“Where are the Gatekeepers?” a lecture by Dr. Dannagal G. Young

Dr. Young teaches at the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication. She writes for Huffington Post and The Atlantic magazine. I heard her lecture at Stockton University on April 13, 2017. The “Gatekeepers” of which she speaks are those who oversee the internet and, more specifically, social media.

Good question. What “gatekeepers”? What do we need/want in terms of internet and social media regulation? I think we agree that violent crimes should not be live streamed or posted. What else?

I am assuming “Communications” is one of the social sciences. By way of background, I admit to vague prejudice against the social sciences. I’m a chemist by training. I like the physical and biological sciences.

  • Experiments
  • Observations
  • Reproducibility

How do the social sciences meet those standards? (I’m speaking very generally here, lest I get bogged down.) I am skeptical about some social science research conclusions. I’m also skeptical about some “new “ fields of academic study – which is seriously unfair of me since I taught in one (Environmental Studies) for years, a very short time after it emerged.

Dr. Young provided important historical perspective. The “mass media” of my childhood (see blog post dated December 26, 2016) underwent a paradigm change, with 1982 as a pivotal year. “Mass media” was a form of “top down” communication, divorced from feedback, directed at isolated target individuals. “Digital mass media” enables feedback and networking. A person can be both a consumer and a producer of content. This is what Al Gore was thinking of when he theorized about “networked democracy”.

Dr. Young labels the internet a “sewer” of

  • Noise
  • Self indulgence
  • Flattery
  • Conspiracy theory

In other words, a dangerous disappointment. Moderation, education, contextualization and crowd sourcing are tools Facebook and other social platforms can use to improve their level of social responsibility.

During the Q/A period, I asked Dr. Young what kind of research on social media she would like to do, and what methods she would use. I can’t remember how she characterized her research interests, but the technique she said she used was the TELEPHONE SURVEY. I may have scowled – I’ve dodged telephone surveys for years. I hate them. Someone asked how you get people to participate. She said by “robo” dialing – on and on and on until you get the number of replies you need. She claimed that after 1000 replies, your outcome didn’t change much, so that was your “answer”. Really?? Someone pointed out that different sectors of the population must surely respond at different rates, and Dr. Young said that, for example, older people were more likely to participate in phone surveys, but cell-phone-only people emphatically do not. She mentioned “weighting” results to allow for this. By this time, she was looking sheepish. I was probably looking very skeptical indeed. Possibly I was glaring.

The discussion moved on the other topics, like WikiLeaks and political empowerment. Normally a seminar would lead to interesting discussion afterwards, but my internal alarm went off (dinner can only be postponed about so long – 7:15 pm is my absolute limit), so I departed.

Dr. Young investigates interesting subjects, and I’ll be watching for her name among the authors who turn up in my news feeds.

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3 thoughts on ““Where are the Gatekeepers?” a lecture by Dr. Dannagal G. Young

  1. I greatly appreciate your glaring at the telephone-solicitor-cum-social-scientist. Clearly social media is not the only place we need gatekeepers. I probably spend less time worrying about the quality of public discourse than I should, but I have an opinion anyhow. It’s that there’s no substitute for a lot of time spent reading the best writers possible. There are the great books, of course, but there are still good editors working on things like the New York Review today. Once you know what a well put together argument looks like, you tend to be on the lookout.

    1. Have you formed an opinion on Thomas Picketty, the French economist who is getting attention everywhere, most recently in “The Chronicle of HIgher Education” and also in K S Robinson’s “New York 2140”. (See my blog posts.) Has he elevated the level of public discourse?

  2. Dr. Young contacted me as follows:

    Thanks for the note, Alice.

    I do experimental work on media effects as well – which are a challenge for their lack of external validity as much as surveys are a challenge in terms of the sampling issues and lack of ability to draw causal inferences from correlational data.

    Some examples of my experimental work:

    Brewer, P. R., Young, D. G., Morreale, M. (2013). The Impact of Real News about “Fake News”: Intertextual Processes and Political Satire. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 25, 323 – 343.

    Jones, P. E., Hoffman, L. H., & Young, D. G. (2013). Online emotional appeals and political participation: The effect of candidate affect on mass behavior. New Media & Society, 5, 1132 – 1150. PDF.
    Young, D. G. & Hoffman, L. H. (2012). Acquisition of Current Events Knowledge from Political Satire Programming: An Experimental Approach. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 20, 290 – 304. PDF.Esralew, S. & Young, D. G. (2012). The Influence of Parodies on Mental Models: Exploring the Tina Fey-Sarah Palin Phenomenon, Communication Quarterly, 60, 338 – 352. PDF.

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