STEM Shoutout: Dr. Jessica Feezell

UNM political science professor received award for “innovative” Facebook research

UNM Political Science Assistant Professor Dr. Jessica Feezell was awarded the 2018 Walter Lippmann award last year for the best published article in political communication.

“I think [the article] it’s innovative, and I think it won the award because of the method and technique,” Feezell said.

This award is granted annually by the Political Communication division of the American Political Science Association.

The research she conducted addresses how people react to information, specifically political information, they bump into incidentally on their Facebook feed.

“If you are in a [Facebook] group and it shares some information with you, are you learning from that information?” Feezell said.  “Are you seeing that information? Are you going to exhibit any effect from that information? Or is it that you are going to ignore it and scroll right past?”

Feezell and her team created Facebook groups and controlled the different information each group was exposed to.

Previous research in this area did not account for the Facebook algorithm, which filters which posts users see on their feeds. Because researchers used the Facebook groups to conduct their research, the volunteers in the study were able to encounter the information in a more organic way and in a way that uses  the Facebook algorithm.

Feezell’s research found that those exposed to certain political issues were more likely to consider those issues to be important.  For example, those exposed to climate change information were likely to identify climate change as an important issue.

This effect is known as “agenda setting” in communication research.

The road to getting her research published was a long one that took several years. One of the challenges Feezell faced in getting it published was the peer-review process.

“It was really one of those papers that started off okay and ended up really great only as result of the feedback that I solicited and the reviews that were given to me,” Feezell said.

Feezell is also concluding some other related research on whether political information is learned when encountered incidentally through Facebook.

Other research she is beginning expands on her dissertation, which looked at music as a form of political communication.

Originally from California, Feezell found her way to New Mexico in 2011  after her husband was hired at the University of New Mexico as an engineering professor. Feezell said UNM hired her as a spousal accommodation for a two year assistant visiting professor position. She transitioned to a tenure track position soon after.

“So, it was great and we’ve been really happy here ever since,” Feezell said.