Digital Media Consumption

National Communication AssociationConsumption of online media is a hot topic in the study of digital literacies and at NCA 2011, the annual meeting of the National Communication Association occurring this week in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This morning, I had the pleasure of responding to competitive research surrounding the topics of Facebook, social networking and online media consumption. I’ve incorporated my responses into this blog post in hopes that the presenters can have this resource for their writing and to inspire further research avenues in digital and media literacy.

From Loving the Hero to Despising the Villain: Sports Fans, Facebook, and Social Identity Threats
James Sanderson, Arizona State University

Capturing months of data from a Facebook group entitled, “Get Out of Our City Brian Kelly,” this content-based research identifies fan reactions to a social identity threat (an event that could be damaging to a group’s sense of self). In this case, that threat was the sudden resignation of a winning football coach, Brian Kelly, at the University of Cincinnati.

Sanderson’s excellent review of research in this area makes the case for viewing Facebook as a gathering site for groups. Through an extensive content analysis, he identifies five particular response categories related to threat response on this site: rallying, stigmatizing, victimization, intimidation, and degradation. While I was reading the selected comments left in this Facebook group, I was shocked by the comments of these fans. Many were vile and vulgar, vitriolic and reprehensible. The author spends some time discussing the comments from the vantage point of misogyny and homophobia, but never as simply hateful.

As our society invests in online group participation and response, I am left wondering what our role as researchers is. Should we document instances like this one or should we find ways to ask our fellow citizens to move from participation (kind, hateful, or otherwise) toward real, tangible contribution to a conversation. Perhaps the answer is both.
Sanderson’s expose of this behavior is well-constructed and thoughtful, with the ability to move us forward as we consider fan communication, digital literacy, and civility.

‘Tell Me What Company Thou Keepest, and I’ll Tell Thee What Thou Art’- Homophilious Relationships on Facebook
Mia Fischer, University of Missouri, and Amanda Ruth-McSwain, College of Charleston

So-called social media gurus and rockstars have often suggested that Facebook connects us with people we already know whereas Twitter connects us with those we want to know. This anecdotal claim might suggest that the authors are right: if we explore Facebook, we might find that people who like each other in real life tend to like each other online. So, our tendency to surround ourselves with like others in real life would be evident in the digital world.

In this exploratory study, Fischer and Ruth-McSwain set out to identify if that evidence exists. The study examines Facebook profiles and their similarities to the profiles of their friends. The researchers identified several classes of homophily (profile-friend similarity) including age, education, employment, facebook uses, network size, nationality and ethnicity, religious and political affiliation, and sexual orientation. Even though the researchers admit that their study is only exploratory, these classes of similarity can advance our thinking about online connections.

One of the limitations of this study is that a user’s assessed Facebook friend profiles were selected in an alphabetical order. This methodology might limit the type of diversity found in the sample (for example, last names are often culturally or ethnically based, in a way that could create issues for an analysis of the first 10 Facebook friends in an alphabetic list).
Nevertheless, the authors successfully attempt to explore and expand our understanding of Facebook as a tool for connection between and among people.

Facebook, Blogs, and Fake News: Teens Seek News with Attitude
Regina Marchi, Rutgers

The fact that the youth of America prefer The Daily Show and the Colbert Rapport to traditional broadcast news programming may come as no shock to many citizens. But, teens’ rationale for this preference might surprise us. Marchi’s investigation into teen news consumption is at once revealing and thought-provoking.

Teens interviewed in her study reported feeling that major television networks repeatedly “force-feed” them the same news in the same format. Conversely, satirical news options made the news relevant to them. Moreover, the satire acted as a catalyst for teens to seek out multiple sources with varying ideas about the topic addressed. This subtle difference between serving as a filter for consumption and serving as a catalyst for engagement with multiple perspectives might be an interesting angle for this paper, or future research, to address more deeply.

How might mainstream news sources learn from the preferences of these teens? Marchi suggests that, at the least, producers need to be paying attention to the changing landscape of personal news.

Talking about the YouTube Indians: Images of Native Americans and Viewer Comments on a Viral Video Site
Maria A. Kopacz and Bessie L. Lawton, West Chester University

Native American portrayals on YouTube and their resulting comment feeds were assessed in this study to determine what factors influence the tone of viewer comments. Based in thier review of relevant research, the authors utilize existing media stereotypes to characterize the videos and assess user-generated responses. It might be interesting, in this case, to also look at author intent. Perhaps the case could be made that the tags placed on the video could be suggestive of author intent. Combined with user-response, research can give a broader picture about responses to these videos.

Whereas many of the responses to videos in this study are positive, the majority are reportedly negative. Again, I am left wondering how this type of user-participation in media might be honed into a contribution to media making. Using this data, the public relations approach of educating an audience is rightly addressed in this study and well-justified. As the authors note, accurate information should and can be presented alongside stereotypical information. The question remains: will people respond? And, if they do, will their responses to accurate information contribute to a productive conversation?

Is Public the New Private? A First Look at Multitasking and Online Video
Lara Zwarun and Alice E. Hall, University of Missouri – St. Louis

“Results may not always be what the researcher expects.” Zwarun and Hall are surprised by their findings in this study, and their findings suggest that the ways we immerse ourselves in media are changing. The real story here is in the relationship between public space and media immersion. In public spaces, viewers indicated that they were less distracted and more immersed in media than did their counterparts who viewed the same media in a private space.

This study, which was conducted primarily among college students raises all kinds of questions about media use and its relationship to demographics, socio-economic status, generational divides, and access to multiple forms of technology. I wonder if future research into online video viewing could control viewing in some way or seek out different demographics that may (or may not) be likely to access online information in different ways.

The chair for this panel, Thomas Ksiasek of Villanova University, is a perennial NCA presenter and I enjoyed hearing him speak at NCA two years ago on his own research.

The timely, current nature of these excellent studies leaves me concerned about the publication timeline imposed on academic research. I hope that these papers can continue to advance the field, but the field of digital and media literacy is moving faster than our current publication model. As we continue to do this type of research, we may find ourselves pushing the boundaries of academic publication – not from the perspective of quality, but rather from the angle of currency.

What are your thoughts?

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