2020

September

Dr. Bradley Wiggins, associate professor and department head of media communications, was informed that an article he wrote was recently accepted for publication by the prestigious and highly-ranked academic journal, New Media & Society and according to Journal Citation Reports, its 2019 impact factor of 4.577 gives it a ranking of 1 out of 79 journals in the category 'Communication'.

The title of Dr. Wiggins' article is "Boogaloo and Civil War 2: Memetic Antagonism in Expressions of Covert Activism" and was submitted March 1, 2020, underwent two revisions and received immediate acceptance on July 6, 2020.

The term boogaloo refers to a disparate group of individuals linked together mostly due to concerns about gun control and a desire for armed, insurrectionist violence in the United States. The group has been covered by the New York Times, as well as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, among others. 

Here is the abstract of Dr. Wiggins' article: 

Internet memes are remixed images, videos, GIFs, hashtags, and similar content that usually incorporates humor but also some form of political or cultural critique (Milner, 2012; Shifman, 2014; Wiggins and Bowers, 2014). Several studies have previously examined the ways in which minority groups curate internet memes for the purpose of protest or other forms of activism (Frazer and Carlson, 2017; Lenhardt, 2016). This paper examines usergenerated tweets including any of the following hashtags: boogaloo, boogaloo2020, and/or civilwar2. The time period of interest on Twitter concerns any and all images posted between 15 and 25 January 2020, exactly five days before and after a controversial gun rally held in Richmond, Virginia. Drawing on Eco’s theory of semiotics, the results from a critical discourse analysis reveal a tendency toward a preference for antagonism as a means to consolidate identity for individuals engaged in online discursive practice within hybrid structures. Findings include the presence of deeply contextualized and situated logics within an emergent boogaloo discourse. In addition, the study found that hypernarrative storytelling serves the movement in terms of identity negotiation and consolidation. 

August

Ground-breaking Media Theory

On behalf of the International Communication Association, Oxford University Press has published an article by WVPU’s Dr. Anthony Löwstedt on its website. The abstract and the article, titled ‘Developmental Stages of Information and Communication Technology’ can be accessed here. It will also appear in an upcoming print edition of Communication Theory, a leading journal in the field.  

 Among other things, the article offers a new, critical, and synthetic approach to media development based on a solid methodology borrowed from media anthropology, including cultural relativism and a concept of cultural diversification through reversible and multi-directional progress. It seeks to replace a so far dominant, largely Eurocentric and “agrocentric” paradigm on ICT development, which according to Löwstedt, assistant professor at Webster Vienna’s media communications department, over-emphasizes both the Greek alphabet and Gutenberg's ‘invention’ of print media to the detriment of ICT innovations outside the North Atlantic area.

Dr. Löwstedt suggests the developments of media literacy and artificial intelligence will also profit from the new conceptual, more balanced, and more global approach to ICT development and its anthropologically contextualized positioning exemplified in the article. He adds that his 23 years of work at Webster University with its cultural diversity and deeply rooted ideals of academic excellence and global citizenship have contributed positively to the articulation of this theory and its broader acceptance and recognition. 

July 

Associate Professor and Department Head of Media Communications, Dr. Wiggins was recently invited to submit a revision to an article for New Media & Society, currently ranked as the top journal in the field of media and communication, with an impact factor at 4.8. The reviews were very positive, and Dr. Wiggins plans on submitting the revision by the end of April, though he was given until May 25 to submit the revised article. The title of the article is "Boogaloo and Civil War 2: Memetic Antagonism in Expressions of Covert Activism". While this by no means suggests a definite acceptance, given how competitive the journal is, it is an honor to come this far.

The abstract: 

Internet memes are remixed images, videos, GIFs, hashtags, and similar content that usually incorporates humor but also some form of political or cultural critique (Milner, 2012; Shifman, 2014; Wiggins and Bowers, 2014). Several studies have previously examined the ways in which minority groups curate internet memes for the purpose of protest or other forms of activism (Frazer and Carlson, 2017; Lenhardt, 2016). This paper examines user-generated tweets including any of the following hashtags: boogaloo, boogaloo2020, and/or civilwar2. The time period of interest on Twitter concerns any and all images posted between 15 and 25 January 2020, exactly five days before and after a controversial gun rally held in Richmond, Virginia. Drawing on Eco’s theory of semiotics, the results from a critical discourse analysis reveal tendencies toward a preference for antagonism as a means to consolidate identity for individuals engaged in online discursive practice within hybrid structures.

 

Associate Professor and Department Head of Media Communications, Dr. Wiggins' full paper submission to the competitive European Communication Conference, administered by ECREA (European Communication Research and Education Association) has been accepted for presentation at the conference to be held in Braga, Portugal from October 2-5, 2020. The title of the paper is "I'm Coming Out": Patterns and Themes of Using TikTok as a Social Platform for Coming Out.

The abstract: 

Coming out represents both an effort to communicate and to identify one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity but also serves as a metaphor for the LGBTQ+ community and its struggles over time. It was perhaps first with Facebook’s Celebrate Pride page that started on June 26, 2015, and the addition of an option to react to a post with a pride flag button, which saw a high volume of individuals using the platform to come out (Wiggins, 2019). Incidentally, the date of the Facebook launch coincided with the Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court ruling of the same date (effectively legalizing same-sex marriage). As a consequence of the ruling, the incidence of Facebook users coming out on the social media platform increased alongside demonstrations of support for the ruling and its implications for social and cultural relations (State & Wernerfelt, 2015). This contribution examines the seemingly emerging and the viral new genre of coming out videos as well as general supportive commentary directed at the larger LGBTQ+ community. Originally launched in September 2016, TikTok has emerged as one of the fastest-growing social apps in recent years with approximately 500+ million active monthly users and 1.5 billion downloads into 2019. Its users gravitate toward the younger end of the spectrum with approximately 41% in the range between 16 and 24, with daily average use of about 52 minutes, and the app’s availability in at least 155 countries (Mohsin, 2019). Zuo and Wang (2019) note that most users tend to fall into one of three groups of popular culture: producers, disseminators, or consumers. One of TikTok’s main advantages over other visually-heavy mediums may be due to its emphasis on “people, highlighting the desire of contemporary young people to express themselves, helping them realize their personal values and enhance their creativity” (Yang, Zhao, & Ma, 2019, p. 341). Through a quantitative content analysis of a select sample of TikTok videos and/or user profiles, this study will demonstrate patterns of coming out on the platform as well as the uses and gratifications implied in that action. Further, this contribution aims to use qualitative discourse analysis to identify themes of solidarity, support, expressions of anxiety, worry, etc. in the coming out and related videos collected for the study.

June

Dr. Anthony Lowstedt

Assistant Professor and Research Faculty, and Adjunct Professor, Webster Vienna Private University

Dr. Anthony Löwstedt is working for the third straight summer as an evaluator for the Portuguese public science and technology fund, FCT. He is evaluating the 96 top applications in the fields of media and communications, political science, and law, as the first reader for ten, second reader for another ten, and on various panels for the rest of the applications.

