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Superhighway Summit

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The Superhighway Summit was held at the University of California, Los Angeles's Royce Hall on 11 January 1994. It was the first public conference bringing together all of the major industry, government and academic leaders in the field. It began the national dialogue about the information superhighway and its implications.[1] The conference was organized by Richard Frank of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and Jeffrey Cole and Geoffrey Cowan, the former co-directors of UCLA's Center for Communication Policy.[2] It was introduced by former UCLA Chancellor, Andrea L. Rich. The keynote speaker was Vice President Al Gore.

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>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., >> Good afternoon. I'm John Haskell, Director of the Kluge Center. On behalf of the center's staff, I want to welcome those of you who are not library employees to The Library of Congress. This event is part of the Center's effort to bring cutting edge research to policymakers, and the interested public. This is in keeping with the Kluge Center's mission since its inception in 2000. The notion, according to John Kluge, the late John W. Kluge, is to "have a space at the library to bring doers and thinkers together." Today, we have one of those thinkers, a scholar in residence, Digital Studies fellow, Dr. Todd Belt. He is here to answer questions for me, and a little later from you, about the impact of social media on American politics. Let me tell you a little bit about Todd before we get started. Todd joined us at the Kluge Center from his home institution the University of Hawaii at Hilo. He will be going to Colorado now, for the break, and then to get really cold weather, before he goes back to work in the spring semester. He is a professor of Political Science there. His research and writing focuses on the Presidency, mass media, public opinion, and campaigns and elections. He is co-author of four books, over two dozen articles, and over a dozen chapters and edited volumes. His most recent publication, which was completed this year here at the Kluge Center is entitled, Can We At Least All Laugh Together Now? Twitter and Online Political Humor During the 2016 Election. It appears in the book, The Role of Twitter in the 2016 U.S. Election, which was just published this month. Of course, afterward Todd can tell us more about that book, and Todd, let me start with kind of just a softball question before I get tough on you. >> All right. >> As a student of American politics, how did you get into the study of social media? >> Well, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the influence of text, visual and audiovisual messages, and I was really interested in how those had a differential impact on persuading people how to vote, and how they thought about political issues, and during that time the net revolution happened in the mid-1990s, to date myself. And I was really influenced by how so much more media was available. Then of course, we had the social medial revolution in the early 2000s, and now anybody can create and disseminate all this type of information, which has really changed our information environment, in which we're doing governance. And I think it is a very important question for us to address as we forge ahead in our great experiment in popular government. >> So you must have been on kind of-- you were the vanguard, part of the vanguard of scholars, is that right? In this area? >> I guess [laughs]. There's a bunch of people who-- >> Couldn't have any in the 90s... >> There's a bunch of people who have been working on this, and I'm among them, but there's a lot of people who have done quite a lot of research that I'll talk about today. >> Okay. While you've been here at the library this year, what exactly have you been doing? You know, how did you make use of library collections, you know, what kind of research were you conducting here? >> Yeah, my research project was on how the digital revolution has changed how we conceive of Presidential candidates, and looking at a longitudinal study from the modern Presidential campaign from 1960 onward to current, and comparing how people express themselves, and how they interacted with the information environment, both before and after we have social media. >> Okay. So now we're going to get to the substance of the matter, and I think it's good, it's always good in an academic setting to make sure we know what we're talking about, kind of definitionally. >> Sure. >> Let's just make sure we're all-- what is the distinction, what is social media as compared to regular media? Where is the line drawn? >> Okay. Well as I mentioned before, we talked about the first internet revolution, we have what we consider sort of three different stages, what we call legacy media, this is the good old days, right? When we had three television networks, newspapers, and radio and such, and then we started to get our cable television networks. Then we have web 1.0, which is the first internet revolution. We started getting web pages. And that was distinguished by the fact that it was what you would call a one to many sort of relationship, whereas you would have certain people putting up websites, had the ability to do so, was still pretty onerous to do it back then. And being able to talk to people through websites, and later on some blogs and stuff. Now, there were some people who were putting up websites, and communicating with other people through Usenet groups and things, but that was a smaller fraction. What really happened with what we called web 2.0, the term of the millennium, was the ease with which you could create internet content became drastically reduced. Much cheaper, much easier, you could put together websites. Somebody would have something that, you know, pre-programmed website, just put your content in there, it comes out all nice, and people can interact with it. And out of that, sprang what we call social media. And social media now allows us to interact with people that we know socially and people that we don't know socially and where there's overlaps, you can reach and get your message to people that you wouldn't normally talk to. They may not be on your email distribution list. They may not just happen by your website by chance. And so because of social media, this is how we've had this big expansiveness, of being able to contact one another. And so now that's what we call the many to many relationship. It has really caused a democratization of the information environment for political discourse, for better or worse. >> So, this may be an unsophisticated question, but a blog on the Washington Post, where does that fall on the line, is that legacy? Or is that social media? >> Well, now because we are in the social media environment, it becomes more legacy that is linked through social media. It gets recirculated through social media, through linking, through Twitter, Twitter