Research Roundup: Summer-Fall 2023

A vibrant and collaborative interdisciplinary research culture at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media creates new knowledge, advances scholarship and helps reinvent media.

This latest roundup includes 10 publications by Associate Professor Allison Lazard. She and Barbara Fredrickson, Kenan distinguished professor of psychology and neuroscience, were recently awarded $3 million in grant funding from the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Lazard’s recent research publications are listed below, along with a list of other recently published scholarship by UNC Hussman faculty and students.


Amann, L., Kruse, E., Lazard, A. J., Reboussin, B. A., Wagoner, K. G., & Romero-Sandoval, E. A. (2022). CBD Retailers in NC Promote CBD Online to Treat Pain Violating FDA Rules About Medical Claims and Offer Low-CBD/High-Price Products. Journal of Pain Research, Volume 15, 3847-3858.

Cannabidiol products are available nearly nationwide in the United States and can coexist with medical or recreational programs. North Carolina is an example of a state with a program dedicated to integrating hemp cultivation and medicinal CBD exclusively. The Food and Drug Administration mandates that non-FDA approved CBD products cannot be marketed using medical or health-related claims and has sent warning letters to retailers violating these terms. This study characterizes the online content of the North Carolina CBD market by analyzing retailers' websites to determine whether hemp/CBD shops comply with FDA regulations in terms of medical claims and analyze the claimed CBD content and price of products offered online. The data demonstrate that the North Carolina online CBD market does not comply with FDA regulations; primarily targets patients with pain, inflammation, or anxiety; and offers products with low CBD concentration and high prices.

Byron, M. J., Lazard, A. J., & Brewer, N. T. (2022). Is a cigarette brand with fewer chemicals safer? Public perceptions in two national US experiments. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 45(5), 812–817.

By law, the U.S. government must publicly display the quantities of harmful chemicals in cigarettes by brand, but doing so could mislead people to incorrectly think that some cigarettes are safer than others. This study evaluated formats for presenting chemical quantities side-by-side to see if any were misleading. Participants were randomized to one of five formats: checklist, point estimates, ranges, a visual risk indicator or no-quantity control. Participants were far more likely to incorrectly endorse one cigarette brand as riskier than the other in the checklist (65% made error), point estimate (67-70%), range (64-67%) or risk indicator (68-75%) conditions as compared to the no-quantity control (1%). Among smokers, erroneous risk perceptions mediated the impact of quantity format on interest in switching brands. People viewing chemical quantities for cigarette brands side-by-side misperceived differences in risk, suggesting limited public health value of this information.

Hall, M. G., Grummon, A. H., Queen, T., Lazard, A. J., Higgins, I. C. A., Paula, A., & Lindsey Smith Taillie. (2023). How pictorial warnings change parents’ purchases of sugar-sweetened beverage for their children: mechanisms of impact. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Volume, 20(1).

Pictorial health warnings on sugar-sweetened beverages are a promising policy for preventing diet-related disease in children. A recent study found that pictorial warnings reduced parents’ purchases of SSBs for their children by 17%. However, the psychological mechanisms through which warnings affect parental behavior remain unknown. We aimed to identify the mechanisms that explain how pictorial warnings affect parents’ SSB purchasing behavior for their children using secondary data from a randomized trial. Pictorial warnings reduced parents’ purchases of SSBs for their children by making parents think SSBs are less healthful for their children and reducing their intentions to serve SSBs to their children. Communication approaches that target healthfulness perceptions and intentions to serve SSBs may motivate parents to buy fewer SSBs for their children.

Hwang, S., Lazard, A. J., Collins, M. K. R., Brenner, A. T., Heiling, H. M., Deal, A. M., Crockett, S. D., Reuland, D. S., & Lafata, J. E. (2023). Exploring the Acceptability of Text Messages to Inform and Support Shared Decision-making for Colorectal Cancer Screening: Online Panel Survey. JMIR Cancer, 9(1), e40917.

