Newhouse professors receive funding for work on technology to combat fake news

Two professors from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications have received a $830,958 subcontract agreement for the development of technology to detect manipulated media and combat the spread of fake news.

Stephen Masiclat and Regina Luttrell
Stephen Masiclat and Regina Luttrell

Stephen Masiclat, professor and director of new media management and director of the Thomas and Lisa Mandel Experimental Media Lab, and Regina Luttrell, assistant professor of public relations and director of the W2O Emerging Insights Lab, will work to refine a theoretical framework for the creation and testing of AI algorithms that can identify manipulated media. They will collaborate with researchers from private industry and academia.

The 48-month subcontract is part of the Semantic Forensics (SemaFor) program, funded by an $11.9 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract with PAR Government Systems Corp. The program seeks to create a system for automatic detection, attribution and characterization of falsified media assets.

“The challenge of fake news and disinformation is something we as communications educators have an obligation to address,” says Newhouse Dean Mark J. Lodato. “This is a new area of research for the Newhouse School, and allows us to contribute to the ongoing national conversation about the importance of reliable, fact-based information for the health of our society. Steve and Gina are doing important work.”

Masiclat and Luttrell have already built a preliminary theoretical framework consisting of an eight-dimensional analysis, and will work with researchers to test and refine their ideas.

They will create large data sets—a massive archive of both real and fake news stories based on their theoretical framework—that will train and validate AI algorithms. “Over the next four years we will evaluate various aspects of our proposed ‘theory of semantic consistency’ that can be used to create and test AI algorithms that detect key flaws,” Masiclat says. “This will allow us to develop a method for separating reliable journalism from deliberate misinformation.”

Wider access to automated manipulation technologies, coupled with the ease of sharing provided by social media platforms, has increased the threat posed by manipulated media, according to DARPA.

“This work signals Newhouse’s commitment to preserving the First Amendment and addressing the impact misinformation spread across social media has on society,” Luttrell says. “The proliferation of fake news over the past few years has caused numerous problems. Grappling with the many questions plaguing the role of truth and trust in news media, social media and society is paramount. It’s our intention that this research will help detect and combat disinformation.”

Masiclat and Luttrell will form a team of doctoral student researchers, based in Newhouse’s Experimental Media and W2O Emerging Insights Labs, to assist with the research.

News consumption habits influence attitudes towards COVID-19, Newhouse study finds

Professor Makana Chock and doctoral student Se Jung Kim published their findings in Partecipazione e Conflitto

Makana Chock
Makana Chock

American consumers of far-right conservative news sources were less likely to view COVID-19 as a health threat than consumers of other news.

That’s according to a study conducted by Newhouse School professor Makana Chock and doctoral student Se Jung Kim. Their findings were published in Partecipazione e Conflitto (Participation and Conflict), an international journal based in Italy.

Analyzing responses to an online survey conducted last spring, Chock and Kim found that respondents who learned about the coronavirus from partisan conservative news sources were significantly less likely to view it as a threat than those who cited far-left, center-left or center-right news sources.

“This may be because U.S. conservative news downplayed the threat of the virus in the early stages of the pandemic,” Chock says.

Perceived risks posed by the coronavirus strongly influence people’s willingness to comply with risk prevention measures, the researchers found.

The study, “U.S. Audiences’ Perceptions of Covid-19 and Conservative News Frames,” was published this month.  

Chock will participate in this fall’s virtual convention of the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA). She will discuss media influence on the public’s approach to the pandemic.

Grygiel, Lysak publish paper on police and social media

Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communications, and Suzanne Lysak, associate professor of broadcast and digital journalism, published the paper, “Police Social Media and Broadcast News: An Investigation into the Impact of Police Use of Facebook on Journalists’ Gatekeeping Role,” for Journalism Practice.

Lim publishes article on effects of anti-panhandling PSAs in Journal of Promotion Management

Joon Soo Lim, associate professor of public relations, published an article “The First-Person Effect of Anti-Panhandling Public Service Announcement Messages on Promotional Behaviors and Donation Intentions” in Journal of Promotion Management. Jiyoung Lee (PhD from Syracuse University) co-authored this paper.

Brown law review articles accepted for publication

Nina Brown, assistant professor of communications, had the following law review articles accepted for publication in The Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal:

STUDY: Mindfulness-based interventions for managing professional stress and burnout


Mark Costa

Assistant Research Professor,
Communications


Mindfulness-based interventions are an increasingly popular approach to help diverse groups of professionals, including teachers, nurses, active duty military, and veterans, manage stress and professional burnout, while simultaneously improving focus and empathy. We wanted to test whether using a mindfulness-based intervention would help reduce teacher attrition, which is a nationwide problem. Novice teachers leave the profession at alarming rates. In some districts, over thirty percent of teachers quit within their first few years.