accounts, and Facebook. So it's all very much linked together now. >> Yeah, so it's hard to-- sometimes hard to make that distinction all that fast. >> Yeah, and of course people can post comments on certain things, and-- >> Exactly, yeah, that's kind of what I was getting at, and even on normal articles, it can be a blog, right? >> Sure. >> In the political context, what effects do social media have on individuals? >> The main effect that social media has on individuals that has really changed how we go about getting information and what we consider to be valid information, there is 81% of Americans now have some sort of social media presence. That doesn't mean they're using it, some people will create something and not go back to it. But of that 81%, about two-thirds of people say that they go online for information about politics. So social media, when it comes to politics, is mainly about information, and learning about what is going on in the world. And it has had a number of effects on people's attitudes and behaviors, in terms of just even their policy positions, 20% of Americans have said that through their interactions in social media, they've changed an opinion on an issue. And 17% have said that they changed their opinion about a political candidate. So it really does have some important ramifications there. But of course, there is all this information. And another thing that we're really seeing is a lot of fatigue. Over two-thirds of people say that they are "worn out" by the amount of politics on social media. We really have become this information overload environment. Many people have said that they do not-- many people say the social media has created an environment which is now more toxic for political discussions. More than half say that they think that social media discussions are more angry, less tolerant, and less informative than political discussions they have elsewhere. And so we see a lot of people are now blocking a lot of people, and not following other people. A quarter of Americans say that they just won't have any interaction with people because of something they've posted on social media with which they disagree. And yet people still come back to it, right? We have this addiction. Social media is a heck of a drug. And we do keep coming back to it. And part of that is because we have this need and this longing to make sure that what we say is important to other people. We get a lot of validation by having what we say be important to other people. In fact, when you get a ring on your phone, a text message, or even just an alert about a media post, or someone has responded to your post, some people say that actually releases dopamine into your brain, and you get a little high out of it. And so it is something that is extremely addictive. >> It's better for you than some other similar-- >> Yeah, and there are some behavioral effects, too, right? Protests, and in elections... >> So I know of a fairly rich literature that developed some years ago as, you know, Fox News, the advent of Fox News, and then later on MSNBC, about whether, you know, that style of media, that sort of ideological media, was making people, you know, more liberal or conservative. And some of that literature is counter-intuitive. My question for you though, in the social media context is, so is it making, you know, moving people to the left or right or both, you know? >> Yeah, there's a real big chicken and egg problem with doing that kind of research, right? Because people tend to seek out what they like. One of the things that we know is that people have, one of the things I wanted to talk about is the fact that we do have tendency for confirmation bias, right? That is, we will believe information that corresponds to our pre-existing notions, and we also engage in what is called motivated reasoning, and behaviors where we will go out and find information that will help us avoid what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. That is, if I hear something bad about the candidate that I like, I will try to find information that will discount that information, right? And so there is some information that does happen. But I've got some graphics that will show you how this is really played out in the 26th-- >> So here's my hardball question for you. Can social media actually change the outcome of an election? >> Okay, I don't want to sound like I'm hedging on this one again [laughter], but this is a tough one, right? To try to say to somebody did you change your opinion because of what you saw on social media? A lot of people are not going to answer that question in the affirmative, right? And can we go back and look at everybody's social media history and then find out how they voted? Well there is also again a chicken and egg problem there too because we know people follow people they like, right? That they already agree with. So it is difficult for us. We are having a problem with the computer, John? Thank you. Always updating, right [laughter]. Also-- >> 2.0, right? >> [Laughs] Yeah. The chicken and egg problem also with trying to find out, you know, where people sharing with others, but we do know that some of what we call instrumental variables, that is things that help candidates get elected are impacted by social media. In fact, people more like to volunteer, to share the candidate's information, get out the vote efforts, seem to be enhanced by social media. Campaign contributions are enhanced by social media, and a number of other factors that do help get candidates elected. We are more sure that certainly does help. >> Yeah, you sort of have that path. So this is going to be back to basics, for those of us who are more unsophisticated about the impact of social media. The words "fake news" out there all the time, of course, can you tell us exactly how social media spread fake news? Is there an easy way just to explain that, for those of us who are less sophisticated? >> Two very important terms, virality, and velocity. And if we look at what we call virality, that has to do with sort of the logarithmic rate of growth of sharing of information that happens in social media. This is just something I did back in the 2008 election, looking at the viral videos that came out with Barack Obama, and back then it was candidate Mitt Romney, and as you can see, some of them hit over 20 million views, whereas a lot of them are languishing in the mere 2 million views, and what happens? What happens is, you catch fire. You get to that critical mass where people start sharing your information, not just with people they know, but across platforms. And that is what we call the velocity. Velocity is movement across platforms. You can see I did a logarithmic transformation on it. It resembles sort of a normal curve, once you see that, once you ramp it up, and you can really catch fire. So that's a big part of it. So how do you get to that critical mass? And how do you get something to catch fire? And why is it the fake news people have figured this out more than others? Right? A lot of it has to deal