Academic

 Research

PhD Candidate (2022-2025), Macquarie University

Understanding Audiences of Disinformation

This disinformation crisis is examined across many fields and disciplines, with much work in media studies focused on the role of technology and communications in manipulating how problematic information flows. Explorations into algorithms, echo chambers, bots, and data analytics reveal how social media prioritises engagement over factual content (Benkler et al., 2018). This work has unmasked troll armies organised by the political elite to create distractions in their home countries (Jing, 2016). Similarly, scholars in the Philippines have done extensive work to uncover the hierarchical “architects of networked disinformation” (Ong and Cabanes, 2018, p.2) that work for financial incentives and political clients following the win of Duterte in 2016 presidential elections. These revelations uncovered the digital labour of disinformation work.

 

Though undoubtedly crucial in understanding digital disinformation, Cabañes argues that this “information-oriented” approach is imbalanced and limited in that it doesn’t address the “key communicative” truths at the root of disinformation that help us understand why people become vulnerable to false narratives (2020, p.436). It diminishes our view of audiences as “simplistic” (Cabanes, 2021, p.444). Similarly, Xia (2021) argues that we need to understand what elements “shape their engagement with facts or falsehoods” to uncover “how exactly does problematic information, disseminated intentionally or not, matter to them” (p.1371). These questions provide the impetus for my research. That is, I wish to uncover the factors that influence the ways audiences interact with disinformation. I take an audience studies approach to map users’ media behaviours and their experiences with networks that are “polluted” (Phillips and Milner, 2021) with mis- and disinformation to examine how they become entangled with such problematic narratives. Such an exploration investigates the audience’s relationship with social media. This kind of approach helps us understand the role of disinformation in the lives of social media users. In this way, we learn the places and manners in which audiences become exposed to disinformation, what forms they take, and whether users accept, replicate, or reject these false narratives. Thus, the central research question for this project will be:

 

What role does disinformation have for audiences who are enmeshed in networks polluted with problematic information?

Dissertation for Master of Research (2022), Macquarie University

#DefendPressFreedom: Journalists’ use of Instagram in news reporting under Duterte’s populist administration in the Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte’s populist regime threatens Philippine press freedom with disinformation, harassment, and the encouragement of “troll” armies who accuse journalists of spreading “fake news” or “biased” reporting. Researchers have found these attacks created a chilling effect that dissuaded journalists from performing critical news roles. However, much of this existing research is limited to journalists’ perceptions or is focused on work in traditional news outlets. This thesis evaluates news items produced and posted by the news publisher Rappler on Instagram, a social media platform that serves as a landing page rather than a transit hub with links to external news sites. I use the journalistic role performance framework in this study, which looks at the functions journalists play—such as the watchdog role or disseminator role—based on the discursive styles, characteristics, and types of news they report. I conducted a content analysis of 554 Instagram posts following the conviction of Rappler’s Executive Editor Maria Ressa in June 2020. The results showed that on Instagram, Rappler’s news outputs maintained an active stance towards the government through the interventionist, adversarial, advocate and mobilising roles in their reporting. Tools, affordances, and cultures within the platform allowed journalists to play hybrid news roles necessitated by the societal needs of the time. These news roles allowed journalists to assert their voice, weigh in on the public debate, defend their professional convictions, scrutinise political leaders, and empower citizens. The results indicate that social media provides ways for media organisations to perform their democratic roles under populist regimes. The results shed light on how politics, the media, and communicative technologies interact and shape the news.  

Conference Presentations

Seventh International Conference on Communication and Media Studies:

“Democratic Disorder: Disinformation, the Media and Crisis in a Time of Change”

National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland 

25-26 August 2022

 

Presented a 20-minute presentation on the findings of my one-year Master of Research project entitled “#DefendPressFreedom: Journalists' Use of Instagram in News Reporting Under Duterte's Populist Administration in the Philippines"

 

Journalism Education & Research Association of Australia

“Journalism and Democracy”

 

RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

2-4 December 2020

 

Presented a 10-minute presentation of my pilot study of my project entitled: “Hold the line: Philippine news outlets’ social media resistance against Duterte’s axe to press freedom”