Shelly Palmer and Edward Bleier ’51 discuss social media’s impact on the future of communications

by Yali Chen

January 14, 2019

The CEO of The Palmer Group and former president of Warner Bros. spoke at Lubin House Dec. 12

Shelly Palmer and Edward Bleier '51
Shelly Palmer, CEO of the Palmer Group, and Edward Bleier '51, former president of Warner Bros. spoke at Lubin House on Dec. 12

On Dec. 12, Shelly Palmer, CEO of The Palmer Group, joined Edward Bleier ’51, former president of Warner Bros, for a discussion of the way social media has changed the communication landscape. The event, held at Lubin House in New York City, also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Newhouse School’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.

“The expansion of mass media in the 20th century changed the antique, top-down, elite-only communications model,” Bleier said. “But today, this digital medium [social media] creates chaos to society. There [are] no checks and balances.”

When Bleier asked Palmer to identify the biggest issues in today’s media landscape, Palmer said that regulation still lags behind the technology. He believes that while tech companies have the power to manipulate users’ data for monetary gain, users, who voluntarily share their data with these companies, don’t get an equal share of benefits.

The social media platforms’ ability to offer a more precise user-targeting rate empowered by their data further cuts into the advertising revenue going to traditional media, Palmer said.

Both men agreed that the influence of social media goes beyond corporate revenues and into popular culture and politics. With the advancement of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, people can live in a world where they only see the news they agree with, without regard for the facts.

“It is easier for people to stay in their comfort zones, and social media is becoming the single information source for many people,” Palmer said. “We are entering an increasingly fragmented media environment.”

When all news looks the same, it becomes more difficult for users to tell real news from fake, which creates wider societal problems as a shared reality becomes impossible, Palmer said, noting Deepfake as an example.

Deepfake refers to images and videos that are developed through machine learning, and look and sound authentic, such as this video showing Jordan Peele speaking as President Barack Obama, released last year.

“If you have watched deepfake, you would know how difficult it is to recognize the authenticity of the news today,” Palmer said. “It is easy for someone to manipulate this technology and spread misinformation on the internet, creating further public mistrust and social chaos.”

Within the context of a rapidly changing industry, Palmer and Bleier agreed that quality journalism schools are essential to ethical and effective mass communications. When asked specifically about the role of the Newhouse School, Palmer said that while he had no doubt Newhouse would always be able to help students master evolving technologies, the greatest necessity for new journalists was the ability to master the things that never change.

“The ideological nature, the philosophical nature, the ethos, pathos and logos of being a journalist, of being in communications… that requires something like the Newhouse School,” Palmer said.

Yali Chen is a senior in the public relations at the Newhouse School, and economics and international relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.