and leaders of religious congregations. “AI is currently being adopted in various forms by religious congregations” noted Novozhilova. For instance, she said, “robot priests have been recently introduced in Germany, Japan, and Poland. As such, one avenue from which the decisions regarding the controversial employment of algorithms is coming from is religious ethics.” Added Huang, “The spiritual dimension is something we often think of as exclusively human. We wanted to see what the public would think when such a boundary is broken.”

The results revealed that, “Although people have some interest in having AI play a role in their religious lives, there was not a high degree of enthusiasm” explained Katz. Furthermore, observed Huang, “We were surprised to find that whether people were religious or not seemed to have nothing to do with their views on AI replacing religion-related jobs.”

Yet, the fact they found any interest at all suggests an under-explored dimension of technology in society. “It will be valuable to see if over time new generations begin to heavily seek spiritual guidance from AI entities” said Katz. “If so, this will be an historically unprecedented change in religious life.”

Letter from the Director: September 2022


Welcome to the Fall 2022 semester at COM’s Communication Research Center! As our fellows embark on another academic year, generating new knowledge through research and theory building, the CRC continues to facilitate these efforts to address society’s communication-related challenges.

Given Boston University’s commitment to involving students in research, the CRC will once again administer its SONA research participant pool facilitating fellows’ efforts to recruit students. The SONA pool gives students an opportunity to become involved with various research activities across COM while earning course credit for doing so. Instructors who are interested in including their courses in the Fall 2022 SONA pool should reach out to our Lab and Research Manager, Lindsy Goldberg at lindsyg@bu.edu.

Our fellows also have access to the CRC’s biometric technology which include devices for measuring heart rate, sweat levels in the skin, and eye movements. We have software for the experimental design, execution, and analysis of these psychophysiological measurements. Lindsy has been certified by iMotions on use of this technology and will be offering training workshops for interested students and faculty. For a quick primer on demystifying biometrics, you can read more here.

As a means to help fellows provide thought leadership, the CRC will be continuing its Media and Technology Survey. Monthly survey questions are administered by Ipsos, the market research company, using their eNation Omnibus, a nationally representative online survey that measures attitudes and opinions of 1,000 adults across the United States. We piloted the program in February 2022 on the topic of media trust. You can read the results here. If you have an idea for a topic for a future survey, please email me (mamazeen@bu.edu).

To engage our community, the CRC will be hosting numerous events this fall. Our Colloquium Series, which originated in 2009, consists of monthly research presentations that highlight current and original research of faculty in COM. We are pleased to announce our Fall Colloquium Speakers:

September – Dr. Patrice Oppliger (Thursday, September 22nd at 3:30 pm)
October – Dr. Charlotte Howell (Thursday, October 27th at 3:30pm)
November – Dr. Chris Chao Su (Friday, November 4th at 3:30pm)

Every semester, the CRC also invites a distinguished scholar from outside the university 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, the faculty members of the CRC have named the DeFleur Distinguished Lecture Series in his honor. We are pleased to announce that our Fall 2022 DeFleur Distinguished Lecturer will be Dr. Sarah Banet-Weiser who will be joining us on Wednesday, October 19th at 4:00 pm. More details about all our speakers and their topics are forthcoming.

We are also pleased to announce that the CRC will be co-sponsoring a panel with COM’s Career Services on Careers in Communication Research (Thursday, October 13th at 5:00 pm). The panel will include COM alumni discussing their current research jobs and offering tips to students about how to enter the burgeoning field of communication research.

Finally, the CRC has some new faces we would like to welcome. We have four new faculty research fellows:

Dr. Nivea Cannali Bona, Lecturer, Media Science
Dr. Katy Coduto, Assistant Professor, Media Science
Dr. Pablo Miño, Assistant Professor, Public Relations
Dr. Emily Saidel, Lecturer, Television Studies

We also have 3 new PhD student fellows:

Nicole Hash
Dongpeng Huang
Yihan "Danny" Jia

Returning on our staff this year with Lindsy is Jenna Vigre (MS in Advertising) as well as a new staff member Rachel Schlesinger (MS in Media Science).

Whether you are new to the CRC or a returning member we wish you a productive and satisfying semester filled with opportunities for growth and new learning.