with what we call in political science, moral contagion. And that is something becomes contagious when it has a moral content to it. When you use moral language especially language that is emotionally charged, and moral, you can usually get a bump of about at least 20% in the amount of people who are going to recirculate your information. So that is a really big thing. And so of course, the people we might call bad actors out there in the world, that are spreading fake information, they know that too. And so you can see that a lot of the stuff has been recirculated are not necessarily things that say vote one way or vote another way, but really designed to drive a wedge into the public and the united states, really trying to divide us as a country. A lot of stuff for and against Black Lives Matter, for and against Muslims, this came up with the issue of President Trump re-tweeting the videos that turned out to be fake in the UK. So that is something that, you know, once we get ramped up, we can reach that critical mass, and then you get to this aspect of confirmation bias. And so people want to believe what they see. Then you get into somehow stimulate this feed algorithm. Right? These are some of the elements of Facebook's feed algorithm. I'm not asking you to read all of them or anything like that, there's no test on this, right? But you can see that it's based upon a number of different things. And they change this on a weekly basis as to what is important. But if you notice that it's, are you linking to other things? Are your shares liked by other people? It's built into this equation that if you get something that starts to move, it's going to snowball pretty quickly and move around the internet. So it's also helped by the fact, fake news is helped by the fact that we have a natural psychological human tendency to like to tell people something new, something novel, to get the scoop on the newest, latest information, to regale our friends with information that might be counter intuitive. That they might not expect. Oh, hey, this is actually the way this works, not the way you thought. And so we have a tendency to do that. And that plays into it. So what I'm telling you is, social media, such as it is structured, plays into our worst human tendencies to share biased information. And so you know, this is what we get. We have people who want to believe, and then are sharing the information. >> We have an astrobiology share as well-- >> We do. >> I think that was mistakenly in here from her talk, I think [laughter], the-- so, of course, not all social media platforms are created equal. And we are-- I assume not. Are there differences among them in terms of their impact on politics? >> Yeah, and a lot of it has to do with their nature. Twitter famous for its 140 characters, now 280 characters. You can't do much of a policy discussion at 140 characters right? But you can link to stuff outside, and there's also differences in the profiles of the people who use them, and the ways that they're used by politicians. We find that politicians have a tendency to use Twitter to speak to the press, whereas they use Facebook more as a tendency to organize supporters, and that has to do with the fact that Twitter is a little bit more professional, a little bit more geared toward the press, mass media. And Facebook is geared more toward, you know, what people want to do, and what they're doing at that particular moment. And so you know, that's also played out in just, you know, on Facebook you friend somebody, whereas on Twitter you follow somebody. I mean, those words are actually kind of true. >> So this is a little-- still talking about the platforms and the differences among them, but a little different angle. What, if anything, are the different platforms doing to tamp down the spread of fake news? >> Right. Well we certainly don't want to try to force them to do anything, having the First Amendment being such as it is, and also social media platforms are very popular, so it probably wouldn't be a good way to try and start legislating against them. But some of the things that they're going after are what we call the dark ads, right? These are some of the advertisements that come from other places. You may have heard during the 2016 election, there was $100,000 in Rubles paid to Facebook, coming from a dot-RU address, well you know, that's got fingerprints all over it, so that's pretty obvious. But there are some things that are a little bit less obvious, and there are a number of different projects that researchers are working on, trying to identify bots a little bit better. Right? And bots are those automated algorithms that generate and distribute content a little bit different than what we call cyborgs, and cyborgs are ones that are sort of human is using it and tweaking it a little bit to try to get better distribution. So right now, Facebook is working with Pro Publica, in order to try to identify some of those dark ads that are coming in. Facebook tried to create what they called a disputed indicator tag, and they were working with a number of the fact check groups., and such, problem was you know, it takes about three days to fact check something. And by that time, your virality and velocity is already over, right? When something catches fire, and you know, it catches an air of truth to it, so that's a little bit difficult. Now they've got something called a trust indicator that they're putting next to little ads with the little I that you can put your mouse over, and then you can get a little bit of information, but it's not quite known whether or not that's going to be particularly effective. It just gives you information about who put that ad there. So it's difficult, you know, the-- we always say the hackers are one step ahead, and it's true that they are, so it's difficult to keep that up. In terms of more public information, there is an Oxford project on computational propaganda, which is just an awesome word. I love that. Computational propaganda. But they're doing a lot of research on social media, and trying to identify things, trends that are going, and trying to identify what the next trend is going to be, that we can impact what we see in here in social media. >> Let's switch gears a little bit. You know, we're right across the street from the Capitol, and all the House and Senate office buildings, and I know one of the challenges, you know, I've been in and around Congress for, I guess decades now. And in terms of managing social media, as a practical matter, how should-- maybe you can be a little prescriptive, or at least throw out some ideas. How should Congressional offices handle social media so that things, for lack of a better term, don't spiral out of control? >> Right. Well, politicians really love social media. Because it helps them avoid what they call the media filter. Right? They don't have to go through the news, and have what they're saying edited, or in some ways constrained. So they can get all of their message out there, without having to go through editors. But there is