Social Media Eroding Local News Viewership

In the “Talk of Iowa” podcast, carried across the state of Iowa, Interpersonal Divide author Michael Bugeja warned about erosion of community due to loss of local coverage, with younger generations being affirmed in their political and lifestyle beliefs rather than being informed via diverse views from traditional journalism outlets.

Host Charity Nebbe also had an insightful interview with  KCRG-TV’s News Director Adam Carros with more tech information and statistics from Melissa Tully, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Iowa. 

Aggregate data from the Pew Research Center shows that average audience for late night local newscasts declined 31 percent. Morning audience dropped 12 percent and early evening audience fell by 19 percent.

The first edition of Interpersonal Divide was subtitled “The Search for Community in a Technological Age.” Community news helped maintain community standards. As more people turned to online and social media for information, local viewership was said to be at risk.

That prophecy was spot on, especially in younger viewers. According to Nielsen, “Americans aged 18-24 watched a weekly average of about 12-and-three-quarter hours of traditional TV. It’s now less than 2 hours per day of traditional TV for this young group, the lowest figure yet.” In sum, this vital age group went from more than 2 hours and 10 minutes of viewing per day to about 1 hour and 49 minutes.

All other age groups are dropping viewership, especially when it comes to local news.

Cable carries local news stations, especially in rural areas. However, because of online news and social media, cable viewership also has declined, dropping 9 percent in the 18-49 age bracket, often with companies dropping local affiliates.

A harsh example of that concerns KUSA-Channel 9, the market leader in Denver, down 28 percent at the 10 p.m. news slot, according to the Denver Post.

The Pew Research Center reports 60 percent of those surveyed in the 18-29 age bracket say they watch television only via streaming services on Internet. Only 31 percent watch via cable and a mere 5 percent with a digital antenna.

How do we know that Internet is eroding local coverage? By comparing viewership with listener-ship of radio stations. Radio is terrestrial, or earth-bound, based on radio towers–an icon of rural communities.  Case in point: NPR boasts about 30 million average weekly listeners, up 14% from 2015, according to internal data.

Interpersonal Divide predicted this based on television evolving from a stand-alone one-way news source to an interactive device, much like a smartphone. There is more content than ever streaming through the typical television set, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and now YouTubeTV. You can use your smartphone to connect with the television set, opening up the entire global network.

Moreover, social media gives audience what it wants, according to consumer algorithms. It provides affirmation rather than information.

The new edition of Interpersonal Divide recommends that high schools and colleges require media and technology literacy courses to inform students about the importance of fact and local coverage.

Also, broadcast stations should engage high school students, especially when it comes to live-streaming sports.

Michael Bugeja provides more recommendation and insight in the “Talk of Iowa” podcast, including a challenge to record a week of local television news coverage and discern what information was important concerning crime, courts, sports and weather … that otherwise would have been overlooked.


Banned Ad: Algorithms and Machine “Love”

Science hasn’t been sexy since William Masters and Virginia Johnson pioneered research into human physiological responses. Unlike the match-making site eHarmony, they used human subjects rather than big data.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine devotes several chapters to debunking the myth that “data,” however big, is reliable in the scientific sense.

See these recent posts:

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, similar to our Federal Trade Commission in requiring truth in advertising, banned an eHarmony advertisement that claimed its scientific studies resulted in long-term relationships. You can read the BBC report by clicking here.

Anyone who knows science realized there are limitations and variables that must be taken into account before any conclusions can be made about significance of findings. In this case, eHarmony used a sample that “was not random or representative because it was taken from a pool of couples who had proactively informed eHarmony of their engagement or marriage after the firm encouraged and incentivised them to do so,” according to the ASA.

In other words, this “study” would receive a failing grade not because of the assembled “big data” but because of the flawed methodology–so flawed, in fact, that a graduate student tinkering with survey respondents in this manner might be reprimanded in any research institution.

