Liv Faulkner ’22
Margaux Lestage ‘23
Cole Cameron ‘23
On Wednesday , November 3, at 4 p.m. students and faculty gathered in the Writer’s House to listen to Dr. Melissa “Mish” Zimdars speak about her research on misinformation and disinformation. Zimdars is an Associate Professor of Communication and Media at Merrimack College, and discussed her book: Fake News: Understanding Media and Misinformation in the Digital Age.
Dr.Zimdars began by speaking about “fake news” and provided some examples of what that looks like, such as the Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn article, as well as identifying some fake news sites. Zimdars has a fresh perspective on social media and how it affects the way media is perceived.
Prior to the Fall 2016 Election, Zimdars felt inspired to further her research on the areas of misinformation and disinformation in the media, and began to pursue research for her book. “We are all fallible, and some people are playing on those emotions, and engaging that with their social media habits.”
Dr. Zimdars said that “You can’t just talk about content examples, you have to understand why it’s relevant to people, why it’s engaging people, and what is salient about this.” That is the key about how to talk about fake news, she explained. The fact of the matter is, you can go through the list about what fake news looks like, but you need research into how it affects us, and why it is relevant to people.
Dr. Zimdars talked about how sometimes having so much information at our fingertips is both a good thing and a bad thing. She said that we have “information glut,” meaning that there is just so much information that oftentimes, we do not critically think about everything that we read. She describes that “We have so much information at our fingertips…there are downsides to the thousands and thousands of media sources sharing things everyday.” There are just too many fake news sites masquerading as trustworthy sources of information. We are bombarded with media everyday, and we do not have the time to stop and critically analyze everything that is thrown at us.
Developing a solution was deemed a must. Zimdars talked at length about Facebook and their algorithm. She found that Facebook’s algorithm favored ‘angry’ reactions; which would end up promoting articles designed around getting people angry. She proposed breaking up Facebook and media giants. She said that “We have unregulated social media platforms that have not effectively fought fake news.” Whether it be government or self regulations, a solution is necessary as fake news manifests as more and more of a problem, especially on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Some of Dr. Zimdars’ current projects include an article on “Reputation Laundering Deplatforming and Health Disinformation, an article in “Health (Mis)information and Discursive Boundary- Work as Unofficial Content Moderation on Instagram” and a collaboration project with other Communication and Media Faculty.