also the saying, you know, the old saying, never pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel, right? When talking about the old newspapers, and Congressmen's relationships with them, should say Congress-persons now. And...everybody has got the ink now, right? Everybody has got a chance to, you know, there are people on Twitter who have millions of followers, and they're not politicians, they're not celebrities, they're people who have just really become the go-to people, that people look toward for comment on what's going on. So you have to be kind of careful. But there is some political science information that says that in terms of speaking with constituents, you have to realize that there are different types of constituents. There are some who are more informed with what is going on, and there are some who are a little bit less informed. And the ones who are a little bit more informed, it is usually better to use data, and numbers, and to give them the information they need to know about a policy. But for less informed voters, it's better to tell a story. Using a narrative. Using emotional language, you can actually get more traction with those people by telling a story, kind of the way that Reagan used to, when he used to tell his stories. And you can also create interactivity. Many of you have probably seen on Twitter, you have your little Twitter poll, and stuff, right? People actually like those. They like to engage with those. So people will sometimes share those polls, and another thing that gets a lot of re-tweeting on Twitter is when you have contests, little contests, who can name this? And that gets people involved as well. And asking people questions. But that can backfire on you spectacularly as well. So when you ask the public a question, be aware that, you know, the other side is going to come after you on that. I mean, I think of Jeff Lake, last week, right? He gave a contribution to Roy Morris' competitor, Doug Jones, and you know, he just took a picture of it right? And he said party over country. And that just totally went viral because, because of that. It was something that people didn't expect, it was quick, it had an emotional sort of appeal to it, and the last thing that people need to do to get a lot of traction is to do what we say go external. One of the things that really hampered Hillary Clinton's online campaign in 2016 was that of all of her Tweets, 75% of them that had external links went back to her website or other social media platforms, whereas 75% of Donald Trump's went elsewhere, which meant that he was expanding his web and his networks throughout the campaign, whereas Hillary Clinton was constraining hers. >> You know, kind of from a similar practical standpoint, at least, what do citizens need to know to protect themselves or better inform themselves about what is going on? Protect themselves from fake news? >> Well, it's difficult, right? Because it's all over the place, and the fact checkers are three days behind, and it's difficult to know. >> I'm going to interrupt you there-- >> Please do. >> That raises something, you know, you read the Washington Post has the fact checker, and then there is the organization, I think from out of St. Petersburg does it. >> Yeah, mm-hmm. >> And do those have impact? >> Mm-hm. >> I mean, are they making a difference? Or is having, you know, like the Washington Post has the four Pinocchio's-- >> Right. >> Is that too confusing or what? I mean, you get the drift of what I am asking. >> Yeah, it's pretty marginal, but what political science research has shown is that if you can re-tweet that information in such a way that makes it funny or humorous, you can use humor to attract attention to someone's falsehood. That can be more informative than just the information itself. >> Just the fact. >> It's how you package it that really matters, yeah. And so recognizing and knowing what is fake is a difficult thing to do, but one of the things that we saw, let me go to it here, this is a crazy spider web that was created by Yochai Benkler up at Harvard and MIT, about the 2016 election, and [sneezes] excuse me, you will see that Breitbart became sort of the center of the shared universe on Facebook and Twitter, during the 2016 election. That the stories that were there, these web links and the sizes indicate how much content was linked to from those sources. And on the right side you can see Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and a lot of those stories on Breitbart were re-written by bots with headlines that would be very controversial, which didn't even match the content of the story. So one of the things you have to do is you have to read the stories, right? There's a saying on the internet, TLDR, right? Too long, didn't read it. Right? So a lot of people will share stories just because they read the headline, it corresponds with something they want to say, and having it seem to come from ostensibly a credible source makes them want to share it to get their political point out. So reading things through is very important. Recognition. There are some places on the web that you can go to and check that are a little bit more helpful, and there is, all right, Snopes is a good one, as well, and Hoaxy is another one. And so Twitter and Facebook are trying to provide more credibility to certain people, you get your little blue checkmark, right, on Twitter, although that has become very controversial as to who gets that, and to who is considered an authoritative figure. So there are certain things you can do. But the first thing is read the whole thing, right? See if it makes sense. Does it pass the smell test? Right? >> So kind of get into some wrap-up questions, you know, in an attempt to bring together some of the things you've talked about, and whatever else would make sense, from your perspective and being immersed in cutting edge scholarship, and doing the scholarship yourself on social media and politics, can you identify a few of the biggest problems that you would see as problems? >> Yeah. The biggest problem is, as I like to say, we have met the enemy and he is us. Right? Social media is a tool, and it's how we have interacted with this tool, and like I said, it's brought out some of our naturally occurring tendencies that are really difficult. We need to catch up to this technology in terms of the way we use it. I mean, we sprung into this headlong without really thinking too much about what we're doing. It's been ready, fire, aim, instead of ready, aim, fire, with social media. And so we need to recognize and come to grips with what we can do to be better citizens, to pass along information that is more verifiable, and to use it in a responsible way. We have to recognize that we have a natural human tendency to do public performances of our allegiances, that is to use social media not to say what I think, but what I want you to think who I am. Right? And to create this social media platform of this, this is who I am for the world to consume, right? This is what I want people to think of me. Which