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SoCJ mass communication students explore how social media and society intersect

A handheld smartphone displays popular social media apps.

A handheld smartphone displays popular social media apps.Echo chambers. Gender identity. Mom-and-Pop shops in Chinatown. These vastly different topics all converge in one place: social media. At the School of Communication and Journalism, many of this spring’s graduating mass communication students chose to focus on social media for their capstone projects. 

“Today, so much of our communication happens through social media and affects nearly everything that people know, or think they know, in our society,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the SoCJ and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “By focusing on a topic that is so integral to mass communication, our students are not only gaining valuable experience in the field but are also contributing to advancing our understanding of social media and the critical role it plays in our world.”

A required course for all mass communication majors, the capstone encourages students to combine research with creativity. Students produce a major project that mixes written, visual and interactive components and includes a public outreach component. Sometimes these projects take the form of original research, other times they take a more creative form, such as a website or documentary. 

“I’m incredibly proud of the effort our students put into their capstone projects each semester,” said Wenbo Li, assistant professor of science communication and course instructor. “The projects represent the culmination of what these students have learned over the course of their career at Stony Brook and serve as a preview of the type of critical thinking and analytical skills they are taking with them into the world and their future careers.”

Below is a selection of projects from graduates of the Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication. Additional projects can be found on the Stony Brook Media Showcase

 

How does social media affect Chinatown small businesses? | Emily Chao

Chao focused on how small businesses in Chinatown use social media to attract customers. She found that the community’s small businesses are still recovering from the pandemic and struggle to pay the increasingly high rents caused by gentrification. 

“When I began learning about all the challenges businesses in Chinatown face each day, I felt discouraged about the community’s future,” said Chao. “But hearing from business owners about ways the younger generation is stepping up to help, like posting roundups of their favorite Chinatown restaurants on social media, left me with more hope. I think especially among the younger generation, there’s a strong sense of unity to tackle problems and support the neighborhood.”

Chao interviewed eight small business owners about their history, the ways the neighborhood is changing, and how they leverage social media to help their businesses. She found that while having a social media presence has been somewhat helpful to these business owners, most of them are unsure how to use it to its fullest potential, and many simply lack the time to dedicate to social media.

Chao created a website to tell the stories of the small business owners she interviewed. The site gives an overview of Chinatown’s history, challenges the neighborhood is facing and potential solutions. 

 

Gender and Social Media Use | Alexandra Schoemmell

Social media use isn’t that different across gender identities, Schoemmell found while conducting research for her capstone project. During her studies at Stony Brook, she noticed that previous research rarely accounts for how non-binary people engage with social media and decided to use her project to fill that gap

“The studies I reviewed all identified major differences between how men and women used social media, but I found there were very few differences between gender identity and social media use that were statistically significant,” said Schoemmell. “It seems social media has become more homogenized as it’s grown, and there is less of a gender divide in how it’s used. This could always change again in the future, and I think that’s part of what makes it so interesting.”

To understand online behaviors for people of all gender identities, she surveyed individuals of varying ages, races, genders and sexual orientations about their social media habits and motivations for using the platforms.

 

Filtered Realities: Examining the Invisible Influence | Kevin Henry

Henry wrote a research paper and created a short documentary that explores how social media algorithms can create echo chambers. His project investigates how algorithms curate content, how companies and content creators keep up in such a fast-paced digital age, and how all of this affects the end user.   

“While social media offers diverse viewpoints and perspectives from all over the world, it can also limit these same factors and prioritize viral content over in-depth analysis,” said Henry. “I always knew social media has become a driving force but to see and learn how influential these platforms actually are was shocking.”

Henry conducted surveys and interviews with college students to explore how echo chambers affect people’s understanding of topics like politics and health. He says he hopes that shedding more light on the impact algorithms have will promote greater media literacy and help people make better decisions about how they get their information.

 

By Ellice Wallace

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