Final Website Reflection

Over the course of the semester, I made several changes to my website. One thing I continually adjusted was my menu layout and menu titles. This was a struggle for me because I wasn’t sure how to categorize some of the class’s content due to the wide variation of topics and assignments. Ultimately, I chose four categories: Extra Credit, Blog Posts, Final Project, and Creative Project. I also revised the order in which the class content appeared on my website. I utilized my Home page as one massive timeline of all my course work. I used the other pages on my site as more specialized timelines. For example, if you click on my Creative Project menu item, you can see every step I took to produce my creative project from the proposal to the final draft. These appear back to back without any unrelated assignments to effectively show my creative project’s evolution. One last change I made was to have my posts show the actual date they were published instead of the predicted reading time. It took me a while to figure this out because the problem was embedded deep within WordPress.

I think my website turned out pretty well. My original goal was to create a platform with a simplistic design that was easy to navigate and visually appealing. I believe that my website accomplishes this to a large extent. I personalized it not to be too flashy. This allows for people to appreciate the actual substance of my posts. I made it easy to navigate so someone could easily find a specific assignment and see where it fit into the overall course. I will say that my website to some extent falls short in terms of the visually appealing aspect. I couldn’t figure out how to remove the category titles at the top of my pages, which was disappointing and very frustrating.

However, I do use a variety of GIFS (as demonstrated above) and images in attempt to compensate for this visual blunder. I will say that making a website is much harder than I thought it would be. I did not think I would encounter as many little problems as I did. An example of this was when my posts did not show their published date. Luckily, I solved this and many other problems I encountered over the course of the semester.

In the future, I plan to use this website to show my WordPress skills and technological expertise. This experience taught me how much work goes into making websites. I feel like sometimes we forget how much thought, time, and programming goes into different forms of digital media that we use daily. It was weird to be on the other side of that but also satisfying to see the long-term result of a semester’s worth of work. The process of making a website also reinforced several of the course concepts. For example, I couldn’t help but think about Murray’s “Four Affordances of the Digital Medium” as I was putting my website together. I also kept thinking about the ways authors present information to consumers. I didn’t realize how much thought goes into planning the viewer experience and anticipating their thought process. This connects to almost every unit we’ve studied like the social media and meme culture units. Ultimately, I’m leaving this class feeling confident about my WordPress abilities and thrilled that I developed a skill that could assist me in a future career path.

Creative Project

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6coD-Z5c3s

Artistic Statement

For my creative project, I conducted four interviews and edited them together using iMovie to show how college students use Twitter and the pervasiveness of political echo chambers on different forms of social media. I wanted to understand my participant’s thoughts on political echo chambers and determine whether their social media accounts resemble political echo chambers. I asked my participants questions about their ideology and their social media accounts, and I put them through an artificial simulation where they had to rank their degree of interest in following various partisan groups, politicians, and commentators. The goal of my creative project was to shed light on how college students use Twitter in terms of news versus entertainment purposes and to see whether political echo chambers exist in my sample.

The main takeaway from my creative project is that almost all my participants don’t use Twitter or other forms of social media to get their news, which effectively nullifies the potentially alienating impact of political echo chambers on social media. However, my participants did express that they are frequently exposed to radical news on social media and their followers/who they follow on Twitter match their political ideology. The questions I asked were intended to highlight the level of consciousness college students have over the political content they are exposed to on social media while still revealing their potential biases. The simulation I put my participants through revealed that ideological preferences play a role in the content people are exposed to on social media. However, ideological preferences were not the sole determiner of whether my participants followed certain accounts. My topic connects well to our course content because it covers a digital medium that is having a monumental impact on politics and American culture at large. My creative project further speaks to the potential implications regarding the cultural impact of political echo chambers on social media and people’s ability to discern between fact and fiction.

Rough Draft of Research Essay

The rise of social media organizations like Twitter and Facebook has changed the way consumers get their news. Today, political commentators, news organizations, and politicians routinely utilize social media to, in essence, break the fourth wall. These platforms have become an avenue for them to effectively communicate information to niche audiences and promote their interest. This has prompted many Americans to utilize social media sites as an easy, low-cost way to get their news. However, there is a general societal concern that individuals will restrict themselves to information that aligns with their pre-existing views. In other words, they could create their own personal echo chambers which in turn will alienate them and further exacerbate the partisan divide within the United States. This work will evaluate the evolution of social media organizations as news resources, the existence of political echo chambers across various platforms, the role of social media algorithms in the creation of echo chambers, the spread of viral misinformation, and the current state of social media regulation.