While online portals may be helpful to engage patients in shared decision-making at the time of cancer screening, because of known disparities in patient portal use, sole reliance on portals to support cancer screening decision-making could exacerbate well-known disparities in this health care area. This study assessed the acceptability of text messages to engage sociodemographically diverse individuals in colorectal cancer screening decisions and support shared decision-making in practice. A brief text message program offering educational information consisting of components of shared decision-making regarding screening was developed. With one exception, we found equal or greater acceptability, regardless of measure, within each of the marginalized categories of people compared to their counterparts. Of note, Black/African American participants reported being more likely to sign up to receive text messages from their doctor’s office compared to white participants.

Jang, H., Barrett, B., & McGregor, S. C. (2023). Social media policy in two dimensions: understanding the role of anti-establishment beliefs and political ideology in Americans’ attribution of responsibility regarding online content. Information, Communication & Society, 1-26.

While government regulators, the press, and academics struggle to determine who should be responsible for content on social media platforms, we know little about what the public believes about these issues. In this study, researchers investigated what drives Americans’ opinions on whether the government, platforms, or individual users should be responsible for social media content. Using data from a nationally representative survey of over 10,000 Americans, they investigated how anti-establishment attitudes relate to who Americans believe should be responsible for content on social media. They also examined the role of beliefs in the government’s role in the market, free speech beliefs and beliefs in individual responsibility in this context. Among other findings, they showed how anti-establishment beliefs and beliefs in individual responsibility may drive people to put the onus on individual users to bear the responsibility for online content.

Jang, H., & Lee, S. (2023). Introducing the Co-oriented Scansis (CoS) model: A case of chatbot, Lee-Luda. Public Relations Review, 49(4), 102360.

This study presents the Co-oriented Scansis model, which provides a comprehensive understanding of scansis (crisis combined with scandal)—a recently identified crisis type integrated into the situational crisis communication theory. Using a crisis case of Scatter Lab, a South Korean AI company, as a model case, the study applied the CoS model to analyze the perceptions and meta-perceptions of both the organization and the public regarding the crisis. The data collection involved three official statements released by Scatter Lab and an analysis of 365 reviews from the Google Play users' reviews page of Science of Love—the app used by Scatter Lab to collect intimate conversations between romantic partners. The findings highlight the utility of the CoS model in explaining how Scatter Lab's AI crisis evolved into a scansis. The organization's failure to accurately comprehend the public's perception of the crisis and the resulting discrepancy between the organization and the public's perceptions contributed to moral outrage.

Johnson, K., Ringel, E., & Reid, A. (2023). A License to Play: Regulating Location-Based Augmented Reality Gameplay on Public Property. Georgia Law Review, 57(4), 1551–1604.

This novel research sits at the intersection of augmented reality gameplay and government licenses for use of public property. Governments have long used licensing schema to assure public safety and order. Augmented reality gameplay on public lands presents a new, contested use of public property. Under our proposed licensing scheme, those wishing to engage in location-based augmented reality gameplay on public lands would need a license. This proposal is akin to how governments—federal, state, and municipal—have authorized permit schema for use of public property, including rock climbing, geocaching, street performing and film photography. Our article offers sample legislation for policymakers to license LoBAR gaming, and a sample license application is included in the appendix.

Lazard, A. J., Nicolla, S., Vereen, R. N., Pendleton, S., Charlot, M., Tan, H.-J., DiFranzo, D., Pulido, M., & Dasgupta, N. (2023). Exposure and Reactions to Cancer Treatment Misinformation and Advice: Survey Study. JMIR Cancer, 9(1), e43749.

Survey participants reported their exposure and reactions to cancer treatment misinformation generally (saw or heard, source, type of advice and curiosity) and specifically on social media (platform, believability). Participants were then randomly assigned to view one of three cancer treatment misinformation posts or an information post and asked to report their willingness to intervene and their intentions to share. Among U.S. adult participants, including those with cancer and cancer caregivers, almost one in four received advice about alternative ways to treat or cure cancer. More than half of participants (55.9%) saw any cancer treatment misinformation on social media, with significantly higher exposure for those with cancer (70.6%) than for those without cancer (52.6%). More than half were likely to share any cancer misinformation posts shown. 68.3% of participants were willing to intervene for any cancer misinformation posts, including flagging the cancer treatment misinformation posts as false (49.7%-51.4%) or reporting them to the platform (48.1%-51.4%).

