Addressing the Decline of Local News, Rise of Platforms, and Spread of Mis- and Disinformation Online: A Summary of Current Research and Policy Proposals

I’m thrilled to announce that the Center for Media Law and Policy recently published a research paper titled “Addressing the Decline of Local News, Rise of Platforms, and Spread of Mis- and Disinformation Online: A Summary of Current Research and Policy Proposals.”

The whitepaper grew out of a workshop the Center hosted in November 2019 in conjunction with the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media and UNC Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP), which brought together experts on the decline of local news, the rise of online platforms, and the spread of mis- and disinformation. The workshop was part of a two-day, interdisciplinary conference titled “Fostering an Informed Society: The Role of the First Amendment in Strengthening Local News and Democracy.” The conference began with a symposium at the UNC School of Law hosted by the First Amendment Law Review that examined the role of the First Amendment in creating an informed society and explored whether the Constitution places affirmative obligations on the government to ensure that citizens are informed.

The workshop, which is the subject of this whitepaper, took place on the second day at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and was co-led by Philip Napoli, James R. Shepley Professor of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. A full list of workshop attendees is included in Appendix A.

The whitepaper is organized in the same way we structured the workshop, starting with an overview of the decline of local news followed by a discussion of the rise of platforms and the spread of mis- and disinformation online. We then examine a number of regulatory and policy responses to the problems identified in the earlier sections and conclude by offering some suggestions for next steps. In Appendix B we provide a list of recent research and resources available for those who wish to engage in more study of these important issues.

Here is the abstract:

Technological and economic assaults have destroyed the for-profit business model that sustained local journalism in this country for two centuries. While the advertising-based model for local news has been under threat for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic and recession have created what some describe as an “extinction level” threat for local newspapers and other struggling news outlets. More than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers have disappeared, leaving residents in thousands of communities living in vast news deserts.

As local news sources decline, a growing proportion of Americans are getting their news and other information from social media. This raises serious concerns, including the spread of misinformation and the use of platform infrastructure to engage in disinformation campaigns. Platforms wield significant advantages over local news sources in the current information environment: the dominant platforms possess proprietary, detailed caches of user data, which the platforms use to force advertisers, users, and news outlets into asymmetrical relationships. In the vacuum left by the disappearance of local news sources, users are increasingly reliant on information sources that are incomplete, and may be misleading or deceptive.

This whitepaper examines current research related to the decline of local news, the rise of platforms, and the spread of mis- and disinformation and explores potential regulatory and policy responses to these issues. Some proposals focus on increasing the supply of – and demand for – local news, including increased public education and expanded support for journalists and local news organizations. Other proposals focus on market-based reforms that address the growing power disparities between news producers and platform operators as well as between platforms and their users.

Solutions to the difficult problems we face will require a multifaceted, multi-disciplinary approach. No one lever within the market, law, or society will deliver a magic bullet. Instead, experts and policymakers will need to pull at multiple levers using a new vocabulary to talk across the different disciplines – a set of new propositions that recognize the legal, social, journalistic, and economic principles at stake, particularly the harm done to democracy if the status quo continues.

You can download the full paper here or from SSRN.

The Hearst Foundations provided funding for the workshop, and funding for the preparation of the whitepaper was provided by the Hearst Foundations and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Cleary Competition Winners Announced

Elias Wright

The UNC Center for Media Law and Policy is thrilled to announce the winners of the second annual James R. Cleary Prize for students who wrote the best published scholarly articles on media law and policy related topics in 2019.

This year’s first place winner is Elias Wright, a 2020 graduate of Fordham University School of Law, for his article, “The Future of Facial Recognition Is Not Fully Known: Developing Privacy and Security Regulatory Mechanisms for Facial Recognition in the Retail Sector,” which was published in the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal. The second place winner is Sarah Koslov, a 2020 graduate of Georgetown Law School. Her article, “Incitement and the Geopolitical Influence of Facebook Content Moderation,” was published in the Georgetown Law Technology Review. The third place winner is David A. Fischer, a 2020 graduate of Columbia Law School, for his article, “Dron’t Stop Me Now: Prioritizing Drone Journalism in Commercial Drone Regulation,” which was published in the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts. Wright will receive $1000;  Koslov will receive $500; and Fischer will receive $250.

Elias Wright is currently working as a law clerk at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP while applying for admission to the New York Bar. His research focuses on the intersection of communications technology, law, and culture, and he is interested in how legal institutions negotiate and are transformed by sociotechnical processes.