The new edition of Interpersonal Divide dedicates much of a chapter to algorithms and love, including this excerpt:

The Pew Research Center reports that 41% of American adults know someone who uses online dating and 29% know someone who has married or entered into a long-term partnership via online dating. What isn’t being said is how couples meet via dating sites that use algorithms much like Netflix and Amazon do. Companies utilize facial recognition technology—you liked this face, so perhaps you might like this similar one, too—to match potential partners. Far from the romantic encounters of yore, with eyes as gateways to souls, machines use algorithms as gateways to profits in a process that is sterile, data-driven, and commercial.

If you are looking for love, the only science you need is in human rather than machine chemistry.


Fatal Fantasy: Gamers Trigger Police Shooting

This is a remarkable story that you will be reading about for some time because it concerns the clash of two immensely newsworthy components: video games and police shooting.

In this case, the 28-year-old victim,  Andrew Finch, Wichita, was not a gamer. He did not play “Call to Duty” or other video games. He may not even have heard of the term “swatting,” contacting emergency services with a false 911 call. (More about that later in this post.) Rather, he was a father of two children and loved his family.

In other words, he could have been anyone. He could have been you.

Here’s how the incident purportedly happened. Tyler Barriss, a 25-year-old gamer in Los Angeles, now under arrest, had a dispute with another player on “Call of Duty,” a popular World War II online game. Barriss made the swat call from California to Wichita, telling dispatch that he had shot his father and was holding his mother and little brother hostage in the closet. He said he had poured gasoline in the house and might just like a match.

You can hear the chilling 911 call by clicking here.

Barriss lit a gaming match that Interpersonal Divide has warned against since 2004 when the first edition was published by Oxford University Press.

Barriss reportedly had an online argument over a bet with a gamer. His online adversary gave a false address in Wichita, leading police to Finch’s home and the shooting.

We’re dealing with multiple factors discussed in the second edition of Interpersonal Divide, namely:

  • Loss of reality due to time spent in virtual reality.
  • Lies, exaggeration and incivility in online communities.
  • Disrespect for morality.
  • Virtual violence leading to actual violence in real life.

Here’s an excerpt from the new book, Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine:

Users steeped in virtual environments become immune to the dangers of the real world. … Accidents of all sorts seem to be on the rise perhaps because of the false sense of security provided by the virtual world. Arcade characters simply re-spawn when killed; people do not. There is a general feeling that someone somewhere else is responsible for reporting dangers. 

In this case, Barriss allegedly reported a horrific crime–shooting his father in the head–which, of course, was false. He thought he had procured an address in real place, Wichita, hoping to cause havoc via a swat to police. The ultimate stupidity here is believing that a gaming adversary would provide a correct address. Instead, it provided the location of an innocent victim, someone who died because of what was occurring in a video game in the cloud.

Swatting is difficult to defeat as emergency services are obligated to respond to 911 calls. In response, the federal government has warned authorities about swatting, which can turn deadly in various ways. If emergency services are sent to a hoax address, someone in actual need of them may be deprived.

Click here to read the government bulletin so that you know about the ramifications of swatting.

In this particular case, there are multiple victims from Finch, the innocent slain man, to the Wichita police. In a sense, we are all victims of the widening Interpersonal Divide. We may apprehend the dangers of the online world and take precautions to minimize risk. But in the end, we are all living in blended communities, real and virtual ones, with nothing in place as yet to prevent one from bleeding into the other, literally, as in this tragic incident.

To learn more about Internet risks that afflict community life, read the new edition of Interpersonal Divide, available from Oxford University Press or

Violence, Bias, Hate: What Algorithms Miss and Why You Should Care

One year ago, the Daily Beast and other publications ran a story about a Minnesota Trump rally in which a man was depicted wearing a t-shirt that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”

Credit for that political photo in the illustration above goes to Reuter’s Jonathan Ernst.

During a campaign in which reporters were routinely chastised, mocked and assaulted, the shirt in question drew brief intense scrutiny last year but then faded from digital view until this month when its sale was spotted on the Walmart marketplace site.

According to the Washington Post, which wrote about algorithms and inappropriate items sold on popular websites, “Walmart wants to sell you everything you’d ever want to buy. Until Thursday, that included a T-shirt that read “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.”

The item was pulled from the digital shelves and carts shortly after the company received complaints about its violent content.

But that’s not the real story in the age of the machine.