Lorenz, A. (2023). “Minimal” and “Biased”: An Intersectional Analysis of Female Candidates’ Perceptions of Their Local News Coverage. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 194016122311787-194016122311787.

This qualitative study analyzes the perceptions of U.S. women political candidates about their local news coverage at a pivotal moment of change in both journalism and electoral politics. Through an intersectional approach, in-depth interviews with thirty-seven women who recently ran for office from 2016 to 2020 revealed findings in two areas of news research: local news declines and gender bias in political news. First, massive declines in local news capacities have trickled into local political communication, which, along with affordances of social media, point to a decline in relevance of local media to local campaigns. Second, participants perceived bias in their news coverage based on an identity intersecting with their gender, partisan affiliation, or both. Their experiences offered two potential ways forward for local news to reattain relevancy in local elections in countries of local news declines, through accountability journalism and by diversifying staff to meet the needs of a diversifying electoral slate of candidates.

Lorenz, A., Schmitt, C., McGregor, S., & Malmer, D. (2023). “CNN Can Kiss My As$”: A Novel Description of Hyperpartisan U.S. News Consumers. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, 3.

News consumption in the United States is polarized and fragmented, with an abundance of partisan news publications appealing to political identities on both the left and the right. Yet, there is an abundance of hyperpartisan news on the right, the content of which has been shown to be harmful to democracy. This study captures one of the most comprehensive pictures to date of the U.S. Americans who consume far-right media and makes connections between such media use and the state of American democracy. Open-ended survey responses from a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 U.S. American adults were analyzed. Nearly 10% reported at least one far-right news outlet as a primary news source. Significantly more U.S. Americans reported consuming far-right and moderate-right news outlets than counterparts on the left. We then examined the characteristics of this small but significant group, finding that far-right news consumers are overwhelmingly white, male, Republican, Christian and without a college degree.

Ma, Z., Ma, R., Zhao, X., & Wang, X. (2023). Stories that engage the audience: An investigation of popular breast cancer narratives on social media. Telematics and Informatics, 85, 102048–102048.

Narratives play a critical role in health communication and promotion on social media. This study aimed to identify the features of popular social media narratives that generate emotional support and engage users in cancer communication. Researchers conducted a content analysis of popular breast cancer narratives by five influential breast cancer non-profit organizations on Facebook. Based on a theoretical framework grounded in narrative communication research, they analyzed these narratives in the following dimensions: narrative content, narrative form, literary techniques and visual elements. Results showed that cancer stories that were longer, less emotionally intensive, told from the cancer survivor’s perspective, with gender identity-related information, describing the act of providing social support, explicitly requesting engagement and/or donation, and using more vivid forms of visuals such as linked images tended to be more engaging. However, different narrative features were associated with the three engagement outcomes differently.

Middleton, A., Costa, A., Milne, R., Patch, C., Robarts, L., Tomlin, B., Danson, M., Henriques, S., Atutornu, J., Aidid, U., Boraschi, D., Galloway, C., Yazmir, K., Pettit, S., Harcourt, T., Connolly, A., Li, A., Cala, J., Lake, S., & Borra, J. (2023). The legacy of language: What we say, and what people hear, when we talk about genomics. HGG Advances, 4(4), 100231–100231.

The way we “talk” about genetics plays a vital role in whether public audiences feel at ease in having conversations about it. This research explored whether there was any difference between “what we say” and “what people hear” when providing information about genetics to community groups who are known to be missing from genomics datasets. Researchers conducted 16 focus groups with 100 members of the British public who had limited familiarity with genomics and self-identified as belonging to communities with Black African, Black Caribbean and Pakistani ancestry as well as people of various ancestral heritage who came from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Participants were presented with spoken messages explaining genomics and their responses to these were analyzed. Results indicated that starting conversations that framed genomics through its potential benefits were met with cynicism and skepticism due to historical and present injustices and mistrust of companies and government. More productive conversations led with an acknowledgment that some people have questions—and valid concerns—about genomics.