means that you end up sometimes sharing information that may not be exactly what has-- as honest as it could otherwise be. We also have to come to grips with the fact that, you know, familiarity can sometimes breed contempt, and there are things sometimes people will say to each other when they feel familiar with them, and behind their keyboards, safe and secure. And say things that are, you know, can be hurtful. There is that shield that the internet provides that social media can at times bring out some of our worst tendencies. And I think the last thing that we really need to come to grips with in terms of using social media is our tendency to read the worst motivations in what other people post. And we do this all the time. Specifically when it's text. We have a tendency to think, you know, the person has the worst motive, or they're out to get us, when they may just be asking a question. We think it's a rhetorical question, it's a snide remark. And so dealing with our own issues is, I think, a really big part of that. >> So I don't want to be droll, but what is the plus side? >> Oh, absolutely there are many plus sides to it, right? The plus sides, obviously for members of Congress and presidents, they can talk directly to the people and avoid the media, for better or worse, right? Like I said. The internet has also allowed us to, you know, not allow people to run away from their pasts, right? We're seeing a lot of that now, that things will come back to catch you. And it used to be that politicians used to have what some people would consider to be a throwaway line about policy. If they didn't know what to do about a political issue, they would say well, we have to have a national dialogue about this issue, we need to have a national dialogue about race. We need to have a national dialogue about sexual assault. Well, guess what? We're having those. And why are we having those? Because this tool social media has allowed these voices that have otherwise not been heard. A place to be expressed. And so issues of sexual harassment, and sexual assault, the Black Lives Matter movement, other issues that otherwise may not have been covered in main steam press are now pushed into the foray, so much so now that, you know, you have our Times Person of the Year, right? They're the silence breakers. >> So this is the your final jeopardy, really, hard question. On balance, does social media help or harm democracy? >> Can I say the jury's out [laughter]? I don't want to hedge or anything like that, but certainly there are some drawbacks, and I think I've highlighted a lot of them that have to do with, you know, our human psychology. But there are also a lot of benefits, right? More information ostensibly is good for democracy, right? But of course, we have to be able to tell what is good information from bad information, and we have to be able to speak with one another, right? And social media allows us to speak with one another. We have been yelling at one another, instead of speaking with one another, right? We've been attacking each other, instead of having a civil dialogue. And if we can get to that point where we can have a more civil dialogue back and forth, then I think the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks that we've seen so far. I mean we used to have this system, the legacy media, where you had the three television networks that were controlling most of what people saw and heard, and now we have so many perspectives. Has the pendulum swung too far? Becoming polarized? It's not so bad to become polarized and have more perspectives, as long as we can discuss things with civility. >> You know, you raise-- people my age, and you know, the baby boom, which of course the lump in the snake, so there's more than any other group [chuckling], the baby boom grew up you know, as though, and I guess the sense was, it was always the three networks, and that was it. That must be the, you know, the load star, or whatever that expression is. >> Right. >> That must be the goal, that's the right way, but in fact, you know, we may think the social media age is crazy, but the anomaly was that period for a few decades when TV existed and there were only three networks, and you capture news from three sources, and you know, and 63 people watch the news hour, you know, and then before that, it was a different kind of free-for-all wasn't it? >> Yeah. >> So it isn't like, you know, we should think about oh, it's bad, because when Walter Cronkite told us what to think was a better time, because there was another period that had some serious drawbacks, too. >> I'm not saying it's better, and I'm not saying its worse. I'm saying there are pluses and negatives involved. >> Kind of a perspective on it. >> Yeah. >> Well thank you, Todd. >> Thank you so much. >> Very interesting. >> Right. [ Applause ] >> We are prepared to entertain questions. Raise your hands, and we want to, there is a gentleman-- there's a few, where are our microphones? Got you. Emily have you got it? This gentleman here in the front, center. >> I realize everything is complex, but when you look back in history, blacks and women struggled for decades to achieve at least some degree of legal equality. >> Yes. >> The gay movement moved much quicker. Did social media have any role in that? >> Yes. I do believe that social media has had a role in the interactions with-- that people have. One of the things that we can see about the gay rights movement, that allowed it to swing so quickly in the period of 8 years, right? You had two-thirds against, versus two-thirds for, gay marriage right? In the period of eight years, and the number one thing that influenced that was interpersonal contact. That was people knowing a person who was gay or lesbian or transsexual, right? And because of having those social networks, right? We've expanded who we know, and you know, you don't have the closetedness as you did in the past. And so yeah, so that interpersonal connection is made, and that was one of the things that really, really caused that policy to move in that direction. Caused public opinion to move that direction on that policy. >> Interesting question, great question. I think somebody was second, right here? This lady in the second row? And then we-- >> A lot of these things do not sound new at all to me, you can sub-- surmise that under sensationalism. And I remember when I was in middle school we were educated how to identify fake news in the Yellow Press, for instance, there were some very easily to identify markers, where we could see that, for instance, the way they use the language, very emotional, that there was actually no information, of course, no mentioning of sources or so. Can you imagine that nowadays kids get being educated in order to identify fake news in their social media, and do you think that is a role that schools should play? >> Yes [laughs], information literacy I think is absolutely the key to this. Being able to identify those things. Like you said, stories that are non-sourced. I mean, there is a real big flag there. But