[Published] A return to real social networking

Reconnecting is hugely important, not only to our economy but to our sense of community and understanding of people around us. This summer is going to be about getting back to the things that we love. But it can also be about correcting some of the bad communication habits we’ve fallen into that have left us feeling out of touch and even angry at the world outside.

I wrote for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette twice in 2020, both columns about how the COVID-19 pandemic created an unhealthy communication environment prone to misinformation and animosity.

Now that Arkansas and America are returning to normal, I wanted to write something to remind us of the community beyond our screens and encourage real social networking – even if we might be a little rusty. The piece relies on theory and research into social identity, relational maintenance, community structure, and affective dimensions of partisanship and trust.

Read the column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

See more of my media appearances here.

[Quoted] A president inaugurated; another deplatformed

Media research and comms professor Dylan McLemore tweeted this on Tuesday night, and I think it was spot-on. “I know he has a few more hours,” McLemore tweeted, “but it feels like Donald Trump’s presidency ended when his Twitter account was taken away.”

As Joe Biden was set to be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, his predecessor – capable of dominating a media cycle like no other – had become largely silent.

I appeared on Al Jazeera English shortly after the insurrection to talk about Donald Trump’s social media ban, and noted that as president, he continued to possess one of the largest platforms of any person on earth. And yet, in the final weeks of his presidency, he really didn’t use it. Without the ability to tweet stream of consciousness from his phone, the president’s press shop basically called it a term.

I appreciate Brian Stelter fitting the observation into a very busy news day.

Read the entire CNN Reliable Sources newsletter here.

See more of my media appearances here.

Online exam cheating? Don’t spy on your students; make better tests

The COVID-19 pandemic means more online exams than ever before. But privacy shouldn’t be sacrificed for academic integrity.

Cheating on exams is the biggest academic integrity concern for online classes. Schools and universities have invested in all sorts of security measures, from ineffective lockdown browsers to webcam monitoring that students call “an invasion of privacy.”

Requiring a lockdown browser and webcam surveillance isn’t just overkill for academic integrity, it’s invasive and discriminatory toward low-income students. That’s because those security measures often run into compatibility issues with older computers and Chromebooks, the most common budget laptop.

Automated surveillance also reinforces stigma that make students apprehensive about participating in online education. Don’t have the luxury of a quiet room to attend online classes? Does being home mean you’re responsible for taking care of family members coming in and out of your camera shot? Automated systems will flag those circumstances as suspicious, spiking anxiety in an already anxious time. Faculty can override them, but that still means applying extra scrutiny to students who have done nothing to warrant it.

I don’t require webcam surveillance on account of the compatibility issues and – let’s be honest – the creepiness of the whole thing. Nor do I require a lockdown browser when most students have an unlocked smartphone sitting right next to them.

The solution doesn’t have to be a surveillance state. Teachers have plenty of less intrusive options when it comes to exam settings, and the style of the assessment itself.

Continue reading “Online exam cheating? Don’t spy on your students; make better tests”

[Quoted] America’s problems are real, but the news coverage needs to keep it in proportion

This is classic cultivation theory in mass communication — we see clips of violence, overestimate the prevalence of that violence, and it triggers psychological defense mechanisms to protect ourselves and our side.

Conor Friedersdorf is one of my favorite libertarians to read. He made this remark on Twitter after a summer of unrest captured on video:

It made me immediately think of George Gerbner’s cultivation theory. It’s an especially valuable teaching moment when mass communication theories from decades ago find newfound relevance on the smartphones in students’ hands today.

My thanks to Brian Stelter for giving an old media theory some new life.

Read the full story at CNN.

See more of my media appearances here.

[Quoted] Facebook advertising boycott: Campaign harming brand but not bottom line of media giant

“It’s low-stakes advocacy with high goodwill upside. These companies aren’t big Facebook spenders, and are only committing to suspend advertising through July. For wanderlust brands, pulling adverts when much of the world isn’t traveling makes sense apart from a boycott.”

Social media companies have come under increasing pressure to cut down on the amount of hate speech that circulates on their platforms. “Stop Hate for Profit” is one such movement, and it gained steam when a series of prominent outdoors brands, including North Face and Patagonia, announced they were pulling their advertising from Facebook.

At the risk of sounding cynical, this seems like an easy play for brands that were already cutting back on ad spending in a pandemic. But that doesn’t mean it can’t garner those companies some good PR, and if enough big spenders join the publicity party, it could potentially put a tiny dent in Facebook’s ad revenue. But when that’s the core of your business model… it’s an emerging crisis worth watching.

The boycotts have already proven to be excellent PR for the early-adopting brands, which may be the biggest encouragement for others to join the cause. We’ve seen study after study the past few years indicating that American consumers, especially the sought after 18-34 demo, want brands to engage in corporate advocacy.

Side note, it was really cool to appear alongside Matt Navarra in this piece. Matt’s one of my favorite voices for smart social media commentary. Follow him on Twitter.

Thanks to William Turvill for reaching out, and bearing with my wonky email client on deadline.

Read the full story in the U.K. Press Gazette.

See more of my media appearances here.

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