The quality of applications has risen lately as the procedures and conditions have been fine-tuned to promote and support the best basic research in Portugal. A crucial role is thereby played by outsiders, able to evaluate the applications in terms of the international state of research in each field.

May

Assistant Professor in the Media Communications Department, Dr. Chen published a paper in the Journal of Health Psychology, an international peer-reviewed journal covering all aspects of health psychology. This paper employs computational language analysis to examine breast cancer patients' psychological and social adjustment along the disease trajectory. The findings have both theoretical and practical implications. Please see below for the abstract of the paper.

This article reports a language analysis of breast cancer patients’ posts in an online support group. Adopting web-scraping techniques, the study analyzed 27,078 online posts contributed by 1443 users along multiple linguistic dimensions to investigate the trajectory of the patients’ psychosocial adaptation of the disease. The findings suggested that breast cancer patients’ emotional experiences and adjustment in the course of illness vary from one stage to another. They reached the peak of emotional expression, struggle and despair, and self-focus at Stage III, whereas wiped out negative emotions and signaled a desire for connections with others at Stage IV.

April

Associate Professor and Department Head of Media Communications, Dr. Wiggins was recently invited to submit a revision to an article for New Media & Society, currently ranked as the top journal in the field of media and communication, with an impact factor at 4.8. The reviews were very positive, and Dr. Wiggins plans on submitting the revision by the end of April, though he was given until May 25 to submit the revised article. The title of the article is "Boogaloo and Civil War 2: Memetic Antagonism in Expressions of Covert Activism". While this by no means suggests a definite acceptance, given how competitive the journal is, it is an honor to come this far.

The abstract:

Internet memes are remixed images, videos, GIFs, hashtags, and similar content that usually incorporates humor but also some form of political or cultural critique (Milner, 2012; Shifman, 2014; Wiggins and Bowers, 2014). Several studies have previously examined the ways in which minority groups curate internet memes for the purpose of protest or other forms of activism (Frazer and Carlson, 2017; Lenhardt, 2016). This paper examines user-generated tweets including any of the following hashtags: boogaloo, boogaloo2020, and/or civilwar2. The time period of interest on Twitter concerns any and all images posted between 15 and 25 January 2020, exactly five days before and after a controversial gun rally held in Richmond, Virginia. Drawing on Eco’s theory of semiotics, the results from a critical discourse analysis reveal tendencies toward a preference for antagonism as a means to consolidate identity for individuals engaged in online discursive practice within hybrid structures.

Associate Professor and Department Head of Media Communications, Dr. Wiggins' full paper submission to the competitive European Communication Conference, administered by ECREA (European Communication Research and Education Association) has been accepted for presentation at the conference to be held in Braga, Portugal from October 2-5, 2020. The title of the paper is "I'm Coming Out": Patterns and Themes of Using TikTok as a Social Platform for Coming Out.

The abstract:

Coming out represents both an effort to communicate and to identify one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity but also serves as a metaphor for the LGBTQ+ community and its struggles over time. It was perhaps first with Facebook’s Celebrate Pride page that started on June 26, 2015, and the addition of an option to react to a post with a pride flag button, which saw a high volume of individuals using the platform to come out (Wiggins, 2019). Incidentally, the date of the Facebook launch coincided with the Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court ruling of the same date (effectively legalizing same-sex marriage). As a consequence of the ruling, the incidence of Facebook users coming out on the social media platform increased alongside demonstrations of support for the ruling and its implications for social and cultural relations (State & Wernerfelt, 2015). This contribution examines the seemingly emerging and the viral new genre of coming out videos as well as general supportive commentary directed at the larger LGBTQ+ community. Originally launched in September 2016, TikTok has emerged as one of the fastest-growing social apps in recent years with approximately 500+ million active monthly users and 1.5 billion downloads into 2019. Its users gravitate toward the younger end of the spectrum with approximately 41% in the range between 16 and 24, with daily average use of about 52 minutes, and the app’s availability in at least 155 countries (Mohsin, 2019). Zuo and Wang (2019) note that most users tend to fall into one of three groups of popular culture: producers, disseminators, or consumers. One of TikTok’s main advantages over other visually-heavy mediums may be due to its emphasis on “people, highlighting the desire of contemporary young people to express themselves, helping them realize their personal values and enhance their creativity” (Yang, Zhao, & Ma, 2019, p. 341). Through a quantitative content analysis of a select sample of TikTok videos and/or user profiles, this study will demonstrate patterns of coming out on the platform as well as the uses and gratifications implied in that action. Further, this contribution aims to use qualitative discourse analysis to identify themes of solidarity, support, expressions of anxiety, worry, etc. in the coming out and related videos collected for the study.

March

 

Dr. Bradley E. Wiggins, Head of the Media Communications Department

Prof. Wiggins' book will be reviewed in the top-ranked journal Discourse & Society published by Sage. That review is expected by May of this year. Here is a short excerpt from the review, already accepted for publication and written by Dr. Andrew Ross, Lecturer in TESOL in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. Dr. Wiggins was given a preview of the book review, here is an excerpt:

"Overall, at a time when we can expect to experience a new tsunami of Internet memes in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. election, Wiggins’ book is a timely and extremely comprehensive analysis of this contemporary new media phenomenon. Underlying the detailed analysis is that when dealing with Internet memes we need to, in the author’s own words, be willing and able to step back and “consider what the big picture is, to see beyond the humor of the initial moment, to view a particular meme, its iteration, or even a series of memes as a discourse and not simple bon mot” (p. 143). In doing this, the discursive power so confidently and precisely detailed in this book can be felt by the broader digital community."

February

Developmental Communication Theory

A research article by Dr. Anthony Löwstedt has been accepted for publication with minor revisions by Communication Theory, a major communication journal with an impact factor of 3.395. The article, “Developmental Stages of Information and Communication Technology”, is based on a chapter from Dr. Löwstedt’s doctoral dissertation and presents a new, integrated and systematic treatment of all ICTs, from the Stone Age until now. With a media anthropological-philosophical approach to ICT, four fully convergent, developmental stages so far are distinguished and defined: pictography, ethography, phonography, and prography.

They are invented/acquired in this sequence by human individuals as well as the human genus in general. Pictograms were first invented in forager cultures, ethograms in permanently settled village communities, phonograms in the early cities and civilizations of southwest Asia and northeast Africa, and electronic programs in a globalized society under North Atlantic domination. In contrast to currently prevalent views, print is argued to only provide a corollary, or sideshow, to phonography. Anthropological contextualization of technologies and institutions and the socio-politico-economic inclusivity and exclusivity of media are highlighted in the article. Ever since ethography and the ‘agricultural revolution’, exclusive as well as inclusive media have accompanied humanity. Lately, inclusive potential has grown again through the accessibility, ubiquity, and convergent depth of prography. However, new challenges to inclusivity, including new forms of surveillance, the weaponization of the media and widening wealth disparities, have materialized in the same context.

January

Two Articles Accepted in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Recently, Assistant Professor Meng Chen in the Department of Media Communications has two articles accepted in peer-reviewed journals.

