A Serious Challenge
Casey Scheffler ’18 (Chester Springs, PA) tackled a controversial global issue with her research, Facebook, the Decline of Ethos, and the Vaccine Controversy in the spring semester, which examined the influence of social media, particularly Facebook, on the vaccine controversy, as well as how ethos [arguments based on a writer’s or speaker’s professional experience, qualifications, credibility, and moral character] is used differently today than it has been used historically. She performed research based on journal articles and utilized a theoretical approach when examining the issue and gathering her data. She also joined three different Facebook groups and carried out a content analysis on the posts involved. She specifically looked for instances of how ethos is created digitally on these online platforms.
Scheffler found that online ethos is now created based on web design and credibility. In relation to specific Facebook groups, she learned that these different groups are created for people to share opinions and ideas. She also found that people tend to believe false opinions about vaccinations from people in these groups more than they did their own health care providers. She concluded that this was due to the relevancy of Facebook and other social media in people’s lives, as well as the recent assimilation of the concept of “fake news” in the perceptions and views of news audiences.
The international relevancy and the amount of interest it has garnered from people in Facebook groups caught Scheffler’s attention and led to her interest in pursuing the project. Her faculty mentor, Michael Zerbe, Ph.D., said that “Casey’s project speaks to a very serious challenge in today’s culture.” From her research, Scheffler hoped to discover if people’s Facebook posts and differing opinions contributed to the vaccine controversy. She also hoped to discover the ways in which ethos was used in these Facebook posts and the ways in which ethos is used in our digital realms today as opposed to in the past.
This project was nominated by the English and Humanities Department to appear in both the department’s undergraduate research showcase and the College’s undergraduate research showcase. Scheffler said, “I think the showcases went really well. I liked the use of the different disciplines within the showcase.” She will be staying at York College for an extra semester and upon graduating, she plans to go into technical writing.