First, Walmart like many box store merchants has adopted an eBay like platform of sellers not officially employed by the company but allowed to post on its website for a fee. Walmart took the heat for promoting the item, which it should, as its main concern is profit–and that comes with risk; but third-party seller Teespring was responsible for putting the item on the global site.

Teespring reportedly told the Associated Press, “As soon as we were alerted to this content promoting violence against journalists, we removed the content, added this content to our automated scanning systems, and kicked off a human sweep [my italics] of the site to find and remove any similar content.”

The operative words here are “human sweep”–once a humanities term, as in “Tolstoy’s historical and human sweep is breathtaking”–now has metamorphosed into a tech term meaning a person checked what a machine did, making sure in this case that digital deletions of the t-shirt were complete across the buying spectrum.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine discusses this phenomenon at length in several chapters about tech-inspired violence, bias and hate.

Technology is neither moral nor immoral; it is amoral, programmed to do two things simultaneously: surveil and sell. For instance, this Facebook post is doing that right now through your smartphone and browser.

The problem with amoral algorithms programmed for profit has wide-ranging ramifications, especially if no human monitors what the machine is selling or compiling. This is the reason why Russians were able to hijack the 2016 US presidential election, also discussed on the Interpersonal Divide site.

For instance, do you believe that institutional racism exists? If so, that has been programmed into machines. See this post based on a WIRED article about digital stereotypes of women that contains this excerpt from Interpersonal Divide:

For instance, if machines compile data suggesting that a certain race, gender and age of people living in a given location may have a higher inclination for wrongdoing, and that person happens to wander into a wealthier section of the neighborhood, merchants equipped with apps might be prone to mistake innocent shoppers for potential shoplifters, depriving them of service or worse, accusing them of crimes.

As for the t-shirt in question, its offensive nature is particularly vile in as much as journalists sacrifice their lives daily to bring society the truth. Last year, 115 journalists and media staff died reporting the news. This year promises another grim statistic as hate is spewed across multiple social media platforms.

Why should you care about a t-shirt using the racially charged text of lynching? Sooner or later, someone is going to target your profession, your friend, your family, your race, your religion, your lifestyle–you–in a product inciting violence, bias or hate. That product will be disseminated across multiple digital platforms globally before a person communicates complaints to a supervisor who checks with the company’s CEO before trying repeatedly to get through to a Walmart-like marketplace to remove the item, ensuring that this has been done via a “human sweep” in the age of the machine.

Move one letter of that term and you get “humans weep” in the age of the machine. But that’s a humanities take on the topic, and so will have little impact, unless companies remember that people matter more than algorithms.

More Connected, but Further Apart: Growing Divides in the Age of Technology

New technology has dramatically changed how we communicate and interact, and Michael Bugeja says that in doing so, it may slowly be eroding some of our core principles.  Professor Bugeja of Iowa State University’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication joins host Ben Kieffer during this hour of River to River.

Bugeja talks about ideas presented in his latest book: Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.  In it, he explores what might happen if we allow machines to dictate our lives, and he says it could mean a loss of empathy, compassion, truth-telling, fairness, and responsibility. In their place, we may adopt machine values.

VISIT THIS LINK TO HEAR THE DISCUSSION … and support Iowa Public Radio by clicking this link to donate.

The Nature of Mediumlessness

In his 1995 book, being digital, Nicholas Negroponte described the nature of technology, re-defining place, time and “mediumlessness.”

He noted the post information age removed the limitations of geography (there is no “there” there) and foresaw “Being Asynchronous,” removing the limitations of linear time so we could be at several virtual places at once, digitally.

He also spoke about “Mediumlessness,” of the ability of technology to morph into several platforms seamlessly.

All too often, these attributes end up being used for entertainment rather than information, as the illustration below indicates.


IPR Interview on Congressional Hearings on Russian Interference

Michael Bugeja speaks with Ben Kieffer on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” about this week’s Senate Intelligence Committee questioning representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Click here for Ben Kieffer’s “River to River” program. Dr. Bugeja’s interview starts at 15:30-minute mark.

On Nov. 13, “River to River” will dedicate one hour to Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.