The first article, “From network positions to language use: Understanding the effects of brokerage and closure structures from a linguistic perspective”, is currently in press in Health Communication. The article reports a study investigating breast cancer survivors’ interactions on an online social support forum. Based on a large-scale data of 27,248 online posts and 336,151 received replies, the study examines on how the network structures relate to the types of social support received and to the language used in posts. It was found that survivors’ brokerage and closure levels were positively correlated with the use of positive affective words in their posts, a linguistic marker of well-being. Different network positions fostered different types of support in the community. The findings have practical implications for cancer support forum designers and health practitioners.

The second article, “Mapping breast cancer survivors’ psychosocial coping along disease trajectory: A language approach”, was recently accepted in Journal of Health Psychology. This study reported a language analysis of breast cancer patients’ posts in an online support group in an attempt to map survivors’ psychological change along the disease trajectory. The findings suggested that breast cancer patients’ emotional experiences and adjustment in the course of illness vary from one stage to another. They reached the peak of emotional expression, struggle and despair, and self-focus at Stage III, whereas wiped out negative emotions and signaled a desire for connections with others at Stage IV.

 

​2019

December

Zurich health conference

Dr. Meng Chen attended and presented her paper “The Impact of Language Use on Social Support Exchange in an Online Breast Cancer Discussion Group” at the European Conference on Health Communication held in the University of Zurich in mid-November. The paper sought to understand the linguistic features of social support solicitation posts in an online breast cancer discussion group, and their impacts on types and amount of social support obtained from peers.

The analysis is based on 21,952 threads made by 1,443 breast cancer survivors which elicited 257,130 replies from an online discussion group. It specifically found that using positive affective and future tense words significantly increases the amount of social support received from their peers. The results contribute to the current literature of social support solicitation by examining the language used on the quality and quantity of received social support. This study represents one of the early attempts to bring computational language analysis to the field of social support and health communication.

Accreditation Site Visit to Cyprus

Dr. Wiggins was invited to serve as an expert external reviewer on an accreditation site visit to the Open University of Cyprus in Nicosia/Lefkosia from December 11-14, 2019. The visit included a daylong meeting with various stakeholders at the hosting university in order to review two separate Master of Arts programs, one emphasizing Media in Contemporary School and the other Communication and New Journalism. Research infrastructure and capacities, experience of the teaching faculty, and emphasis on a practice-oriented thesis were major topics of discussion.

November

Media Diversity Distinctions

MEDC assistant professor Anthony Löwstedt and his former student, WVPU (international relations) and University of Vienna (anthropology) alumna Josipa Palac, saw their research paper “Media and Other Biocultural Diversities” published as the first chapter in an Innsbruck University Press volume, titled Das Ende der Vielfalt? Zur Diversität der Medien (‘The End of Pluralism? On Media Diversity’) and edited by Katharina Holzmann, Theo Hug, and Günther Pallaver. The chapter is based on a keynote speech Dr. Löwstedt held at a conference on the theme at Innsbruck University in 2018. Co-author Josipa Palac is the founder and president of the International Cultural Diversity Organization, whose main objective is to promote diversity, interculturality, and raise awareness of different cultural expressions and values in order to encourage the development of cultural interaction with the goal of bringing people closer together and closing cultural gaps. She is also the recipient of the 2019 Webster Vienna Alumni Award.

The chapter outlines media diversities differently from other leading concepts and theories, including the European Union’s Media Pluralism Monitor, the United States Federal Communication Commission’s Diversity Index, and Herman & Chomsky’s propaganda model, all of which undergo critical scrutiny. The authors instead distinguish seven different media diversities: ownership and control, sponsorship, censorship (in a wide sense), type, employment, content, and perspective/opinion. As the definition of media is currently undergoing an extensive reconstruction phase, largely due to technological developments, they also provide additional orientation by means of a context employing the wider concepts of cultural, linguistic and biocultural diversity as well as some of the many ethical and regulatory dimensions involved. Finally, Löwstedt and Palac speculate briefly on a not-so-distant future world, in which the Internet penetrates the entire biosphere and the convergence of these two concepts.

Download the Innsbruck University Press publication, Das Ende der Vielfalt? Zur Diversität der Medien (‘The End of Pluralism? On Media Diversity’)"

October

Principles of Communication Ethics

The article “Do we still adhere to the norms of ancient Egypt? A comparison of Ptahhotep’s communication ethics with current regulatory principles” by MEDC research faculty member Anthony Löwstedt was published in Volume 81, Issue 6-8 of the International Communication Gazette, a peer-reviewed journal (doi: 10.1177/1748048518802241).

The article explores discourse ethics in ancient Egypt nearly 3,900 years ago and finds close parallels with current ethical values. One popular Egyptian text, in particular, is shown to contain all the values and norms of the ethics code of the International Federation of Journalists, the largest journalist organization worldwide today. It is also compatible with the present-day ideologies of political liberalism and reformist socialism. Communications ethics principles may, therefore, be more trans-cultural than commonly assumed.

In looking for origins, the historians of communication ethics so far hardly ever went beyond ancient Greek ethics and the Ten Commandments. But there are even older roots of (not only) Western civilization, and they are easily translatable to current regulatory principles that inform not only communications ethics codes and discourses, but also media law and policy. The Teachings of Ptahhotep can and should, therefore, be taken into account in numerous discourses that currently overlook and ignore them.

Unfortunately, ancient Egyptian secular culture has had very little backing in history. Neither Judaism, nor Christianity, nor Islam have had particularly nice things to say about ancient Egyptian wisdom or values. Many ancient Greek and Roman writers already also distorted or downplayed these elements in particular. This led to a kind of lasting blindness regarding norms that current societies share with ancient Egypt. The insights gathered may prove useful for current efforts to translate, balance and formulate global communication ethics, for example in the UN-affiliated Internet Governance Forum.

Kiev Site Visit

Also in October, Associate Prof. Dr. Bradley Wiggins traveled with Vildana Kurtovic to Kiev in order to promote the undergraduate programs in the Media Communications Department emphasizing the anticipated new program in Strategic Communication. During his visit, he met with over 70 potential students in three separate mini-lectures and received highly positive feedback about the programs and our line of research in the department.

September

Memes and the media narrative - The Nike-Kaepernick controversy

Recently, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bradley E Wiggins, Department Head of Media Communications, Webster Vienna Private University, published his article on "Memes and the media narrative - The Nike-Kaepernick controversy"

This article presents the results of a critical discourse analysis of internet memes. This analysis considers the highly visual nature of internet memes situated in a context of meme-as-utterance prompting other remixed versions as memes-as-responses. Prior to the analysis an orientation to pragmatics as related to internet memes is presented. Following this is an overview of memes research and a necessary discussion of the role of media narratives in the construction and dissemination of internet memes. Finally, a series of memes tweeted in response to Nike’s inclusion of former National Football League player, Colin Kaepernick, in its Just Do It anniversary campaign, serves as the corpus of analysis.

More details here.