Although mindfulness-based interventions work, getting individuals to stick to the individual and group training sessions is difficult because of the time and travel commitments. Mindfulness-based interventions also have trouble scaling because of the lack of qualified instructors. Our plan is to address the challenges associated with mindfulness interventions by supporting individual and group mindfulness sessions with virtual reality, making it easier for teachers to participate remotely. With virtual reality, we can provide a sense of connection associated with being in a group setting while cutting out the travel time. Our goal is to increase participation in the program and ultimately reduce teacher attrition by giving them the tools they need to manage stress in a healthy manner.

This study has received a 2019 CUSE Grant.

STUDY: The Interactive Effects of Campaign Sponsors and ‘Myths and Facts’ Message Variations on Correcting Misconceptions about Vaping and Preventing E-cigarette Use Among Young Adults


Joon Soo Lim

Joon Soo Lim

Associate Professor,
Public Relations


Summary: Goal: The purpose of the study is to examine whether “myths and facts” message variations presented by two different sponsors of the message will make a difference in correcting the misconceptions about vaping among US young adults and preventing them from initiating vaping. With this goal in mind, the current research will test different versions of advocacy communications that debunk pervasive myths about vaping on social media.

Method: In two experiments, the current project examines the interactive effects of “myths and facts” message variations and the sponsors of advocacy message on correcting misconceptions about e-cigarette use and preventing the use of e-cigarettes among young adults.

Rationale: A priority area of the proposed research project focuses on health communication to build a healthier and equitable community. The effort to create a healthy community via tobacco and e-cigarette control has often been challenged by various stakeholders that call for evidence-based regulatory moves, as well as the inclusion of diverse stakeholders that are involved and might be affected. The underlying assumption of this research is that effective anti-vaping advocacy messages targeting today’s generation must be inclusive as well as balanced in argumentation.

This study has received a 2019 CUSE Grant.

STUDY: Utilizing Artificial Neural Network algorithms (ANNs) to develop a model of effective ad curation

The ability to measure audiences during television commercial breaks versus the overall program has created a new challenge for broadcasters. Advertising revenues provide the foundation of a networks ability to invest in programming, including their news product. The ability to maintain audiences during commercial breaks increases the revenue potential and helps maintain a network’s ability to produce independent journalism. With high commercial clutter currently, viewership declines during commercial breaks is high, reducing the amount of revenue network’s earn. Accurate estimation of the extent to which viewership drops when a commercial is presented can have many benefits:

Artificial Neural Network algorithms (ANNs) have been applied to many predictive and forecasting problems and often outperform traditional regression tasks. Recent developments in Deep Learning algorithms have found application in consumer devices, addressing difficult pattern recognition problems that arise in image processing and speech recognition. The proposed work will apply such algorithms to the prediction of reduction in commercial viewership.

Professors Beth Egan and Fiona Chew of the Newhouse School, and Chilukuri Mohan of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, combine expertise from advertising, media studies and machine learning. Much of the research data provided by Comscore.

This study has received a 2019 CUSE Grant.

PAPER: Augmented Co-Creation: Using Artificial Intelligence and Neural Network Algorithms to Support Design Collaboration

Augmented Co-Creation: Using Artificial Intelligence and Neural Network Algorithms to Support Design Collaboration.

Authors: K. Brandt, B. Lonsway, S. Masiclat
Corresponding author: S. Masiclat
masiclat@syr.edu

Description
This research project developed a web portal to serve as a nexus between the broader technology community and social organizations (nonprofits, NGOs, social enterprises, etc.) in need of technology. The team was asked to go beyond developing a searchable code repository and understand the organizational, structural and technological challenges of connecting social sector organizations to a globally distributed community of technologists who spoke different professional languages.

In this project it was important to design a system that did not attempt singular perfect matches between problem statements and software descriptions. To accomplish this, we used Self-Organizing Map (SOM) algorithms. SOMs allow for a complete and robust representation of highly complex data, but as they are intentionally constructed to avoid computing a single “correct” result, they are considered less accurate than other neural networks based on gradient descent back propagation. We employed a Latent Semantic Indexing technique as a placeholder for a variety of NLP pre-formatting techniques, representing unstructured text inputs in a bi-gram vector form. We then used these bi-gram vectors as inputs to the SOM to perform unsupervised training on the computational neural network such that it formed a representation of the topology (geometric inter-relations) of the input data.