While at Fordham, Wright served as a Project Fellow for the Center on Law and Information Policy and studied Information Law with Professor Olivier Sylvain, who was his advisor on the article. Wright was a member of the Fordham Law Review and served as a judicial intern for United States Magistrate Judge Leda Dunn Wettre of the District of New Jersey. He grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, and completed his undergraduate degree in Art History and Religion at Oberlin College in 2014.

Sarah Koslov

At Georgetown Law, Sarah Koslov was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Technology Law Scholars program. She served as the Senior Solicitations Editor for the Georgetown Law Technology Review and was a Public Interest Fellow achieving Special Pro Bono Pledge Recognition. Koslov’s interest in public policy led her to internships with the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Senate Committee on Finance, and California Office of the Attorney General. She was also a Research Assistant for the Institute for Technology Law & Policy, where she focused on algorithmic fairness and disability rights.

Koslov graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina in 2014. Prior to law school, she worked as a policy analyst for a research center in Washington, D.C., focusing on state Medicaid programs and public health insurance policy.

David A. Fischer

David A. Fischer was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and the Executive Notes Editor of Volume 43 of the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts.  While attending Columbia Law School, Fischer served as a research assistant for Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg and volunteered to teach Constitutional Law to high school students as a part of Columbia’s High School Law Institute.

During law school, Fischer was a summer associate with Latham & Watkins in New York, interned for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York in the Criminal Division’s National Security and Cybercrime Section, and for the Hon. Eric N. Vitaliano of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Prior to attending law school, Fischer worked in marketing for Viacom Media Networks. He attended Cornell University, where he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English. He resides in New York City.

You can read more about the Cleary Prize competition here. Please check the Center’s blog for an announcement of next year’s deadline to apply.

Congratulations to the winners!

 

 

 

 

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First Amendment Resources for Journalists

With civil unrest occurring across the country, the First Amendment Legal Network (FELN), of which we are a part, is sharing a few resources for media covering these events.

Attorneys at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) are also monitoring its legal hotline for journalists, in case reporters have questions about their legal rights at protests, or need help finding an attorney. There are three ways to reach the hotline: rcfp.org/hotline, 800-336-4243, hotline@rcfp.org. The Student Press Law Center also has a hotline for student journalists.

 

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UNC’s Dual Degree Students in Media Law Land Top Internships

Ashley Fox

Although COVID-19 has changed summer plans for some of our dual degree students, UNC’s MA/JD students in media law often intern at some of the nation’s top media organizations, think-tanks, and government agencies. These internships give students a chance to see the media law principles they’re studying in action and also practice and share what they’re learning with these organizations.

Last summer, Ashley Fox, a UNC MA/JD student and fellow with the new UNC Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP), interned in the Office of Information Policy (OIP) at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.  The OIP oversees federal agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. The office handles FOIA requests submitted by the public, adjudicates appeals from initial FOIA requests, publishes public guidance on FOIA, conducts training for FOIA practitioners in other government agencies, and reviews annual reports from those other agencies.

At OIP, Fox primarily worked with the Appeals team, where she reviewed FOIA appeals submitted by the public. She also helped to update the office’s guidance on certain provisions of FOIA and reviewed proposed legislation for potential effects on FOIA.

During her time at OIP, the U. S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, which clarified which information held by the government qualifies as “confidential.” If the information is confidential it does not need to be released under FOIA, the Court ruled. As a result, Fox helped draft new guidance for federal agencies on how to apply FOIA’s confidential information exemption.

Fox said the MA/JD program at UNC helped prepare her for her internship because it gave her important background knowledge about FOIA and the importance of government transparency.

“Knowing the importance of laws like FOIA and the government’s interest in protecting certain information helped me appreciate the work conducted by the attorneys in the office when they’re applying FOIA to decide what information to release and what information should be withheld under the law,” she said.

Fox said she saw that the OIP valued government transparency. “The staff and attorneys at OIP who are making decisions under FOIA really do want to get it right. Each day, they’re trying to balance the government’s desire––and sometimes need––to protect certain information with the public’s interest in knowing what their government is doing.”

Fox will intern this summer for a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. That internship will begin virtually in June.

Isabela Palmieri

Isabela Palmieri, a first-year MA/JD student at UNC, interned at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in Philadelphia last summer. FIRE is a nonprofit organization that defends students’ and faculty’s First Amendment rights in higher education. Additionally, FIRE educates students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and the public about the threats to these rights.

During her internship at FIRE, Palmieri worked on policy recommendations for colleges and universities. She said that one of her favorite projects was working on a model policy about how universities allocate student fees. The policy focused on ensuring that public colleges and universities were designating fees in a constitutional manner.

At FIRE, Palmieri said she learned more about many different free speech issues in higher education, including the firing of professors for their views, revoking speaker invitations, and lack of recognition for or equal treatment of certain student organizations.