August

Peer Reviews

Assistant MEDC professor Dr. Löwstedt conducted a peer review for the journal Media and Communication. In recent months and years, he has also peer-reviewed articles and papers for the following journals and research organizations: the International Journal of Digital Television, Political Research Exchange, the Journal of Digital Media and Policy, the Journal of Greek Media and Culture, the International Communication Association (ICA), the International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, the Journal of Media Ethics, the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), and the International Review for Information Ethics.

July

Meeting in Madrid

Drs. Bradley Wiggins, Meng Chen and Anthony Löwstedt, all MEDC researchers at WVPU, presented separate papers and participated at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) 2019 Congress in Madrid, Spain, July 7-11. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Communication, Technology, and Human Dignity: Disputed Rights, Contested Truths’. It was hosted by the School of Communication of the Complutense University of Madrid and was the biggest IAMCR conference to date with 1,785 registered participants from 83 countries and 5 continents.

In addition to chairing a session, Dr. Wiggins also presented in the Visual Culture working group on the conceptual linkages between modern memes and related expressions within digital culture and Dadaism. The impetus of this contribution was to elevate the importance of semiotics and intertextuality in order to discern the intended critique of society, politics, gender, sexuality, etc. embedded in a given meme. The tendency in such memetic messages is to rely on issues that polarize people or demarcate directionalities. The relationship to Dadaism is especially demonstrated with specific examples, such as Marcel DuChamp’s readymade and the work of artists such as Hannah Höch, Johannes Baader, Max Ernst, Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Hans Richter, and others.

Dr. Löwstedt’s presentation was titled ‘Communication and Dignity in Early Antiquity’. It was delivered to the ‘Working Group: Ethics of Society and Ethics of Communication’ and dealt in detail with how early civilizations, such as those of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Israel, and Greece all had something to say about dignity in communication, especially with regard to deception, humiliation, demonization, de-humanization, defamation, invasion of privacy, and censorship, i.e. violations of human dignity. Still today, this ‘negative’ approach to dignity – it is hard to know what it is, but we know when it is violated – is prevalent in philosophical and theoretical approaches. But many communicative aspects of dignity have recently been overlooked as dignity became mainly associated with bioethics. This paper was thus the beginning of an attempt to make dignity communicative again.

Dr. Meng Chen presented her paper “The effects of language use on cancer information diffusion on Twitter” in the Health Communication division. This paper reports a content analysis of cancer prevention messages posted on Twitter. Based on a dataset of 1,245 cancer prevention tweets posted by the official account of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study investigates how language use of cancer prevention messages affects its diffusion and audience engagement. The results have practical implications for health practitioners to design spreadable cancer-related messages by considering the linguistic factors in a prevention message.

June

Vetting Research Project Proposals

Anthony Löwstedt of WVPU’s media communications department worked for the second year as an external evaluator of research project proposals for Portugal’s public science and technology agency, FCT, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, (the equivalent of Austria’s FWF – Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung) from June 2019 to February 2020.

Dr. Löwstedt was again called upon as an expert on the media and communications, as well as the anthropology, law, political science and interdisciplinary panels. He was the lead reviewer for 12 applications out of a total of 76. External expert evaluators from other major European research centers, such as the London School of Economics, Université Catholique de Louvain, Cork University, Södertörn University, and the University of Edinburgh, were also on the panels. The procedure involved in-depth scrutiny, critique, discussions, and assessments of project proposals from post-doctoral and higher-level researchers. The proposals were assigned to three different levels: principal, assistant and junior research projects, and there were six experts who had a say on each proposal. Previously this year, Dr. Löwstedt also worked in a similar role for South Africa’s public science and technology agency, the National Research Foundation (NRF), Social Science and Humanities Panel, the Thuthuka Programme.

May

Webster Professor Takes Her Research Global

Recently, Dr. Meng Chen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Communications at Webster Vienna, had the notable opportunity to present at two high-level academic conferences on her research of breast cancer patients’ language use and its effect.

From April 19-20, Meng attended the International Linguistic and Language Studies Conference, which was being held in Istanbul, Turkey. Here she shared her research on how multiple linguistic dimensions in breast cancer’s online posts are related to their disease stage and clinical status, a presentation which was entitled “Mapping breast cancer survivors’ psychological change across four stages: A linguistic approach”.

Following this, Meng travelled to Montreal, Canada, for the International Network for Social Network Analysis Conference from 18-23 June. Meng then presented another research project, entitled “A linguistic analysis of the relationships between brokerage and closure structures with online social support exchanges”. This project, built upon the research presented in Istanbul, went further by examining the impact of network positions and language use on breast cancer patients’ online support solicitation. The goal of this research line is to gain a better understanding of breast cancer patients’ mental well-being and their online support seeking behaviors.

Dr. Chen viewed these conferences as a great opportunity to showcase her work at WVPU and research findings with the wider academic community, while staying connected and sharing ideas with other scholars in the field around the world.

Cyberspace Exploration

The Third European Multidisciplinary Conference on Global Internet Governance Actors, Regulations, Transactions and Strategies (GIG-ARTS), titled "Europe as a Global Player in Internet Governance", was held in Salerno, Italy. In its opening session, it featured a presentation by WVPU media communications professor Anthony Löwstedt on “The Role of ‘Europe’ in the Invention of Global Media Governance”. The paper asks whether global media governance is mainly ‘industry-driven’ or ‘state-driven’, and what roles ‘Europe’, itself an invention, plays in current cyberspace governance. Furthermore, the ‘-space’ in ‘cyberspace’ is investigated as a metaphor serving various interests, implying that parts of the internet can be claimed, appropriated, fenced in with firewalls, with owners sometimes charging entrance fees or renting out ‘space’ at a profit. It also implies that states or state agencies can treat is as the territory and claim legitimate authority, impose and enforce laws, and exercise surveillance, even covert surveillance, over parts or even all of it. The spatial metaphor may serve to empower individuals (safe space; shared space; space to grow), but it may also serve the existing economic and political order. The more we treat the internet as space, Löwstedt argues, the more it will become a space, with a center, or the number of centers, and with margins and fringes.

Eurocentric tropes and ideologies of discovery, conquest, appropriation, forced conversion and labor, and taming of wilderness exist since over half a millennium and now also make use of this metaphor. They typically and increasingly involve entrepreneurs as the rugged individualists and pioneers, the first to penetrate the wilderness, now at the forefront of the fast-expanding internet. As the ‘de-nationalization of media history’ proceeds, historians need to pay more attention to abstract agents, ideologies, metaphors, and images such as these. Europe often plays exemplary roles in furthering human rights, democracy, rule of law, efficient trade and financing, etc. with regard to the internet. But there is inevitably also plenty of ideological baggage involved. Especially the way the English, French and Spanish languages have been and are spreading may still often be considered as instances of imperialism. We should not forget that Chinese, Arabic, and others are also still spreading similarly, but the global image of Europe is a split one. Much of the rest of the world regards Europe in its role as a global player in internet governance with mixed feelings, and partly for good reasons. Dr. Löwstedt was on a panel with Stanford University professor Max Senges, also head of Google Germany, Claudia Padovani (University of Padova), Meryem Marzouki of Sorbonne University in Paris, and Jan Aart Scholte of Gothenburg University.