we also have this social media where, it's very compressed, right? So you don't expect a lot of sourcing. It's difficult to find where a meme came from, right? An image with just information on it. So absolutely, I think media literacy is absolutely the main thing that we need to do. But I think that part of that media literacy as I've stressed here, has to deal with how we interact with information, and knowing and understand how we can bring our emotions and our pre-conceived biases and how we can be easily fooled by things as well. So I absolutely agree. Excellent question. >> Thank you, Todd. Very interesting. In case anybody didn't know, today the FCC decided to demolish net neutrality. What do you see as the impact on social media by this decision? >> Great question. >> This is a really good question. And the main concern with net neutrality is the throttling issue, right? And now allowing so much bandwidth to certain types of sites. We saw what happened with Netflix when they got throttled, and they ponied up extra money to be able to keep their bandwidth open for their movie streaming. It is-- obviously Twitter and Facebook are extraordinarily successful, and so they would be able to ride it out, but what social media does for democracy, it's not the 140 characters that matter, it's what you're linking to there. Right? And so there may be some of those links to outside sources that, you know, you may not be able to download quite as easily, and may be silenced from them. >> If I could just comment again on that. >> Yeah. >> But in other countries, this has happened before, and free services, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., have gone to paid subscriptions, and have gone into packaging. Internet service providers have put together packages, like your-- like Comcast would, where you don't have the premium channels and things. If people need to start paying to access Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube, and things like that, how do you think that is going to affect social media in general? >> Well obviously that's going to widen what we call the digital divide, right? Between the haves, and the have nots. Most people, especially most people in foreign countries right now, use their primary device their phone. Right? And so they get a cheap phone, and they use things for free, so I think that will divide us even more in terms of the haves and have nots, I think so, and obviously, yeah, just Ethiopia two days ago shut down their social media because they were having some unrest. You know, hopefully we don't do that in this country, but there are-- net neutrality is a nefarious way to privilege some forms of speech over others, yeah. >> Gentleman in the bowtie was next. >> So I wanted to ask what you think the role of platforms should be, and monitoring, sorry, censoring, moderating the national dialogue, especially when you look at some political candidates we've had, and elected officials, where their platforms border on hate. And so where, what point should we say like, nope, that's not worthy of your 140 characters, you're not letting that go up. >> Mm-hm. >> Or what, or how should Facebook or Twitter say like, this really isn't a good idea, kind of. What roles do platforms play? >> Okay. Thank you for that question. Obviously these tech companies say, "We're tech companies not media companies," right? And they like to sort of hide behind that and give themselves a shield. But they are our gateway to media, right? And you know, you're talking about hate speech and such, well, that comes under the terms of service of each particular platform, right? And that is up to each platform. There are terms of service and Twitter has actually been a little bit more strict than Facebook in terms of blocking users for violating their terms of service. It is up to them, right? They are businesses, and we shouldn't be telling businesses how to conduct this type of thing. But on the other side, right? They are performing a very, very important service. But we don't have like the FCC licensing that we can hold over their heads, right? In order to be able to do what we want, right? The internet, it's a complicated system of, you know, of interaction, where it's not all government owned. It's not all owned by the people like the airwaves are, so we can't use the FCC to do that. So it's a bit more complicated. And so it's certainly up to those, and you know, you can opt out of a group that you don't-- of a business for which you don't like their policies, but then again, you know, there's only two big ones, right? I mean, well, we've got four up here, right? But Instagram for politics? Eh, kind of not so much, right? And YouTube? Eh, kind of not so much. But it's really Twitter and Facebook, right? That's the big fish in the sea. >> Down in the back there? >> Hi, I'd like to offer a little bit of historical perspective. I'm doing quality review on historic newspapers, and in 1893, one of the newspapers was like, what would the world be like in 1993? And a journalist was speculating that aside from the vast acceleration of technology not much philosophically, and he quoted something from the 18th Century which was saying how horrible newspapers were with character assassination, salaciousness, mid-18th Century, which claimed that around the turn of the 18th Century, things were sober and good, but that was like 60 years before the 18th Century gentleman's time, and the person from the 1893 was looking back and saying if this person said it was so bad then, basically things will not have changed much in terms of human nature. The main changing factor is the vast acceleration of technology. Could you trace cyclical changes in philosophy of news, or is the primary differential essentially technological? >> What do you mean by philosophy of news? I'm sorry-- >> I mean trying to report things relatively objectively rather than going for sensation. 18th Century, 19th Century, different periods. >> Okay. Thank you for your question. Obviously there's always rosy retrospection about the old times, right? And we can always complain about the kids these days, right, and their social media, and what's going on, and I've tried not to do that here, and what I've been talking about. But I think one of the problems that social media has created is that everyone is seen as a purveyor of news with equal amount of credibility. And I think that is a problem. And this is not helped by the fact that the-- that mainstream news media is pretty reviled in this country right now, and are losing their credibility. There are still more people who get their information from television news than social media, but that is on the decline, in concordance with their credibility. So that can be a problem. But there is an important place for legacy media, and for curated news, for fact-checking, for double-checking your sources. CNN got into a little bit of problem with that last week, didn't they, right? So I think that you know, there's still a place for that. It is important, and the fact that those