Tag Archives | Social Media

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.


First Amendment Day Retold by Social Media

Journalism students followed the hashtag #UNCfree to learn what people were saying on social media about First Amendment Day.  After compiling the content, they connected the images, tweets and videos into a news story to summarize their experiences of First Amendment Day events.

Check out some of their multimedia stories edited with Storify.




Twitter and Nielsen Ratings Team Up to Track Viewership

4156535452_9f2ee39b7e_bTwitter is teaming up with Nielsen Ratings to aid the service in monitoring what television shows are most frequently tweeted about by its users. The novel approach, called a “unique audience,” makes it easier than ever for the Nielsen system to provide accurate information about television viewership numbers on any given night.

The new system allows Nielsen Ratings to track how many tweets are sent, what television show those tweets reference, who those tweets are seen by, and how many times those tweets are seen. With 200 million Twitter users, the data will be a powerful tool for advertisers looking to broadcast during commercial breaks of the most-viewed television programs.

The “unique audience” information gained from Twitter will also help Nielsen track what has traditionally been extremely difficult to measure: the spoken word. In Twitter’s case, it’s easy to capture what millions of Americans are watching through the data trail left behind. By allowing Nielsen to create a rating system based on tweets, Twitter is opening up access to that once impossible-to-track information.

The ratings system provides more information about viewership than ever before by monitoring conversations — not by the spoken word — but by the typed tweet.

Samantha Scheller is a 2L at UNC Law.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user flash.pro pursuant to a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.)


UNC Students Presenting Research at AEJMC Southeast Colloquium

UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication graduate students will present 13 research papers at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium in Tampa this week. Ph.D. student Liz Woolery, who works in our media law center, will present two papers, one of which won third place in the Law and Policy Division. Both of Liz’s papers are about the rights of journalists and others to gather news.

For this conference, papers go through a process of blind review, and then the best papers are selected to be presented at the conference. Faculty and student authors compete against one another.

This will be the first academic conference for most of the students, but they’re ready. They have polished their papers and rehearsed their presentations.


Accepted Law and Policy Division papers include:

“Documenting Fair Use: Has the Statement of Best Practices Loosened the Fair Use Reins for Documentary Filmmakers?” — Jesse Abdenour, first-year doctoral student

“The Advertising Regulation ‘Green Zone’: Analyzing Parallels of Commercial Speech Jurisprudence As It Might Apply to the Growing Issue of Medicinal Marijuana Advertising, Using the Denver Advertising Ban as an

Illustrative Example” — Joseph Cabosky, first-year doctoral student

“Hazelwood’s Footnote Seven” — Ryan N. Comfort, first-year master’s student

“Consumer Protection Challenges on the Social Web: How the FTC Regulates Consumer-Generated Media as Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” — Emily A. Graban, first-year master’s student

“Abortion Informed Consent Laws: How Have Courts Considered First Amendment Challenges?” — Jaya Mathur, first-year master’s student

“How the FTC Has Enforced Its Deception Jurisdiction in Cases Involving an Ill, and Therefore, Vulnerable Audience” — Emery Rogers, first-year master’s student

“A Decade of True Threats Decisions Since Virginia v. Black: The Digital Age Demands Supreme Court Attention to True Threats Definition and Doctrine” — Lynn Marshele Waddell, first-year master’s student

“The Press, the Public, and Capital Punishment: California First Amendment Coalition and the Development of a First Amendment Right to Witness Executions” — Elizabeth Woolery, second-year doctoral student

“When News(Gathering) Isn’t Enough: The Right to Gather Information in Public Places” — Elizabeth Woolery, second-year doctoral student


Accepted Newspaper and Online Division papers include:

“Three Days a Week: Has a New Production Cycle Altered The Times-Picayune’s News Coverage?” — David Bockino, first-year doctoral student


Accepted Open Division papers include:

“The Creepiness Factor: Explaining Conflicting Audience Attitudes toward Tailored Media Content” — Lisa Barnard, second-year doctoral student

“What Motivates People to Pass on Anti-brand Rumors Online?” — Hyosun Kim, second-year doctoral student

“What Sports Journalists Need to Know: Four Areas of Student-athlete Privacy Invasion” — Sada Reed, first-year doctoral student


Kill Switches, Smart Mobs, and Freedom of Speech

As part of the Mary Junck Research Colloquium series, Elon University School of Law Professor Enrique Armijo will give a talk at UNC entitled “Recent Developments in Digital Communications Law and Policy:
Kill Switches, Smart Mobs, and Freedom of Speech.”  He will share his current research on the ways in which government control over communications infrastructure can pose a threat to free speech and discuss the tension between regulation of social media and freedom of expression both domestically and abroad.  He will talk about his work on international media law reform projects in Africa and the Middle East and discuss his approaches for developing research interests into projects.

Armijo is a graduate of the UNC School of Law.  You can read more about him at http://www.elon.edu/e-web/law/faculty/armijo_enrique.xhtml.

The presentation will be from 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. in the Freedom Forum Conference Center on the third floor of Carroll Hall.   The event is free and open to the public.