By Catherine Burgess
This month, NAMLE interviewed Dr. James Cohen (Molloy College), whose paper was published in the JMLE special issue, “Media Literacy, Fake News & Democracy.” His paper, “Exploring Echo-systems: How Algorithms Shape Immersive Media Environments,” is available here in JMLE 10.2.
NAMLE: How did the idea for this paper come about?
JC: Exploring Echo-systems was inspired by a variety of events in 2016 and 2017 surrounding memes, misinformation, and algorithmic exploits like #elsagate. My previous research did a deep dive on how “Pepe the Frog” could have been utilized and exploited for darker means using the internet’s built in recommendation system as a propellant. (Unfortunately, my co-author and I were right!) I intended to write this paper to reconsider the algorithm as a media environment rather than as code or math in order to help move the concept into an educational and conversational context.
NAMLE: What do you hope to do with this paper in the future?
JC: I hope to use this paper to further expound an articulation of algorithms in a new context. If we begin to discuss algorithms as media, perhaps we can gain an understanding of how we consume our new media diets. Further research will illuminate how platforms and social media sites scale with a growing digital population and new methods of serving customized advertising. We’re only at the very nascent stages of targeted ads and much more will change.
NAMLE: How do you hope this paper will contribute to media literacy education?
JC: As political, civic, and media campaigns will use directed and targeted posting, I hope media literacy education can benefit from educating young people on important methods of reading “feeds” the way we read visual, audio, and textual media. A feed is like a “show,” but customized uniquely to every single person.
NAMLE: Why is media literacy research important to you?
JC: Media Literacy research is deep in my heart. I’ve been researching, writing, and presenting media literacy research for nearly a decade. I was introduced by Paul Mihailidis and with his guidance, I’ve found that media literacy research is at the foundation of my academic approaches. Digital media evolve far more rapidly at scale and keeping up is difficult, but Media Literacy research is exciting. New explorations lead to interventions that hopefully educators, practitioners, and scholars will benefit from.