Nicolla, S., & Lazard, A. J. (2023). Social Media Communication About Sexual Violence May Backfire: Online Experiment with Young Men. Journal of Health Communication, 28(1), 1–10.

Sexual violence harms millions of individuals each year in the United States. Survivors of sexual violence endure long-term hardships such as significant financial setbacks, physical and mental health consequences, academic challenges, and stunted career achievement. Digital feminist activism has created space online where women can disclose experiences of sexual violence. Researchers conducted an experiment to examine the impact of DFA on college-aged men’s reactance to messaging, rape myth acceptance, knowledge about severity, and susceptibility to perpetrate sexual violence. Participants had greater reactance (unintended outcome) to tweets challenging rape myths, and subsequently higher rape myth acceptance and lower knowledge about the severity of sexual violence. Rape myth acceptance was associated with susceptibility to perpetrate sexual violence overall. The finding that some forms of DFA have a negative, indirect influence among college-aged males highlights important unintended consequences and the need for more efficacious communication to prevent sexual violence perpetration.

Peterson, D. (2023). In the Thick of Thick Accents: Employment Discrimination and the Appalachian Accent. Appalachian Journal of Law, 22(2).

This article explores how courts have misinterpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to deny Appalachians legal protection remedying employment discrimination. A brief overview of the terminology, constitutional background and legal framework needed to understand the problem of Appalachian-targeted employment discrimination, especially regarding accent discrimination, is provided. This includes an explanation of courts’ use of the term “accent” as well as background information on Title VII’s constitutionality and accent protection feat¬ure. The article focuses on Appalachian accent discrimination because Appalachians represent a distinct, historically disadvantaged group that unjustly lacks protection. To remedy the misinterpretation of Title VII, two possible solutions exist. First, a judicial reinterpretation or clarification of Title VII that would result in protection of Appalachians would remedy the problem. Second, in the alternative, enactment of additional anti-discrimination legislation, such as local ordinances, would remedy the current error.

Ranney, L. M., Clark, S. A., Jarman, K. L., Lazard, A. J., Kowitt, S. D., Ross, J. C., Baler, G., Thrasher, J. F., & Goldstein, A. O. (2023). How do current tobacco warnings compare to the WHO FCTC guidelines: a content analysis of combustible tobacco warnings worldwide. BMJ Open, 13(3), e062033.

Many countries have adopted warning labels for combustible tobacco products, yet little research exists describing tobacco warning characteristics globally and to what extent they meet the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) Guidelines. This study evaluates characteristics of combustible tobacco warnings. A total of 316 warnings from 26 countries or jurisdictions worldwide were found. Of these warnings, 94% included warning text and an image. Warning text statements most often described health effects to the respiratory, circulatory, and reproductive systems. Cancer was the most frequently mentioned health topic (28%). Fewer than half of warnings included a Quitline resource (41%). Few warnings included messages about secondhand smoke (11%), addiction (6%) or cost (1%). Of warnings with images, most were in color and showed people, mostly adults. More than one in five warnings with images included a smoking cue (e.g., cigarette).

Reid, A., Ringel, E., & Pendleton, S. M. (2023). Transparency reports as CSR reports: motives, stakeholders, and strategies. Social Responsibility Journal.

The purpose of this study is to situate information and communications technology “transparency reports” within the theoretical framework of corporate social responsibility reporting. The self-denominated transparency report serves a dual purpose of highlighting a company’s socially responsible behavior while also holding government agencies accountable for surveillance and requests for user data. Drawing on legitimacy theory, neo-institutional theory and stakeholder theory, this exploratory study examines how companies are implementing industry-specific voluntary disclosures as a form of CSR. Key findings from a content analysis of voluntary nonfinancial reporting suggest that most ICT companies used transparency reporting to engage consumers/users as their primary stakeholders and most used a stakeholder information strategy. A majority of companies signaled value-driven motives in their transparency reports while also positioning the company to stakeholders as a protector of user data and advocate for consumer rights.