Using the open-source d3js (Data Driven Documents) javascript library, we represented the SOM output in a proof-of-concept UI demonstrating matches between unstructured problem statements (arbitrary document A) and structured descriptions of code bases (arbitrary document B). The resulting UI allowed matching of applicable code resources to problem descriptions even when the Jaccard coefficient between documents was zero: Jµ [A,B]=0.

This research was sponsored by a grant from JP Morgan Chase.

Published in “Proceedings of the Design Management Institute,” 2016  pp 1503-1528

Strategic social media use in public relations


Hua Jiang

Associate Professor,
Public Relations


What was the focus of the project? 

As an unintended consequence of social media management and leadership performance, increasing job responsibilities may potentially lead to a high level of work-life conflict, which may result in adversarial outcomes such as burnout, turnover intentions and reduced commitment. Using the E-leadership theory from the management literature as an umbrella framework, this study examined the impact of social media use on communication professionals’ strategic communication work, leadership behaviors, and their perceptions of work- life conflict.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc?

Research Question 1: How is use of social media tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) related to the enhancing and aggravating impact of social media use upon communication professionals’ work?

Research Question 2: How is social media use in strategic communication functions (e.g., media relations, employee/internal communications, community relations, etc.) related to the enhancing and aggravating impact of social media use upon communication professionals’ work?

What were your findings?

There were seven key findings:

  1. Using Facebook and YouTube in their work and engaging in proactive environmental scanning helped E-leaders in communication departments enhance their leadership.
  2. The use of YouTube in strategic communication, social media use in media relations, employee/internal communications, and cause-related marketing/social marketing were identified as significant positive predictors of the enhancing impact of social media use.
  3. Social media use in crisis management and employee communications significantly, positively predicted professionals’ perceptions of social media’s aggravating impact (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload) on their work.
  4. The use of Facebook and YouTube in strategic communication, the use of social media in environmental scanning, as well as the positive and negative impact of social media use all significantly and positively predicted communication professionals’ leadership behaviors.
  5. Strategic social media use enhanced communication professionals’ leadership behaviors even when it contributed to heavier workload, longer working hours, and increased job stress.
  6. When the unintended negative effects of social media use occurred, communication professionals perceived a low control over their work and thereby experienced a high level of time-based and strain-based work-life conflict.
  7. Public affairs/governmental relations professionals who were frequent users of social media for their work reported a high level of strained-based work-life conflict.

What do you think are the implications for the discipline/profession?

Results of this study strongly suggest that managers think about how the intensive use of social media may affect employees’ physical and psychological well-being. Despite the advantages (e.g., flexible working hours, improved work productivity, additional time to fulfill other non-work responsibilities, etc.), technologically mediated work renders unintended negative consequences (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload, more stress, etc.), which in turn contribute to a high level of conflict between employees’ work and personal life. Particularly, the more social media tools that professionals used in practicing public affairs/governmental relations, the higher their perceived level of stain-based work-life conflict. Public affairs/governmental relations professionals therefore may need extra supportive resources and networks to help them reconcile the conflict and be better off in both professional and personal arenas.

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

Future research is needed to discover the features of social media and connect them to the variables in the present study. This study is also merely based on one national sample of communication professionals. The findings cannot be generalized beyond the current study’s scope. Future research is needed to theorize on social media use, communication leadership behaviors, and work-life conflict, by sampling members of international professional communication organizations, such as International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and International Association of Business Communication (IABC). Last but not the least, qualitative research may help uncover individual professionals’ narratives that explain how social media use, its impact, leadership behaviors, and work-life conflict are all interrelated to one another. The integrated E-leadership conceptual model is preliminary at the current stage and needs to be further developed in future scholarly research and professional communication practices.

Original Abstract:

Using the E-leadership theory as the conceptual framework, the study examined strategic communicators’ perceptions of the impact of social media use on their work, leadership behaviors, and work-life conflict. Through a national sample of communication professionals (N = 458), this study revealed the following key findings. The use of YouTube in professionals’ work, social media use in media relations, employee communications, and cause-related marketing/social marketing were significantly, positively associated with participants’ perceptions of the enhancing impact of social media use. Social media use in crisis management and employee communications significantly, positively predicted professionals’ perceptions of social media’s aggravating impact (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload) on their work. The use of Facebook and YouTube in strategic communication, the use of social media in environmental scanning, as well as the positive and negative impact of social media use all significantly and positively predicted communication professionals’ leadership behaviors. When the unintended negative effects of social media use happened, professionals perceived a low control over their work and thereby experienced a high level of time-based and strain-based work-life conflict. Finally, public affairs/governmental relations professionals who were frequent users of social media for their work reported a high level of strain-based work-life conflict.