The Pew Research center recently conducted a study that analyzed the increasing role of social media in delivering the news. They found that three out of ten adults regularly get their news from social media (Pew Research Center, 1). This affirms that social media has become a part of many individual’s news diets. However, consumers still have a variety of opinions regarding the amount of control social media organizations have over their feeds, the quality of the content, and the possible biases behind the information they are exposed to. A majority of Americans feel that social media companies have too much control over the content they are exposed to and 55% of them believe that their control results in a worse mix of news (Pew Research Center, 1). The Pew Research Center also surveyed people from different ideological backgrounds and found that Republicans are generally more skeptical of the information they encounter on social media than Democrats. When asked to elaborate on this, many cited that social media companies favor certain news organizations and tend to present partisan coverage. These findings are invaluable because user-customized content is supposed to be the major appeal of social media. These results reveal a substantial degree of skepticism from the American public, but it evidently has not stopped them from using their social media accounts as current event resources. 

In response to the 2016 election, there has been a public outcry for the FCC to regulate social media websites because of the viral spread of misinformation. According to The Guardian, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook had record instances of “computational propaganda” (Howard and Kollanyi, 1). Interestingly, most of these occurrences happened in states that President Trump won by 2%. This reveals that individuals can target vulnerable communities and ultimately manipulate them by propagating falsehoods. Petter Törnberg offers support for this claim in his book, “Echo Chambers and Viral Misinformation.” He argues that political echo chambers are prone to manipulation from outside forces because of their viral nature. He says, “An echo chamber has the same effect as a dry pile of tinder in the forest; it provides the fuel for an initial small flame, that can spread to larger sticks, branches, trees, to finally engulf the forest” (Törnberg, 2). Many have called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate social media organizations. The FCC is an independent agency that regulates interstate communication mediums like radio, television, and cable (FCC, 1). However, social media websites are exempt from the FCC’s jurisdiction because of their unique distinction as technology companies. Also, there are several 1st Amendment issues when it comes to regulating a person’s speech on social media. That being said, many claim that an entity can revoke their right to free speech if it is a hazard to the public interest. The debate over regulating social media will range on, and while it does, “fake news” will continue to spread. 

Citations:

Kollanyi, Philip Howard and Bence. “Social Media Companies Must Respond to the Sinister Reality behind Fake News.” The Guardian, Guardian News, and Media, 30 Sept. 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/sep/30/social-media-companies-fake-news-us-election?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other.

Shearer, Elisa, and Elizabeth Grieco. “Americans Are Wary of the Role Social Media Sites Play in Delivering the News.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, 2 Oct. 2019, https://www.journalism.org/2019/10/02/americans-are-wary-of-the-role-social-media-sites-play-in-delivering-the-news/.

The FCC. “What We Do.” Federal Communications Commission, 10 July 2017, https://www.fcc.gov/about-fcc/what-we-do.

Törnberg, Petter. “Echo Chambers and Viral Misinformation: Modeling Fake News as Complex Contagion.” Plos One, vol. 13, no. 9, 20 Sept. 2018, pp. 1–21. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0203958.

Revised Personal Essay

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for politics and journalism. I largely attribute this to my mom. She was a CNN anchor, which meant that by the transitive property, the news was a staple in my childhood. Any car ride, much to my dismay at the time, was filled with what I referred to as the “tired” voices of National Public Radio. Today, in contrast to my youth, I actively consume the news by choice. My walks to Emory’s campus consist of The NPR Politics Podcast and The Daily. I’ve even had people over to watch political events like the most recent Democratic Debate. It has gotten to the point where my friends have started to refer to me as a “news junkie.” This is not a new term to me because I would use it to describe every member of my family. My family is so politically engaged that our family dinner conversations revolve around current events. My oldest brother, Elliot, was a Political Science Major at the University of Miami, while Connor, my other brother, studied marketing at the University of Southern California and wants to work on political campaigns. Hence, I’ve always been engaged with politics by simply living in my household. However, it wasn’t until this past year that I started to develop my own beliefs and adopt a more active role in my family’s political discussions. 

I attribute this recent evolution to my internship at MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. It was an amazing opportunity where I was able to gain production and journalism experience. I also was ridiculously aware of political current events because one of my jobs was to monitor the stories covered by competitor news programs. Every day, I was exposed to so many different types of stories and viewpoints, which allowed me to expand my knowledge and further develop my own opinions. I would leave 30 Rockefeller Center wanting to engage in political conversations with my family instead of merely listening to what everyone had to say. Before my internship, I couldn’t help but feel insecure about my political knowledge because everyone at the dinner table was seemingly an expert on all things politics. One summer at Morning Joe did not make me an expert on politics, but it did force me to actively engage with the news cycle. This made me more cognizant of political issues and the different news sources people get their information from. I found that many members of my family were not being exposed to a lot of the information presented on conservative news shows. This made me interested in the ideology behind news resources, how they present their content, and its impact on consumer viewpoints. 

