Social Media Generates Explosive Array of Research Questions

Posted on: November 5, 2013

Dean Pam WhittenWhen a CAS staff member was in a car accident earlier this week, she (who was not injured) noted how rapidly people emerged to the scene with smart phones to document every aspect of the accident. Two fire trucks arrived within five minutes to block off traffic and a deputy sheriff arrived within minutes afterwards. Digital photos and eyewitness accounts were shooting across cyberspace instantly along with captured coordinates that mapped the exact location of the accident.

This is just one way that communication technology is rapidly changing our lives. With smart phones in hand, people are empowered to participate in society in ways just a few years ago, no one imagined. Whether it's dialing 9-1-1, capturing a scene of an accident or crime, or voting for your favorite entertainer, art entry or MVP of the week, we are instantly and constantly connected.

How does a "permanently" connected society affect us as individuals and in our relationships with others? How is it transforming our sense of privacy or safety? What are the ethical implications? How is it changing the way we seek information and learn? How can it help or hinder our mental and physical health, diet and exercise?

These are just a handful of important research questions that are being studied and discussed in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. If you follow the CAS calendar, you will notice a fascinating array of topics as the focus for lectures and brown bag lunches hosted within CAS on a weekly basis. Opportunities to explore these topics with experts from around the world and on our faculty provide an immensely rich environment for students to explore, learn and strengthen their own research skills.

Here is a sampling of current lecture topics at CAS:

  • On Oct. 23, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Adam Goldman discussed how he exposed the NYPD's secret surveillance program targeting Muslims since the 9/11 terror attacks. He also met with journalism students after his lecture to offer advice and answer questions. While Goldman was reporting for the Associated Press when he won his Pulitzer, he just joined the Washington Post on Nov. 1 as part of its national security reporting team.
  • In a colloquium hosted by the Communication department on Oct. 25, visiting faculty Peter Vorderer explored the "permanently online phenomenon" in which people are in social situations while also online interacting with others at the same time. His research is examining the manifestations of this behavior, the motivations for, and the short- and long-term consequences of it. Vorderer is visiting from the University of Mannheim, Germany, where he is a professor and expert in media psychology and interdisciplinary media research.
  • This Friday, Nov. 8, the Telecommunication, Information Studies & Media (TISM) department will host Microsoft principal researcher Kori Inkpen Quinn. Microsoft Research is exploring next-generation video communication tools to enable anytime, anywhere video conversations that move beyond traditional "talking heads" conversations to support rich shared experiences. Quinn will showcase how video communication (Skype, FaceTime, etc.) is changing the way we interact with others and why we should embrace the video generation.
  • Next week (Nov. 14), Alessandro Acquisti, guest lecturer for the Quello Center, will explore the economics of privacy. Acquisti is an associate professor with the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University and researches consumer privacy decision-making and privacy in online social networks. His lecture will focus particularly on how off-the-shelf face recognition software can be used for individual re-identification and whether current "notice and consent" approaches to privacy policy are adequate.

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg for research on such critical communication topics. Later this month, 74 MSU-affiliated researchers will present at the National Communication Association's 99th Annual Convention, Nov. 21-24, in Washington, D.C. More than 50 CAS faculty and graduate student research topics have been selected for presentations! I look forward to sharing more about the intriguing research underway right here at CAS in the next few weeks as we draw closer to the NCA convention.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to broaden your knowledge and understanding of our communication-driven world by attending the extensive array of fascinating lectures held almost daily at CAS. It's also a great way to connect with the world's leading experts!

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