Sociologists’ Experiment Finds Large Effects From Small News Outlets

Jason Alcorn (@jasonalcorn),  MediaShift .

This article was originally published by MediaShift

Even small publishers have a large effect on the national discourse, according to a new paper published in Science on the effects of news. “Exposure to the news media,” the study states, “causes Americans to take public stands on specific issues, join national policy conversations, and express themselves publicly.”

The research aims to quantify the effect of news media. Put in terms that are increasingly common when talking about journalism: What is the impact of news organizations?

The act of publishing news is influential in still-surprising and robust ways.

The study by Harvard professor Gary King and collaborators found that a few, mostly small news outlets publishing simultaneously in a broad area of public policy concern increased the volume of conversation on social media by 19 percent the day after publication. Over a full week, the volume was increased 63 percent relative to the average day’s volume. The number of unique authors increased as well, and the composition of opinion changed in the direction of the published articles.

News outlets it appears, even in the face of social media algorithms, the echo chambers of political polarization and a barrage of digital information, have a profound and measurable effect on national discourse.

On of the challenges with research on media impact is the lack of control researchers have over the publication of news itself. You can’t exactly randomize the news. The need to maintain editorial independence and the timeliness of reporting means there have been relatively few large-scale, controlled experiments attempting to experimentally measure the effect of news media.

The research team found a way around this by actually collaborating with news outlets, using the first three years of the five-year study to build trust. “Frankly, when we began talks with the researchers in 2012, what they required seemed impossible,” Media Consortium executive director Jo Ellen Green Kaiser wrote on MetricShift in 2016. However, the researchers began attending industry conferences and worked with the Media Consortium to test the experiment with a small group of participants.

In the end, the study recruited 48 news outlets who agreed, in small groups, to publish at the same time on a broad policy area agreed-to beforehand and typical of the the outlets regular coverage. The 11 policy areas were race, immigration, jobs, abortion, climate, food policy, water, education policy, refugees, domestic energy production and reproductive rights. The media outlets retained full control over what was published, as well as the option to opt-out at any time. (A list of outlets that participated fully in the experiment is available in an appendix to the report.)

For their part, the researchers picked a two-week publication window when they expected a slow news cycle and randomized the publication date to either the first week or the second week. They then were able to measure and compare changes in the volume and composition of conversation on Twitter between the publication week and the control week.

Jason Alcorn (@jasonalcorn) is the Metrics Editor for MediaShift and an independent consultant working with non-profits, newsrooms and philanthropy.

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Catalans Protest Against Madrid Government’s Authoritarianism

Around three-quarters of a million Catalans have marched to demand the release of local politicians arrested for their role in the drive for independence.

catalans-640x480

Spain’s central government has dissolved the Catalan parliament, dismissed the Catalan government, and imposed direct rule following the region’s unilateral declaration of independence on October 27th.

This followed a self-determination referendum which the Spanish authorities deemed illegal and attempted to shut down violently, with the blessing of the European Union’s ruling bodies.

Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia’s ex-president — or president-in-exile, depending on your point of view — had given some indication that he would ignore Madrid’s attempts to terminate his administration and remain in post, but fled to Brussels, Belgium when the authorities closed in.

Several of those who remained behind have been arrested to face charges of rebellion and sedition, with eight former Catalan government ministers and the leaders of the Catalan National Assembly and Omnium Cultural jailed while investigations continue.

Protestors say the detainees are “political prisoners”, and flooded the Avenue Marina to hear speeches from their family members and demand their release.

Facebook Exec Warns “God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Kids’ Brains”

Sean Parker, who as a student collaborated with Mark Zuckerberg to found Facebook and was its first corporate president has been in confessional mood about the lack of ethical awareness the tech billionaires shared. Parker, 38, was uncharacteristically honest about the privacy stealing social media site the pair created. In an interview with Axios he confessed the site was designed to hook people in ways that can have a detrimental effect on cognitive skills. So much so in fact he predicted, jokingly, that Mark Zuckerberg will probably block his account.

former Facebook exec Sean Parker
Sean Parker – image soure Zero Hedge

Here’s a sample of what Parker was talking about:

Confirming every ‘big brother’ conspiracy there is about the social media giant, Parker explained how social networks purposely hook users and potentially hurt our brains…

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'”

“And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

“The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

In this ‘confessional’, it appears Parker has become “something of a conscientious objector” on social media.

Howeever , as Axios notes, Parker ends with just enough crazy to make you wonder…

“Because I’m a billionaire, I’m going to have access to better health care so … I’m going to be like 160 and I’m going to be part of this, like, class of immortal overlords. [Laughter]

Because, you know the [Warren Buffett] expression about compound interest. … [G]ive us billionaires an extra hundred years and you’ll know what … wealth disparity looks like.”

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