Palmieri said that the UNC MA/JD program in media law was great preparation for her internship at FIRE. She said she felt the program gave her an advantage and helped her stand out in the applicant pool.

“In law school you learn about broad First Amendment ideologies and how the law came to be what it is today, but working at FIRE made me see how those ideals affect higher education – from what student organizations should be recognized on campus, to what information students are allowed or not allowed to learn,” she said.  “It made me realize how much First Amendment values influence our higher education institutions and how important it is to craft laws that protect both education and free speech.”

Palmieri was scheduled to intern at Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, but that was cancelled due to COVID-19. Instead, she is taking a summer class and working on media law research, including her work on Anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions laws. Since 2015, twenty-seven states have enacted legislation prohibiting the boycotting of Israel by any entity procuring a government contract, called Anti-BDS laws. The laws raise several First Amendment concerns. Palmieri’s work in this area resulted in a second place student award in the Law Division of the Southeast Regional Colloquium of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

To support students who seek these summer experiences, the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy administers a grant program to assist students who want experience in the areas of media law and media policy, including working at media organizations, nonprofits, law firms, advocacy groups, and research centers. The summer grant program provides funds to students taking unpaid or low-paying jobs in the fields of media law or media policy.

-Kriste Patrow, UNC Media Law Ph.D. Candidate

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Faculty and Student Opportunities at UNC’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP)

UNC’s recently launched Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) is looking for faculty and students to join its growing community, including faculty research fellows, faculty affiliates, and graduate student affiliates.

CITAP is a bold initiative at UNC dedicated to researching, understanding, and responding to the growing impact of the internet, social media, and other forms of digital information sharing. CITAP’s goals include tackling broad research questions with real-world implications for information gathering, social media regulation, democratic governance, journalism, and civic understanding. Researchers and affiliates will work to develop a comprehensive understanding of information environments that will serve as a baseline for emergent research focused on the interaction of information and technology, particularly in the context of misinformation, partisanship, polarization, propaganda, and political institutions.

UNC CITAP Faculty Research Fellow

CITAP is seeking a Faculty Research Fellow to start in August 2020 and serve for one academic year. The position is restricted to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty. The Faculty Research Fellow will receive $15,000 in research funds, and will be expected to attend CITAP events and give a public presentation of their work at the end of the fellowship.

The successful applicant will join a vibrant research community anchored by CITAP’s four principal researchers—Deen Freelon (Hussman School of Journalism and Media), Daniel Kreiss (Hussman), Alice Marwick (Dept. of Communication), and Zeynep Tufekci (School of Information and Library Sciences)—the affiliated UNC Center for Media Law and Policy (David Ardia and Tori Ekstrand), and two Senior Faculty Researchers, Tressie McMillan Cottom (SILS) and Shannon McGregor (Hussman).

CITAP affiliates will meet regularly for research updates and internal presentations.

To apply, please email a one-page proposed research project that complements the aims of the center and the work of its scholars along with a CV to CITAP Principal Alice Marwick at amarwick@unc.edu.  The deadline to apply is Sept. 1, 2020.

UNC CITAP Faculty Affiliates

Faculty Affiliates can come from a broad range of academic and research institutions, especially in North Carolina. We invite applications from people working on issues related to CITAP, broadly focused on the intersection of technology and media, platforms, misinformation, partisanship, polarization, propaganda, political institutions, and journalism. Affiliates may collaborate with CITAP researchers on topics of relevance to its mission and participate in CITAP events, and will be listed in the “Faculty Affiliates” section of the CITAP website.

We invite those with CITAP faculty affiliations to attend CITAP events, collaborate with our researchers and graduate students, and join our extended community in resource and information sharing.

To apply, please email a bio, CV, and list of relevant publications to CITAP Principal Researcher Daniel Kreiss at dkreiss@email.unc.edu.

UNC CITAP Graduate Student Affiliates

Graduate Student Affiliates can come from a broad range of academic and research institutions, especially in North Carolina. We invite applications from people working on issues related to CITAP, broadly focused on the intersection of technology and media, platforms, misinformation, partisanship, polarization, propaganda, political institutions, and journalism. Affiliates may collaborate with CITAP researchers on topics of relevance to its mission and participate in CITAP events, and will be listed in the “Faculty Affiliates” section of the CITAP website.

We invite those with CITAP graduate student  affiliations to attend CITAP events, collaborate with our researchers and graduate students, and join our extended community in resource and information sharing.

To apply, please send a short cover letter explaining how your research interests relate to the work of CITAP, bio, CV, and list of relevant publications to CITAP Principal Researcher Daniel Kreiss at dkreiss@email.unc.edu.

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