More details about the conference available here.

April

Soft Regulation in Antiquity

MEDC professor Dr. Anthony Löwstedt held an invited lecture at Egypt's Office for Cultural and Educational Relations, at the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Vienna on the topic of his decades-long research into ancient Egyptian ethics and philosophy regarding speech, writing, and communication, dating back to the research he did for his doctoral dissertation. Titled “The Continued Relevance of Ancient Egyptian Communication Ethics”, the presentation covered issues such as the equal dignity of all humans, respect, commitment to truth, the free flow of information and opinions, hate speech, incitement to violence, defamation, invasion of privacy, deception, greed, and concentration of ownership.

The main ethical concerns facing media communications today are not as new as they sometimes appear, and a great deal, he argued, can be revealed and learned from this insight alone. The lecture was attended by, among others, Webster faculty and students as well as faculty from the departments of Communication Science, Sociology, and Egyptology at the University of Vienna.

February

Recently Dr. Bradley E. Wiggins, associate professor and head of the Department of Media Communications, was contacted by a researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia. The purpose of the contact was an invitation to have Dr. Wiggins serve as an external examiner of a PhD dissertation. The title of the dissertation is Intertextual Fragments and the Post-Meme Subject. Dr. Wiggins will examine the dissertation and provide a written review to colleagues at the University of Sydney.

Dr. Wiggins has published extensively on the subject of internet memes, beginning with the 2014 article in New Media & Society that advanced a central argument to view memes as a new genre of online communication. Using structuration theory as developed by Anthony Giddens, the article proposed that memes as a genre are similar to a continued conversation between and among members of participatory digital culture. System and structure coalesce as structuration: a process by which a system is maintained through the use or application of structures. Dr. Wiggins has published further research on the subject such as the 2016 International Journal of Communication article that examined the memes produced during the 2014 Crimean crisis, and a 2017 article in the International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics which centered on the memes that emerged from the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Most recently, Dr. Wiggins has written a monograph on contract with Routledge expected to be published in March 2019.

January

This January the Media Communications Department welcomes new Assistant Professor Dr. Meng Chen. The Chinese native graduated in Chinese Language and Literature from the Beijing International Studies University and holds an MA in Mass Communication from the University of Houston. After finishing her MA, she went on to teach Interpersonal Communication at the University of California, Davis. Additionally, she was a recipient of Provost’s First-Year Fellowships in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences as well as Provost’s Dissertation Fellowships in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Last year Dr. Chen defended her PhD thesis titled “Persuasive Effects of Health Narratives: Examining Story Features and Persuasion Mechanisms” in which she investigates the strategic use of narrative power to persuade people to adopt healthy behaviors.

Her research lies at the intersection of persuasion, health communication, and language use. She is active in two lines of research: one examines the strategic use of narrative persuasion in health contexts. In particular, she tests how narrative features (e.g., linguistic agency assignment, the similarity with story protagonist, point of view, and protagonist competence) influence readers’ engagement with the story character and, ultimately, their health-related perceptions and decision-making. The other research line centers on breast cancer patients’ language use and effects on new media. Taking an interdisciplinary and multi-methodological approach, this research program explores the interactions among linguistic features of patients’ online posts, their personal network structures, and social capital flow on social support platforms.

Starting in Spring 2019 she will be teaching Interpersonal Communication and Health Communication here at WVPU, and will also continue to conduct her research.

 

2018

December

Dr. Bradley Wiggins, head of the Department of Media Communications, has been invited to give a keynote talk at a Spotlight Seminar hosted by Webster University Geneva. The title of the seminar is Can Social Media Change the World? Dr. Wiggins discusses some of the factors that question the ability of social media to enact real-world change through activism and protest. Drawing on his research on internet memes and a discussion of the ways in which social media can be used for activist purposes including among far-right groups, he argues that memes and related viral content are extensions of ideological practice; this means that they may help to reconfirm bias and may serve to intensify personalized politics displacing, in certain cases, real-world action for online engagement.

The Media Communications Department in Geneva holds the Spotlight Seminars in order to address contemporary issues in the media, communications, and photography. This special event scheduled for Thursday, Dec 13, 2018, will also celebrate Webster Geneva’s 40th Anniversary and commemorate International Human Rights Day.

November

Social media seem to be excellent at initiating reactions to real-world events, especially ones that polarize, but exceedingly poor at following through on pursuing actionable social change, due to the lack of meaningful strong ties. Indeed, even as a phrase, social media is less accurate when used to describe what it is supposed to signify; arguably it is less social and more connective with respect to the role of algorithms. Internet memes visually reconfirm biases, allow for people to vent their anger, rage, frustration, etc. without the commitment of engaging in a social movement.

According to Dr. Wiggins, head of the Media Communications department, meaningful action and opportunities for social change, regardless of the desired political leaning, is being replaced by a hypermemetic spectacle. The confluence of reacting to real-world events, social and cultural points of interest, political movements, etc. and engaging in online networking means that online discourse is at once liberating and paralyzing. The former emanates from the vast array of communicative tools available to anyone with access, and the latter occurs given that the operation of online spaces is nuanced by malleable truths, tribalism, and emotional rather than logical reasoning. Internet memes are surely only one part of the discursive maelstrom but their tightly encapsulated visual nature is conducive to such a situation.

The impetus of Dr. Wiggins' presentation asserts a conceptual connection between what is commonly called or understood to be internet memes (or related forms of political humor and satire) and Dada and Surrealist art. His claim is that those internet memes which inhere a critique of society, politics, gender, sexuality, etc. (i.e. those issues which tend to polarize people or which demarcate directionalities) contain a relationship to Dada and consequently must be discussed. This work results from a multimodal semiotic analysis, and represents a section of one of the chapters in his book.

Specifically, the presentation examines the source and subsequent reaction videos produced as part of the #everysecondcounts campaign following the initial (or source) video America First, the Netherlands Second meme broadcast on the Dutch TV show called Zondag met Lubach. This paper adopts the perspective of internet memes as expressed by Milner, (2015), Shifman (2014), and Wiggins and Bowers (2015), as units of digital culture that function discursively and represent a new genre of online communication; further their function inheres something closer to an enthymeme, or visual argument, than the mere replicator espoused by others including Richard Dawkins who coined the term meme as a cultural corollary to the biological gene in The Selfish Gene (1976).