are still, as I showed with those bubbles. The legacy media are still some of the biggest bubbles up there that are linked to. So they play an important role in the information environment, and that air of credibility and their news philosophy is still very important to a lot of people. >> Right here. >> Hi, I would like you to comment on the implications of social media for the market place in terms of for example Bloomberg had a piece a couple of weeks ago, or whenever Amazon took over Whole Foods. Contrasting how many Trader Joe's customers were at Whole Foods that day, and you know, vice-versa, and so they knew avocados were driving the issue, for example. So that was information aggregated from social media. So one could assume that a fake news story could drive a market price, for example, a stock price. That kind of thing. >> Or an oil price [laughter]. >> Yeah, an oil price. Do you have any comments on the commercial implications? And even Bitcoin, for example, of social media? >> Yeah, they are obviously vast, right? If you can get a story that can hook into people's emotions and can make them panic about something, right? We can-- I'm not going to say we're going to see, you know, a 1929 situation or anything like that, but certainly people really, you know, gravitate to stories that make them emotionally anxious, afraid and worried. Those types of stories have been shown by political science scholarship to stimulate information seeking about those things. But on the flip side, if you're getting that information, then you're going to be doing more information seeking, then you can sort of find out what's real about that. So it is possible, but I hope that our natural human tendency in that instance is to seek out more information and then to get to the truth, I would hope. >> You know, one thing that hasn't come up directly is the impact the President, both when he was running for President, and now that he is President, so what impact has his approach to social media had that may be lasting in terms of electoral strategies, and in terms of governing. Is it too soon to talk about that? Or what is this-- where is the scholarship going on that? You wrote a book about 2016, or part of it-- >> I did about the campaign. People are writing about governance now. >> Yeah, right. >> So that stuff is still in process, but the things that we've seen about Donald Trump that he's been effective at, is remember I said that politicians use Twitter to talk to the press? It's-- there''s not a coincidence that he is up so early in the morning Tweeting. He's trying to set the media agenda for the day. He's trying to tell us what, you know, we're going to be talking about. He's trying to tell the people at the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News, CNN, what he wants them to cover that night, by saying provocative things, and getting traction on those particular issues. I think we will probably see other people trying to do that. I don't know if they'll have the same sort of effect that he has. Another thing that we've seen is the name-calling, right? We see Lying Ted, right? And Crooked Hillary. I hope that's not something we're going to start seeing. But once you get something like that attached to you, it becomes what political scientists call a meta narrative. It becomes really difficult to break out of, right? Al Gore never said he invented the internet, right? But we have this sort of idea, that you know, he did say that. Sarah Palin never said "I can see Alaska from my house," right? But this Saturday Night Live thing, you know-- >> Russia, yeah. Russia. >> I can see-- what did I say? >> Alaska. >> Alaska, no. I can see Russia. >> She may neve have said that either but [laughter], right? >> And Donald Trump never said, and this went around during the election, he never actually said, "If I ever ran for President I would run as a republican because they're the dumber party." There was a meme going around that he said that. He actually never said that. That was debunked. But once you get these sorts of things attached to you, it's really difficult to get through that. And so this crooked Hillary thing, really was difficult. And you know, we saw this in the Virginia election, right? He tried to label, Enron Ed, Ed Gillespie, right? So we're starting to see some of this mimicry, going on in political campaigns. And it can be effective. And it does damage to our discourse. We're certainly not talking about policy when we're name-calling, right? >> They have a question over here. Gentleman over here. [ Inaudible ] >> I'm sorry, I can't hear you, sir. >> Anxious, afraid and one other thing? >> Worried. Yeah. Yeah. >> It occurs to me in your talk that the history really, the growth of the internet since the early 90s, coincides with the political polarization and gridlock in Congress. The disconnect and inability of Congressional parties to work together. And Congress is effectively broken and not working as it should. Do you see any correlation between the growth of the information superhighway as we once called it, and this new transparency that brings in, and this breaking of our system? >> Thank you for that question. That is sort of the holy grail right now of American politics, that people are trying to work on. It is very difficult to disentangle some of these things going on at the same time. Let me tell you about some of the other things that are going on right? Obviously we have increased polarization. There are some really good charts, that you can see people who identify strongly republican, strongly democrat, nationwide, moving out towards the poles. There's also good information that shows on the DW Nominate scores that they use to rank members of Congress as to how they're voting. They're moving out as well. We also have the internet, right? Social media. We talk about that today. But we also have what is called Niche Media, now. How many channels you got on your cable now? Can you find something that you agree with? Does everybody have different options that they can go to for their news? They certainly do. And the advent of Niche Media has also done that. And so some people have said, you know, that's part of it as well. Another thing that is going on that a recent book that was written called "The Big Sort," it talks about self-sorting, right? Democrats are moving to the cities. Right? Republicans are moving to suburbs and to rural areas, and so our amount of interaction with people with whom we disagree with is becoming limited, and we can de-friend them on social media. We don't hold so many dinner parties anymore, right? We don't have so many social groups that we go to, you know, Elks Lodge, and different types of social interactions after work that people used to have because of that, so there's a lot of things going on. And so disentangling those, and trying to say what's the chicken and what's the egg here, is something that political scientists are working on. We don't have quite the answer yet, but yes. Stay tuned. >> Great question. We have time for another question, I