May 01, 2021 Book Review

New Media and Society

Robert Costello

New Media and Society
by Deana A. Rohlinger
NYU Press 2019, 978-1479897872

Deana Rohlinger, who is professor of Sociology at Florida State University, researches mass media, politics, and political participation in America. Her work has appeared in U.S. News & World Report, Fortune, and The American Prospect.

1. Tell us about your work and research?

I am interested in the relationship between political participation, mass media, and democratic processes. When I think about what to study next, I look for cases where I can really get some insight into how organizations use mainstream and digital media to affect public debate and policy processes, or how individuals engage one another and political institutions. Consequently, my research skews interdisciplinary, and I study everything from how individuals and activist groups use “new” and “old” media to organize and affect change to political polarization and extremism online. Comparative research is very important to me. Pretty much all of my research includes a comparative dimension so that I assess, for example, how groups mobilizing for and against legal abortion use new and old media differently over time. This means that I tend to study controversial issues such as legal abortion, school shootings, and euthanasia because these are issues around which there are typically at least two opposing views.

2. Could you provide an overview of your new book?

New Media and Society is a short book intended to get readers thinking about how digital media affect every aspect of their lives. If you were born into a digital world, it is hard to see just how much of your life is mediated by technology. I really wanted to challenge readers to think about the complexity of the contemporary media system and how new media alter their interactions, expectations, and experiences for better and worse. Because I wanted the book to engage a broad set of student interests, I set up each chapter around a different topic—self and family, education, religion, law, work, and politics—and used case studies and in-class exercises to really get them thinking about the complex relationship between new media and social institutions. I really tried to think outside of the box when coming up with examples, case studies, and discussion questions so that classroom discussions would be lively. Probably my favorite chapter is Religion.com because I had the opportunity to write about everything from the Pope’s use of digital media to Buddhism in Second Life to grieving online to extremist religious communities.

3. How does the new media impact the criminal justice system?

The chapter on the law was the very hardest to write because new media have many implications for our criminal justice system. Technology affects everything from how police departments determine where to deploy their officers to how individuals use digital media to press for criminal justice reform. In the book, I focus on surveillance and authority. I really try to grapple with the contests over who has the authority to engage in surveillance—law enforcement, corporations, government, or citizens—and when. In the chapter, the text focuses on the PRISM program, the “Mapping Muslims” program in New York City after September 11th, and protestors using mobile phones to surveil police during protests. Then, I used the case studies to cover important topics such as predictive policing, the existing research on the use of body cameras and law enforcement legitimacy, and the fight between Apple and the FBI over the San Bernardino shooters’ cell phone. Hopefully, after reading the chapter, students understand that authority is situational and negotiated, and that new media sometimes make these negotiations harder.

4. Should the US Supreme Court permit televised coverage of their cases?

Yes. My current research analyzes political polarization and extremism on mainstream and politically partisan news forums over the last two years. As you may have guessed, polarization and extremism are not getting better. At least part of this seems to be a function of increased conspiratorial thinking on the political left and political right about what happens behind the proverbial closed door. Absent information, people fill in the gaps with their own versions of reality. Having transparent political institutions at every level of government can help combat disinformation by providing an independent record of political thought and discussion.

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Robert Costello is professor and chair of the Criminal Justice Department at SUNY Nassau Community College and adjunct professor of sociology at Hofstra University.