The presentation presents the findings of a multimodal semiotic analysis of the constitutive components of the reaction videos with an emphasis on the perspective that the videos largely adhere to real-world references to actual Trump statements, policies, etc. Thus, Trump, as depicted in the reaction videos and with respect to real-world issues, represents a kind of exaggeration of the exaggerated. In a very real sense, the reception of the Netherlands Second meme as a message, which is part of a larger discourse characterized by a shared sense of shock and/or disillusionment with current events, is contingent upon the inclusion of peripheral components of persuasion as described by the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion (Petty & Caccippo, 1986). As an example, the reaction videos-as-internet memes demonstrate a tendency toward dichotomous reasoning with an emphasis on extremes. This echoes Trump’s own rhetorical style, which favors short sentences, few polysyllabic words, and embellishing language, such as in the use of words and phrases like great, big, tremendous, huge, fantastic, and repetitions of such keywords as if to exaggerate the superlative. The videos’ use of language positions the subject as being of paramount importance to the United States with other countries (and planets) denoted as the worst, scumbags, losers, total failures, etc. Thus, the juxtaposition of good and bad delivers a polarized and quintessentially Trumpian view of the world which is normally expressed in extremes.

Finally, the presentation introduced a neo-Dadaist semiotic for understanding how dark humor and the distanced irony is used to communicate about and negotiate meaning when discussing such matters as the Trump presidency in terms of the initial Dutch TV show’s parody video as well as the resulting reaction videos-as-internet memes. In this vein the main point of this particular part of Dr. Wiggins' work is to highlight how in a world of perceptively growing disillusionment and retreat to our echo chambers and sources of confirmation bias, making and sharing memes may offer a way to exercise of the negativity away, but it also keeps us hopelessly distracted and disengaged from effecting real-world change and taking part in meaningful dialogic exchange.

October

In a new article by Dr. Anthony Löwstedt values and norms for communication expressed in the ancient Egyptian treatise, The Teachings of Ptahhotep, are compared to current regulatory communication standards, especially the International Federation of Journalists’ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists, and to liberal and socialist ideologies. The article has been accepted for publication by the International Communication Gazette, one of the world's leading communication journals.

Titled “Do We Still Adhere to the Norms of Ancient Egypt? A Comparison of Ptahhotep’s Communication Ethics with Current Regulatory Principles“, the article refers to continuity and near-consensus on Ptahhotep’s basic communication principles throughout much of the world’s religious and philosophical traditions, including the Abrahamic and Indian traditions and Ubuntu, Confucian, Taoist, Stoic, Kantian and Habermasian philosophies as well as reformist socialism and political liberalism. Ptahhotep’s teachings are less in tune, however, with revolutionary socialism and economic liberalism and contradict fascism as well as other prescriptive elitisms.

Ptahhotep argued in favour of basic equalities, especially the equal dignity of all humans, and of respect, commitment to truth, and the free flow of information and opinions, particularly for political speech, much like social democracy and political liberalism do. He also set limits regarding freedom of communication similarly: for hate speech, incitement to violence, defamation, invasion of privacy, and concentration of ownership. The close parallels between principles of communication ethics in ancient Egypt and today are partly explained by Dr. Löwstedt with a look at similarly restructuring powers of innovative phonographic media (writing) then and prographic (electronic programming) media now, and partly with (indirect) influence. The article also asks whether the concept of ‘Western civilization’ should continue to exclude ancient Egypt.

In his conclusions, Dr. Löwstedt considers global media self-regulation based on these values and writes: “Ptahhotep may deserve to again become a symbol for continuity of civilization, as a phenomenon opposed to the commonly perceived (and invoked) discontinuity or clash of civilizations.”

September

Dr. Anthony Löwstedt, Assistant Professor at the Media Communications Department at WVPU, has contributed to Volume 26 of De Gruyter-Mouton’s Handbooks of Communication Science series. The volume was edited by Patrick Lee Plaisance, who recently paid an impromptu visit to Dr. Löwstedt’s Ethics in the Media class in Vienna. Plaisance is editor of the Journal of Media Ethics and Don W. Davis Professor in Ethics at Pennsylvania State University.

The volume, appearing this September, is titled Communication and Media Ethics and carries the following publisher blurb:
‘Ethics in communication and media has arguably reached a pivotal stage of maturity in the last decade, moving from disparate lines of inquiry to a theory-driven, interdisciplinary field presenting normative frameworks and philosophical explications for communicative practices. The intent of this volume is to present this maturation, to reflect the vibrant state of ethics theorizing and to illuminate promising pathways for future research.’

The abstract of Dr. Löwstedt’s chapter reads: ‘This chapter explores the global ramifications of media ethics and various moral conditions of globalization regarding information and communication. Globalization is considered in economic, political, social and cultural terms. All four dimensions manifest profound recent changes in forms and modes of communication, through electronic and digital media and archives, increasingly important economies of scale, concentration of ownership and control, spread of nation-state democracy amid trans- and de-nationalizations of power (with a concomitant net loss of democracy worldwide), old and new imperial expansions, as well as enhanced knowledge, research, connectivity, cooperation, cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity potential. The actual trend in cultural diversity, however, is bleak. Unless communications become more inclusive, the vast majority of languages and cultures will soon become extinct. A concrete realization of global citizenship could reverse current destructive developments, especially by means of global media ethics values, such as the maximization of communicative self-regulation upholding freedoms of expression and information (about public affairs), the equality of individual communicators, net neutrality, and a principled commitment to human rights, bio- and cultural diversity. However, these “proto-norms” only marginally overlap with – and sometimes contradict – the currently dominant, capitalistic regulatory framework for the global markets.’

August

Dr. Irmgard Wetzstein, adjunct faculty member in the Department of Media Communications at Webster Vienna Private University and senior lecturer for the Institut für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft at the University of Vienna, has recently co-edited a book on refugees in Europe. The book "Refugee News, Refugee Politics: Journalism, Public Opinion and Policymaking in Europe" was published by Routledge, and is co-edited by Dr. Giovanna Dell’Orto, associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. More information on the book can be found here.

Short description of the book: "The unprecedented arrival of more than a million refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants – plus the political, public, and policy reactions to it – is redefining Europe. The repercussions will last for generations on such central issues as security, national identity, human rights, and the very structure of liberal democracies. What is the role of the news media in telling the story of the 2010s refugee crisis at a time of deepening crisis for journalism, as “fake news” ran rampant amid an increasingly distrustful public?

This volume offers students, scholars, and the general reader original research and candid frontline insights to understand the intersecting influences of journalistic practices, news discourses, public opinion, and policymaking on one of the most polarizing issues of our time. Focusing on current events in Greece, Austria, and Germany – critical entry and destination countries – it introduces a groundbreaking dialogue between elite national and international media, academic institutions, and civil society organizations, revealing the complex impacts of the news media on the thorny sociopolitical dilemmas raised by the integration of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in EU countries."

July

Dr. Wiggins and a doctoral student from Florida State University, Jerrica Rowlett, presented in the LGBTQ division at the 68th annual conference of the International Communication Association during May 24-28 in Prague, Czech Republic.