I learned quickly that Morning Joe and MSNBC as whole covers stories that cater to a more liberal base. This means that there is an abundance of focus on content about President Donald Trump. When I was working at Morning Joe, I had to make a Twitter so that I could keep up with his activity and the other news of the day. I initially thought that I would solely be following people like President Trump, but instead, I ended up following a wide variety of organizations and people with different agendas and political backgrounds. The assortment of people and groups that I follow on Twitter allowed me to keep up to date on breaking news and effectively do my job. I was surprised by how the news industry is going through a kind of metamorphosis due to the rise of social media platforms and the wide-spread participation of political figures, journalists, and political commentators. I remember thinking that social media is making it even easier for people like my family to limit the news they are exposed to. 

Today, my Twitter account has become one of my main news resources. Because of the circumstances for which I created my Twitter, my feed is 99% politics. This situation doesn’t apply to most users feeds, however, the Pew Research center found that a growing number of Americans use social media platforms as news resources. I find this intriguing because who you follow on Twitter determines the information you see. For example, I would identify myself as a Democrat. Nothing is stopping me from creating my own echo chamber by only following liberal news sources that reaffirm my political beliefs. However, my Twitter feed does not reflect my political beliefs because I had to follow a wide array of news sources. In addition to several liberal news sources, like CNN and Morning Joe, I also follow a wide variety of conservative news shows such as Fox and Friends and conservative political commentators like Tomi Lahren. Thus, I would argue that my Twitter feed is not an echo chamber because I am not only exposed to beliefs that reaffirm my own. Although there are times when Tomi Lahren’s opinions upset me, I continue to follow her because it is important to listen to what conservative entities are saying, and honestly I didn’t have a choice when I was working. However, many Americans don’t like to listen to opinions they disagree with and they do have a choice regarding what information they follow.

In conclusion, my upbringing and experience at Morning Joe have had a monumental impact on my interest in politics. My family made political conversations a part of everyday life, which prepared me for my time at Morning Joe. While there, I gained invaluable knowledge of the news cycle and a greater perspective on where people get their news. This experience made me re-evaluate where my family members get their news and the impact this has had on their beliefs. The experience also exposed me to the partisan nature of different news resources and the newfound dependence on social media as a news resource. This had made me question the potentially restrictive impact social media could have on our society. Ultimately, I believe that my personal experiences have made me interested in the degree to which social media echo chambers exist and the possible impact that they are having on our society’s current political climate. 

Creative Project Rough Draft

For my creative project, I’m going to interview four individuals about their social media usage with a focus on Twitter. My objective is to get a gage on the information they are exposed to on social media and whether they restrict themselves to new sources that align with their pre-existing beliefs. In other words, I want to see if their social media accounts are political echo chambers. I also want to find out their thoughts on social media as a news resource, the degree to which they think political echo chambers exist, and their ideas for possible solutions to the spread of political misinformation through echo chambers. I have selected four Emory students with different Twitter backgrounds and varying degrees of interest in politics. This is a crucial piece of my project because it is important to recognize that not all consumers use Twitter and other forms of social media for the same purpose and share the same level of interest in politics. Hence, I tried to incorporate four different kinds of users in terms of why they got Twitter and their political ideology.

Below are descriptions of my participants, their Twitter accounts, and some answers to my preliminary questions. Following their descriptions, I have a list of questions I intend to ask them. After I interview them, I will conduct a lightning round where I ask participants to rank their level of interest in following specific Twitter accounts. I need to do this because some of my participants don’t follow that many political figures on social media. The lightning round will combat this by putting my participants in a hypothetical situation where they will construct their own political social media network. I then will evaluate their network’s level of partisanship and see if it resembles an echo chamber and aligns with the participant’s political ideology. It is important to note that many Americans do not follow a vast array of political figures. Therefore, I would argue that my sample accurately represents many members of the American population.

Participants

Natalie Frazier

Year: Junior

Handle: @natalie_fraz19

Major: Women and Gender Studies

Degree of Interest in Politics (1-5, 1 being not interested, 5 being very interested): 4

When did you get a Twitter: 2014

Reason for getting Twitter: Entertainment/Memes

Notable people/groups followed: Barack Obama, Anderson Cooper 360, Fallon Tonight

Katherine Heyde

Year: Junior

Handle: @KatherineHeyde

Major: Math and Economics

Degree of Interest in Politics (1-5, 1 being not interested, 5 being very interested): 3

When did you get a Twitter: 2015

Reason for getting Twitter: Entertainment/Engagement in Pop Culture

Notable people/groups followed: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders

Noah Cosimano

Year: Junior

Handle: @noah_cw

Major: Political Psychology and Media

Degree of Interest in Politics (1-5, 1 being not interested, 5 being very interested): 5

When did you get a Twitter: 2015

Reason for getting Twitter: Politics/Current Events

Notable people/groups followed: Joe Biden, GOP Teens, Stephen Colbert

Holly Shan

Year: Junior

Handle: hollyshan_

Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Degree of Interest in Politics (1-5, 1 being not interested, 5 being very interested): 2

When did you get a Twitter: 2015

Notable people/groups followed: N/A, does not follow any political accounts

Questions

Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum (1-10, 1 being extremely conservative, 10 being extremely liberal)?

