How media mistakes threaten global shark survival

ASU researcher tracks pattern of media miscues that misleads the public about shark conservation policies

June 17, 2020

Sharks are among the most threatened animals in the world, and more people than ever now want to help. But a deep analysis of news coverage of shark conservation issues over 10 years reveals an alarming pattern of inaccurate reporting. This misinformation results in broad misunderstandings of the true issues among both media consumers and policymakers.

David Shiffman, a marine conservation biologist at Arizona State University's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, led a team that analyzed nearly 2,000 media articles dating back to 2008. The analysis reveals that worldwide media coverage of shark conservation topics is biased and inaccurate, omitting or misrepresenting key facts and not reporting on expert-backed solutions that have scientific data demonstrating their effectiveness. Hammer head shark just below surface of the water A great hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini swims away after a research workup. These iconic sharks received more conservation-relevant media attention over the past decade than any other species of shark, according to an ASU analysis of how shark conservation media is portrayed in the global popular press. Photo credit: Jacob Jerome, Field School, used with permission. Download Full Image

“Sharks face many threats, and there are many available policy solutions to address those threats. However, you wouldn’t know that from reading newspaper coverage of this important and complex issue,” Shiffman said.

Examples of media misinformation include an overemphasis of threats, such as the shark fin trade verses the shark meat trade, which is a major and growing threat that’s less well understood. This skew in coverage has led in part to shark fin trade bans despite no evidence that these trade bans actually help sharks. The research notes that shark finning has been illegal in the United States since the 1990s, an important point that is often confused in media coverage of these issues.

Media coverage also dramatically under-reports on truly endangered shark species in favor of well-known species, such as great white sharks. Critically endangered species of sharks were mentioned only 20 times in nearly 2,000 articles.

“Our analysis reveals major issues with factual inaccuracy, bias and omission of key facts in the last decade of media coverage of shark conservation — and that means that many people who want to help don’t really understand the problem or which solutions are most effective to solve the problem,” Shiffman said.

Shiffman’s research paper, “Inaccurate and biased global media coverage underlies public misunderstanding of shark conservation threats and solutions,” is now published in the open access journal iScience, which focuses on interdisciplinary scientific research. The paper also includes an extensive introduction to scientific facts about shark conservation, written explicitly for nonexpert audiences and journalists wishing to more thoroughly understand this issue.

Richard Holland

Director Marketing and Communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences


How ASU is helping admitted students find their way via Slack

Devil2Devil, ASU’s private network for admitted students is now integrated with Slack, allowing the new learners to gather virtually

June 17, 2020

For new students, the idea of going to an unfamiliar place can be daunting, and this has only been compounded by the pandemic. ASU has long believed in the power of community to address the potential concerns of settling into a new life in a new place. That’s why Devil2Devil exists: for incoming students to find friends, look for roommates, ask questions and get information about enrollment steps and other processes.

Devil2Devil has existed in one form or another since 2011, and past iterations have looked and felt very much like a social network. Some have needed Facebook authentication in order to join. But in 2019, even before the novel coronavirus exploded onto the global scene, it was clear that a paradigm shift was needed to get students active and engaged. Students no longer used Facebook as frequently as they had in years past.  students wearing gold shirts standing on "A" Mountain Download Full Image

Casey Thomas, associate director of digital engagement and public relations of admission services and Devil2Devil’s community manager since its inception, said, “We knew students weren’t really looking for another social network, so it was appropriate to move Devil2Devil into a space specific to ASU.” And so in May 2019, Thomas began talking with the University Technology Office about moving Devil2Devil to its new home as part of ASU’s Slack Enterprise Grid.

“Easy login access, a mobile app and customizable channels for conversations made Slack appealing,” said Thomas. And incoming students would now have prior exposure to the platform before using it for collaboration and coursework — a big advantage, considering the advent of Slack as the manifestation of ASU’s digital campus.

Devil2Devil is available to incoming first-year, transfer and master’s degree-level graduate students from about February to September, at which point students can continue collaborating and otherwise interacting with peers on Slack via direct messaging and other channels.

Usage data shows just how successful the move to Slack has been. Devil2Devil’s Slack presence launched Feb. 1, 2020, and it has 11,800 members as of June 9, 2020, with 2,300 active weekly users. Previous iterations of Devil2Devil have never surpassed 8,000 users.

Thomas also attributes some of the new Devil2Devil’s success with the pandemic, as admitted students have sought connection while largely isolated from the outside world. There was a significant jump in activity, for example, during the week of March 16, which for many was the first week of quarantine.

And the pandemic has impacted Devil2Devil programs as well. Just this month, Thomas and her team introduced New Student Orientation Gold Guides to Devil2Devil to host peer-led New2ASU channels with guided activities, content regarding enrollment and academic success and ASU resources. Thomas points to the success of this initiative, which would not have existed without the pandemic.

“The students hosting these channels are usually helping run in-person orientation programs and would not have been available to manage channels. And previous iterations had no effective way to create channels or groups like this,” she said.

Devil2Devil provides an invaluable service to admitted students. For some, it eases the transition of being away from home by introducing others from the same area. For others, it makes finding a roommate easier by letting users glimpse each other’s interests and personalities. However Devil2Devil is used, Thomas adds, “it’s instrumental in helping us build the sense of belonging for our admitted students.”

Andrew Schneider

Copywriter, University Technology Office