The overarching title to their poster session was "Together: On the Construction of LGBTQ+ Identity Online Using Memes", and Dr. Wiggins' section focused on the so-called "Babadook" meme that surfaced in 2015 onward online as well as offline. The section he presented is from a larger chapter on audience and identity in a book Dr. Wiggins is writing contracted with Routledge. The book is called "The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture: Ideology, Semiotics, and Intertextuality". Here is a brief segment from that chapter:

The "Babadook" meme originated from a 2014 Australian horror movie by the same name. In the film, a monster, known as the "Babadook", is summoned through incantations and the monster emerges from the closet to cause fear, anxiety, and paranoia. This sentiment is representative of coming out to one’s family and friends; metaphorically, the push to put the Babadook back in the closet addresses the anxieties associated with “being out” as an LGBTQ+ individual.

Introduce the internet.

In 2015 in the wake of the Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Facebook added the "pride" reaction option, and around the same time, the "Babadook" meme slowly started appearing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even offline at pride parades.

Similar to Butler’s (1993) view of gender as performative and Giddens’ (1991) perspective that identity is a continuous process of reflexivity and that to speak of identity is a process of demarcation, deploying the Babadook internet meme represents a form of synecdoche.

It is a visual phrase used to represent a larger whole, namely the anxieties and pain that may accompany coming out to one’s family and friends is similar to the desire in the film to renounce and expel the Babadook. The adoption of the Babadook as a kind of temporary representative of LGBTQ+ also underscores the notion that identity is always temporary and unstable – it needs to be recursively reified in order for members of the community to know with what they should identity, regardless of the community.
Dr. Anthony Löwstedt's Contribution: "In the Communication, Law and Policy division of the International Communication Association's annual conference, the largest gathering of communication researchers worldwide, Dr. Anthony Löwstedt of Webster Vienna presented a paper titled "How could global media regulation safeguard and promote human rights and cultural diversity?" at the opening session. Also presenting on this panel was the world-renowned Monroe Price of the Annenberg School for Communication."

June

Dr. Wiggins and a doctoral student from Florida State University, Jerrica Rowlett, presented in the LGBTQ division at the 68th annual conference of the International Communication Association during May 24-28 in Prague, Czech Republic.

The overarching title to their poster session was "Together: On the Construction of LGBTQ+ Identity Online Using Memes", and Dr. Wiggins' section focused on the so-called "Babadook" meme that surfaced in 2015 onward online as well as offline. The section he presented is from a larger chapter on audience and identity in a book Dr. Wiggins is writing contracted with Routledge. The book is called "The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture: Ideology, Semiotics, and Intertextuality". Here is a brief segment from that chapter:

The "Babadook" meme originated from a 2014 Australian horror movie by the same name. In the film, a monster, known as the "Babadook", is summoned through incantations and the monster emerges from the closet to cause fear, anxiety, and paranoia. This sentiment is representative of coming out to one’s family and friends; metaphorically, the push to put the Babadook back in the closet addresses the anxieties associated with “being out” as an LGBTQ+ individual.

Introduce the internet.

In 2015 in the wake of the Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Facebook added the "pride" reaction option, and around the same time the "Babadook" meme slowly started appearing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even offline at pride parades.

Similar to Butler’s (1993) view of gender as performative and Giddens’ (1991) perspective that identity is a continuous process of reflexivity and that to speak of identity is a process of demarcation, deploying the Babadook internet meme represents a form of synecdoche.

It is a visual phrase used to represent a larger whole, namely the anxieties and pain that may accompany coming out to one’s family and friends is similar to the desire in the film to renounce and expel the Babadook. The adoption of the Babadook as a kind of temporary representative of LGBTQ+ also underscores the notion that identity is always temporary and unstable – it needs to be recursively reified in order for members of the community to know with what they should identity, regardless of the community.

Dr. Anthony Löwstedt's Contribution: In the Communication, Law and Policy division of the International Communication Association's annual conference, the largest gathering of communication researchers worldwide, Dr. Anthony Löwstedt of Webster Vienna presented a paper titled "How could global media regulation safeguard and promote human rights and cultural diversity?" at the opening session. Also presenting on this panel was the world-renowned Monroe Price of the Annenberg School for Communication.

May

In late 2015, Dr. Wiggins was contacted by the editors of a planned encyclopedia volume to be published by Wiley Blackwell. The editors asked Dr. Wiggins to write an entry on Intercultural Games and Simulations because they knew of an earlier article Dr. Wiggins published in the journal Simulation & Gaming in 2012. That article argued for a design model for intercultural simulations, especially digital versions. The encyclopedia was planned to be completed in 2018. However, Dr. Wiggins' entry along with all others was published in December 2017, and he was contacted about the publication in early 2018. The expansive volume is entitled The International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication and features entries written by experts in the broad field of intercultural communication.

Dr. Wiggins' entry was granted a length of 5,000 words and features an authoritative view on what constitutes a game, how this differs from a simulation, and what primary benefits games and simulations bring to the area of intercultural training.

Abstract: The entry presents intercultural games and simulations in the context of their use as a training and learning tool for the purposes of improved or enhanced intercultural competency. It also introduces conceptual differences between cross‐cultural and intercultural, game and simulation, non‐digital and digital. Metaphors common to intercultural games and simulations illustrate their necessity in the entry in terms of bridging the conceptual complexity of culture with real‐world application. Prior to a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of national and synthetic cultural representation in simulations and games, it is necessary to review a series of common intercultural simulations and games. Finally, several learning elements common to intercultural simulations and games are presented.

March

Dr. Bradley Wiggins, associate professor and department head of media communications, recently presented research at the 12th meeting of INTED, the International Technology, Education, and Development Conference in Valencia, Spain on Tuesday, March 6th. His talk was titled “Challenges to Media Literacy in an Era of Fake News” and cited recent events such as the Parkland school shooting in Florida and the fake news that surfaced on various political spectrums.

The main focus of the talk was to address how and why fake news is received, shared, posted, etc. and what educators can do about it. He emphasized that media narratives are constructed and that highly polarizing topics are especially prone to fake news.

Dr. Wiggins defined fake news in two distinct ways, emphasizing that both carry heavy demands on our attention online and off. The first definition states that news stories constructed to confuse or appeal to specific forms of confirmation bias and/or opinion are fake news and their reception is dependent on one or more of five factors he outlines in his talk. The second definition includes its use as an insult. When used as such, fake news signifies an entity that does not fit within your worldview. Why? If the entity expresses a view different from your own, fake news as an insult can be deployed strategically.

Abstract: CHALLENGES TO MEDIA LITERACY IN AN ERA OF FAKE NEWS

According to studies conducted by Ipsos and Stanford University, individuals demonstrate a weak ability to discern so-called fake news stories from news stories based on real and/or evidence-based events. In the Stanford study, students from middle school to college were unable to judge the credibility of news stories shown to them. The initial reaction from Facebook was the development and deployment of a four-step plan to decrease the availability of fake news stories at least on its platform. The challenge posed by discussions of fake news centers not on ‘what to do about it’ but rather how to understand it from both ‘sides’. Invariably any given news story contains a specific frame. To this, I add the term media narrative within a specific and contextualized definition to address the challenge. Furthermore, I situate the term fake news historically but also with reference to the semiotic use of the term by President Donald Trump. I then suggest reasons why fake news exists today in an increasingly mediated environment where attention-as-currency is paramount to the online experience. Finally, I propose ways in which we can help our students identify and challenge fake news.