Would you say the people you follow on Twitter reflect your political ideology? Why or why not?

Would you say a majority of your followers belong to particular political ideology?

Would you consider your account to be a political echo chamber? Why or why not?

Are you every exposed to radical news on social media and if so does it make you uncomfortable?

Are you happy with the level of control you have over the content you are exposed to over social media? Why or why not?

Do you think a majority of people restrict themselves to political echo chambers?

Do you think political echo chambers pose a threat to our democracy?

Would you consider Twitter or other forms of social media a viable news resource? Why or why not?

Should the federal government play a role in regulating misinformation spread in political echo chambers?

Do you think our generations usage of Twitter and other forms of social media can improve levels of political engagement?

Excluding Twitter, where do you get your news from?

Lightning Round of Questions

I will list political figures, commentators, and organizations and ask participants to tell me their degree of interest on a scale from 1 (being not interested) to 5 (being very interested) in following them.

Note: answers will be left out if they do not know that individual/group is.    

List of accounts:

The NRA

Donald Trump

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Tomi Lahren

Tucker Carlson

Nancy Pelosi

Rachel Meadow

Anderson Cooper

Bill O’Reilly

Mitch McConnell

Fox and Friends

Morning Joe

CNN

Ann Coulter

Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Safety In America

Creative Project Proposal

At this point, I’m not entirely sure what I want to do for my creative project. One idea I had was to conduct a series of interviews asking people about the news content they are exposed to on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. I would ask them questions like do you use social media as a news resource, what organizations/people do you follow, and where would you place yourself and the people you interact with on the political spectrum? Following these preliminary questions, I want to investigate their thoughts on political echo chambers and if they feel that they restrict themselves to opinions that align with their own. This part is going to be tricky because I must get a gage on the information they actually encounter and the information they want to encounter on social media. First, I would examine the political figures that they engage with on social media platforms. If there is not enough content in the people or groups they follow, then I plan to list an ideologically diverse group of political figures, commentators, and news organizations. I will then ask my participants to rank their level of interest in following them. Some examples would be President Donald Trump, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, Bill O’Reilly, CNN, and Fox News. This way I could discover the degree to which they limit themselves to partisan information and how much they want to. I would present my findings in a video using iMovie, which is the part of the creative project that I’m most excited about. I want to take any opportunity I can to gain more experience editing and working with graphics.

Regarding a timeline, I plan to get my interviews done by November 15th. This will give me plenty of time to edit the content and meet the required deadline. I have already lined up participants with a diverse array of political viewpoints, varying levels of interest in politics, and different degrees of social media use. I think it’s so important that my five or six participants are diverse to avoid sampling bias. When I put together the video, I plan to present the best moments from my interviews as a highlight reel to keep viewers engaged. Ultimately, I’m excited about this project and hope I’m able to produce an insightful piece on social media echo chambers.

Extra Credit #2

On October 24th, I attended Dr. Aubrey Anable’s talk on the “Domestic Interface and Queer Time in Gone Home.” Dr. Aubrey Anable is an Assistant Professor at Carlton University and is the author of Playing with Feelings: Video Games and Affect. She began her presentation by playing the video game Gone Home. Gone Home is a first-person exploration game where players adopt the perspective of Kaitlin, a study abroad student that has just returned home from school. She visits her friend Sam’s house only to find out that she has disappeared and a note saying not to look into the matter. The player then attempts to solve the mystery by searching the house and interacting with many different objects. Through environmental storytelling, it is revealed that Sam had a secret lesbian relationship. Dr. Anable went on to discuss the methods by which the video game tells the story and the critical responses to the game. She talked about the domestic interface and how the only way to solve the mystery is to interact with the objects in the house. However, many critiques of the game revolve around the storyteller’s control of the story and its linearity. For example, many of the doors in the house are locked and some of the objects lead to less important secondary storylines. This aspect of the game caused many to question whether it is a video game and it’s “queerness.” I didn’t like how many critics said that Gone Home was not an actual video game. As Dr. Allison argued, the core of video games is interacting with objects to achieve a goal. Ultimately, I learned more about how video games connect to Murray’s four affordances of the digital medium and different video game perspectives.