think we have actually a couple over here. This gentleman here, and then we will go over here, so two more. One, and then two, then we're done. >> Hi. Would you also comment on the volume of information people get, you know, after 24 hours seven days news, change the landscape of information, and now they get, you know, 100 times more than that and how do they actually make any sense of all that? Isn't that actually pushing them to hold onto their hatred or their, you know, fears or whatnot, to just, you know, find some sort of ground in that chaos? >> Mm, yes it is [laughs]. The fact that we have the 24 hour news cycle, and that we have information going on. Also causes mainstream press right, to report things without fact-checking because they want to stay ahead of the cycle as well that has happened a couple times. Some things haven't been double-checked, that they would, the fact that we want to, you know, find things that can just make us sleep easier, right? With this whole massive information coming at us. And so dealing with those types of things certainly does make us a little bit more polarized. We can even find that if you look at when people interact with information with which they disagree, they automatically shut off. Their brain waves are not as active, as if, when they see information that they agree with, they become more active. So how do we get past that? I mean, with this, this oppressive information all the time, and then leading us to seek out the stuff that we like or is going to make us comfortable, and the answer actually is to find common ground with other people. When you start with a premise that you and somebody else agree on the same thing, right? The end goal, then you can keep somebody in a conversation. Then you can start talking about how we get to that goal, and what the means are. But social media, right? We're not having those long, protracted conversations. We're having little bits and bytes. That's something I think we need to work on. >> Gentleman over here, with the last question? >> Since we are at the Library of Congress today, I'm going to finish up with a library question for you. All right, to support your work or scholars like you, or more importantly future scholars like you, what do you see in the role of archives, libraries, and memory institutions with regard to social media? >> Okay, that is a fantastic question. >> Did you put that question in? >> I did not [laughter]. >> Appreciate it if you did. >> I didn't. The obviously the holdings are extensive here at the library, and some of the holdings are, especially the digital holdings, are held by others, right? Proquest, and such. One of the things that the library could do to help scholars like myself is to develop an institutional capacity for extracting and aggregating data. One of the things I've had a little bit of difficulty is if I would like to be able to say okay, for my project, from 1960 to 2016, I want every op ed page from this time to this time, and to be able to have that extracted so I can put together a data set, then sample off that data set, and do that sort of thing. So I think building some more capacity. Because what the library has is fantastic. I think getting our fingers into it, and getting it out in such a way, where we can make it useful, I think, is the one place that needs some work. >> Well, thank you again, Todd, was very interesting. [ Applause ] >> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress. Visit us at



Thirty leaders in the area of communications presided over the event, which had an attendance of over 1800 people. It was broadcast live on C-SPAN, E! Entertainment, and on the UCLA campus.[1]

Partial list of participants


The conference was given extensive coverage by Cynthia Lee and Linda Steiner Lee over two issues of UCLA TODAY (January 13 and 27, 1994). In the article "Gore Details Telecommunications Ideas," Lee and Lee gave an overview of the opening speech given by Vice President Gore.[6] They commented that "Vice President Al Gore outlined the Clinton Administration's proposals to reform the communications marketplace and challenged his audience to provide links from the so-called information superhighway to every classroom, library, hospital, and clinic in the country by the year 2000 [...] 'We have a dream information superhighway that can save lives, create jobs and give every American, young and old, the chance for the best education available to anyone, anywhere,' Gore said."[7] During his talk, "Ernestine" (the fictional telephone operator created by Lily Tomlin for Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) made a surprise appearance. She complained "about the confusing and rapid transformation of communications technology. The Vice president laughingly assured Ernestine that the new technology would be simple to understand and available to all Americans."[7]

In the follow-up article, "CEOs Ponder Direction of Information Superhighway", Cynthia Lee stated that leaders at the conference noted that the future of the information superhighway was still uncertain. " 'Here we are, all ready to go cruising off down this new information superhighway,' said Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, during one of the panel discussions, 'and we really don't know where we are going. It's the first time we will be moving in a certain direction when we don't even know our final destination.' "[8] Geoffrey Cowan, the former co-director of UCLA's Center for Communication Policy, indicated that the key concept of the Information Superhighway was interactivity, or "the ability for the consumer to control it, to decide what they want to receive, and the ability of the technology to respond to highly sophisticated consumer demands."[8]

The participants underscored the point that the major challenge of the information superhighway would lie in access, or the "gap between those who will have access to it because they can afford to equip themselves with the latest electronic devices and those who can't."[8]

See also


  • Lee, Cynthia and Linda Steiner Lee. "Gore Details Telecommunications Ideas." UCLA TODAY, Vol. 14, #9, January 13, 1994:1, 4.[9]
  • Lee, Cynthia. "CEOs Ponder Direction of Information Superhighway." UCLA TODAY, Vol. 14, #19, January 27, 1994: 4.[10]


  1. ^ a b UCLA Center for Communication Policy Archived 2012-10-28 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future
  3. ^ Ernestine and Gore
  4. ^ Gore, Al (1994-01-11). "Remarks as Delivered by Vice President Al Gore to The Superhighway Summit, Royce Hall, UCLA". Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  5. ^ Lee, Cynthia and Linda Steiner Lee. "Gore Details Telecommunications Ideas." UCLA TODAY: 4
  6. ^ Remarks at Superhighway Summit
  7. ^ a b Lee, Cynthia and Linda Steiner Lee. "Gore Details Telecommunications Ideas." UCLA TODAY: 1
  8. ^ a b c Lee, Cynthia. "CEOs Ponder Direction of Information Superhighway." UCLA TODAY: 4
  9. ^ UCLA Today
  10. ^ UCLA Today

External links

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