February

The Ethics in the Media class (MEDC 2200) will cooperate this semester with EdVenture Partners peer-to-peer program and participate in the Facebook Global Digital Challenge to create strategies of counterspeech to hate speech and challenges to extremism on social media. The class will also work with ZARA (Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit), an Austrian non-governmental organization, to help develop new initiatives to promote civil discourse and cultural diversity. Dr. Anthony Löwstedt, who teaches the class, says it promises to be an exciting exercise in public relations, in understanding and communicating while making a difference in the public sphere.

The student will form an agency, organize agency departments, elect leaders, and reach out and engage on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. Every student will participate in: naming the agency, the research process, generating, developing and selecting the marketing campaign ideas, contributing to the Creative Brief, helping with campaign logistics, completing a post-campaign wrap-up and analysis, and the final submission. The project will then take part in a Facebook competition with cash and other prizes.

January

Assistant professor Holger Lang was invited to represent Austria at the first European Animation Award ceremony held at the Nouveau Siècle auditorium in Lille in December 2017 as a result of the notable research he has conducted in the field of animation and film. This brand new annual award honors the achievements in various creative categories in animation and it functions as a platform to connect and celebrate professionals, artists, and scholars from all across Europe. Depending on the size of a country one or two ambassadors, individuals who show refined experience and connections in their local environment had been exclusively selected to join the gala in France.

At the same time “A ditto, ditto device”, an exhibition at the Angewandte Innovation Laboratory in Vienna, opened to the public, featuring professor Lang’s 2014 short film “re-animated Sparta”. This work was projected continuously in a looping program together with pieces from other artists like Christiana Perschon and Dara Birnbaum. On January 10th, 2018 Lang joined an additional screening of a second special program, also containing this work. It was followed by a well-attended panel discussion and a lively reception.

2017

December

Dr. Bradley E. Wiggins, associate professor and head of the department of media communications, was recently invited to join the International Scientific Advisory Board of the 12th annual International Technology, Education and Development Conference.

The invitation stems from his own research contributions from the 2017 conference and his recognized expertise in some of the conference topics. The advisory board was created as a consultant body with the specific aim of getting new ideas and proposals for this conference. It is composed of selected professors and researchers from all continents around the world.

Dr. Wiggins will review research contributions and assess them in terms of applicability to conference themes.

November

Dr. Bradley E. Wiggins, associate professor and department head of media communications, has just signed a book contract with Routledge. The book is tentatively titled The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture: Semiotics, Intertextuality, and Ideology and will feature chapters on current as well as historical issues on this nascent research area. Dr. Wiggins’ own perspective is that internet memes should be viewed as a new genre of online communication, and as such are tightly encapsulated discursive units packed with meaning and socio-cultural referents. Intertextual and inter-memetic references (or memes that refer to other memes) often are used to discuss or critique a person or event from the real world, but are remixed based on a particular worldview informed by media narratives. As such, internet memes have the power to inform individuals and groups about real-world events, movements, people, etc. through the merging of intertextual references and socio-cultural and/or political realities.

Here is a sample from a chapter that discusses political memes during the Trump presidency:

“In a vertically dual-panel image meme, Trump’s long-awaited meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is remixed with a scene from the Netflix-produced series House of Cards. Their fictional counterparts are depicted in a similar setting and demonstrate nearly identical posture and body-language, not to mention a nearly indistinguishable tie worn by Trump and his fictional counterpart, President Frank Underwood.

The capacity for individuals within digital culture to remix a scene from real-life with a scene from a streaming television series is at once sublimely remarkable and mundane. It is remarkable precisely because of the rapidity by which digital culture made the connection between real life and characters from Netflix a series, but it is mundane when compared to the strangeness that has come to define Trump’s presidency thus far. In other words, seeing Donald Trump as the U.S. President is more unreal than a Netflix series production. Reality has outdone fiction. Truth is malleable, and consequently meaning is negotiable depending upon one’s own ideological point of view. It is true that Donald Trump is the president, but the reception of that information is accompanied by notions of the absurd. I state this not out of personal conviction, but as a cerebral response to the shock and awe of the Trump electoral victory and the ensuing peculiarities that have come to define his presidency, regardless of any personal political leanings. In other words, times have changed, and the Trump/Underwood meme captures that brilliantly – and without a single unit of verbal text.”

October

Dr. Bradley E. Wiggins, associate professor and department head of media communications, spoke with science and technology editor Karin Krichmayr from Der Standard about his research on internet memes and fake news.

Krichmayr was especially interested in discussing what effects, if any, memes have such as the ones disseminated on the ÖVP-leader Sebastian Kurz’s Facebook page. Dr. Wiggins also discussed how fake news and political campaign work by emphasizing that if an event or story highly polarizes people, the tendency is to stick to their assumptions and not to question one’s world view.

Wiggins emphasized the role of the algorithm in the news feed of social media, especially Facebook, as a determining factor for what a person may know or be able to talk about on a particular issue, contingent upon a constructed media narrative. In response to questions about the role of memes and fake news in the Trump campaign, Wiggins highlighted that while we may assume that the internet connects us through communication technologies, it is also very good at fragmenting audiences.

Trump and his campaign exploited this by emphasizing emotional appeals, forgetting about facts and evidence especially if they conflict with the Trump message. His presidency is not about “post-truth”. Rather, it shows that truth is malleable, flexible, depending on what details the audience in particular knows or is willing to accept.

June

“Power and Media: Ownership, Sponsorship, Censorship”, a special double issue of the International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, edited by WVPU media communications research faculty members Dr. Anthony Löwstedt, Dr. Monika Schwärzler-Brodesser, and department head Dr. Bradley Wiggins, was published by Intellect Books. The chapters of the volume address some of the most vexing issues facing journalism, media governance, and media regulation in our times. It deals in-depth with technological change, big data, public and private spheres, corporate control, nudging, polarization, bias, historical baggage, immigration and discrimination, media evolution, and more.

Most of them originated in the Media Trends conference held at Webster Vienna in September 2015 and organized by Löwstedt, Schwärzler-Brodesser, Wiggins and former MEDC department head, Dr. Michael Freund. Contributors to the conference and the volume include illustrious media and media research personalities such as Aidan White, director of the Ethical Journalism Network and former general secretary of the International Federation of Journalism, Dr. Alexander Wrabetz, director of the ORF, the Austrian public broadcaster, Dr. Katherine Sarikakis, head of the Media Governance and Industries Research Lab and full professor of communication at the University of Vienna, and Amelia Arsenault, leading communication researcher at Georgia State University. Articles written and co-written by Drs. Wiggins and Löwstedt are also featured in the volume:

Löwstedt, A. & Mboti, N. (2017). Media Racism: Beyond Modernity and Postmodernity, International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, Vol. 13(1-2), pp. 111-130.

Wiggins, B.E. (2017). Digital dispatches from the 2016 US election: Popular culture, intertextuality and media power. International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, 13(1-2), pp. 197-205.