School's Research Earns National Media Coverage

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The Ohio State University School of Communication has lived up to its No. 1 communication research program ranking this academic year, with faculty publishing research featured by some of the nation’s most prominent media outlets.

Politics and social media, and how these two impact one another, were some of the most prevalent topics professors and graduate students in the School published research on over the past year.

“As one of the leading communication research programs in the world, we have a special responsibility to help shed light on the extraordinary impact of the Internet and social media on our society, particularly on political processes in democracies,” said director Dr. Michael Slater in his letter published in this issue.

Major media outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, have featured this research, establishing faculty from the School of Communication as national experts on these subjects. School of Communication faculty will also be among the first to examine private Facebook data to study the effect of social media on democracy as one of 12 recipients of research grants announced in April.

POLITICAL “FAKE NEWS” AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Associate Professor Erik Nisbet’s research on the impact of false information on voting behavior in the 2016 presidential election was featured in a New York Times column by opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg and in a Washington Post article about Russia’s efforts targeting Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Nisbet, along with Professors Emeriti Richard Gunther and Paul A. Beck from the Department of Political Science, conducted a survey asking respondents to rate the accuracy of a series of political statements. The researchers found that believing a fake news story made people who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 significantly less likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Associate Professor Kelly Garrett’s research about social media’s contributions to political misperceptions in presidential elections was featured in a U.S. News and World Report article, explaining that social media did not play as large a role in influencing people’s opinions as the general public believes it did.

"The reason this research is important is that it's telling us it's not all about fake news and social media,” Garrett told U.S. News and World Report. “People are more complicated than that."

Additionally, Associate Professor David DeAndrea, Assistant Professor Robert Bond and PhD student Megan Vendemia published an article in Computers in Human Behavior about how user comments affect how political messages are evaluated on social media. Through an online experiment, they obscured political affiliations of online sources to see how this influenced how users evaluate the political messages they share through social media. Results found that policy organizations that delete social media comments, and the commenters affiliated with these organizations, were less trusted and endorsed.

OTHER POLITICAL RESEARCH
Not all political research published this past year has been about online disinformation. Assistant Professor Hillary Shulman published research focused on political communication and human behavior. Shulman and PhD student Matthew Sweitzer analyzed over two million survey questions used by top polling firms in the 2016 election and found the difficulty of the words used in these questions varied significantly between questions and polling firms. Their experiment, published in Public Opinion Quarterly, found that as the language used in questions becomes more difficult, the quality of data obtained declined.

Other political research highlights include a study from Shulman, Bond and PhD student Michael Gilbert published in the International Journal of Communication about political conversations and a study from Professors Amy Nathanson and William “Chip” Eveland published in Communication Monographs about parental behavior in the 2016 election.

SOCIAL MEDIA
Ohio State School of Communication research on social media’s impact outside of politics has also earned national media coverage. An experiment from DeAndrea and Vendemia examined how certain features of images shared on social media impact young adult female users. They found that women who view thin and sexualized selfies online can be negatively affected; however, the more female viewers perceive an image as edited, the less likely they are to internalize a thin ideal. This research was highlighted in articles published by Yahoo and the New York Post.

An article published on Business Insider featured research from Assistant Professor Joseph Bayer about Snapchat and its impact on users’ moods. The article was refuting a claim from Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel that Instagram makes people feel “terrible” and Snapchat does not. Bayer’s research on Facebook usage and mood was also included in the article.

WHAT’S NEXT?
The School of Communication Director Michael Slater said the school is launching a set of new collaborative research initiatives that will combine the talents of various faculty members to address important social questions and problems. In one of these, Garrett and Bond will conduct a series of surveys asking Americans about their beliefs about news stories that generate the most engagement on social media, including stories from both reliable and unreliable sources. The goal of the research is to learn more about how social media influences what people actually believe.

Article by student Christian Snyder

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