‌Richter, A. P. C., Grummon, A. H., Falbe, J., Taillie, L. S., Wallace, D. D., Lazard, A. J., Golden, S. D., Conklin, J. L., & Hall, M. G. (2023). Toddler milk: a scoping review of research on consumption, perceptions, and marketing practices. Nutrition Reviews, nuad057.

Toddler milk is an ultra-processed beverage consisting primarily of powdered milk, caloric sweeteners and vegetable oil. Pediatric health authorities do not support the use of toddler milk, and emerging evidence suggests that toddler-milk marketing practices may mislead consumers. However, studies have not synthesized the extent of toddler-milk marketing practices or how these practices affect parents' decisions about whether to serve toddler milk. The researchers searched eight databases and identified 45 articles about toddler milk. Studies were conducted in 25 countries across six continents. The included articles suggested that toddler-milk sales are growing rapidly worldwide. Findings also revealed that toddler-milk packages (e.g., labels, branding) resemble infant formula packages and that toddler-milk marketing practices may indirectly advertise infant formula. Findings suggest a need for policies to prevent cross-marketing of toddler milk and infant formula, reduce provision of toddler milk to infants and toddlers, and prevent caregivers from being misled about toddler-milk healthfulness.

Ross, J. C., Kowitt, S. D., Jarman, K. L., Ranney, L. M., Lazard, A. J., Thrasher, J. F., Sheeran, P., & Goldstein, A. O. (2023). Perceived message effectiveness of cigar warning themes among adults in the United States. Preventive Medicine Reports, 34, 102236.

Most tobacco warnings focus on health harms to the consumer, but other message themes may be promising. This study assessed perceived message effectiveness among adults who smoke cigars for 12 cigar warning statements to discourage smoking, and measured PME across four message themes: explicit health effects to the consumer, secondhand smoke effects, chemicals/constituents and toxicity. The warning statements for lung cancer and heart disease had the highest PME ratings; secondhand smoke and formaldehyde had the lowest PME ratings. Multilevel analyses showed that the explicit health effects theme was associated with higher PME ratings compared to other warning themes except toxicity (p =.16). Higher awareness of consequences was associated with higher PME ratings. Higher nicotine dependence was also associated with higher PME ratings. Warning statements with information addressing the themes of health harms and toxicity could potentially inform those who smoke cigars about the broader harms of cigar use and should be considered in FDA labeling regulations for cigars.

Ross, J. C., Lazard, A. J., King, J. L., Noar, S. M., Reboussin, B. A., Jenson, D., & Sutfin, E. L. (2023). Responses to pictorial versus text-only cigarillo warnings among a nationally representative sample of US young adults. Tobacco Control, 32(2), 211-217.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires six text-only warnings for cigar products, including cigarillos. Research has demonstrated the superiority of pictorial over text-only cigarette warnings, yet the relative effectiveness of pictorial warnings for cigarillos has not been examined. The researchers examined the impact of pictorial cigarillo warnings compared with text-only warnings, collecting data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. young-adult (18-29) cigarillo users and susceptible non-users. Participants were randomised to one of three experimental conditions: text-only or one of two pictorial conditions (combined for analyses). Pictorial cigarillo warnings elicited greater negative emotional reactions and PME compared with text-only warnings. These effects and the effects on cognitive elaboration were strongest for past 30-day users. The findings extend research on cigarette warnings to cigarillos, demonstrating that pictorial warnings are superior to text-only warnings for cigarillos in eliciting beneficial responses.


‌The 26th ACM Conference On Computer-Supported Cooperative Work And Social Computing
Oct. 14-18, 2023 | Minneapolis

Ph.D. student Heesoo Jang co-organized an international panel on platform injustice, followed by a special interest group meeting. During the panel, Heesoo presented a case study on a South Korean digital sex trafficking incident widely referred to as "the Nth room case."

The Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023
Dec. 6-10, 2023 | Singapore

Eslam, H., Ganti, A., Wilson, S., Ma, Z., & Zhao, X. (2023). Narrative style and the spread of health misinformation on Twitter. In Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023, Singapore. Association for Computational Linguistics.