Photo by Esther Vargas, Flickr CC

As media organizations figure out how to cover the Trump Administration and the first tweeting president, there is soul searching taking place both within the media and among media consumers about media objectivity and the role of social networking sites in the news. The rise of non-traditional online media outlets, tensions between the White House and journalists, and arguments over “alternative facts” has brought new challenges to long-held assumptions about journalistic accountability and objectivity.

Sociologists have long been critics of “objectivity” in the media and have noted the erosion of assumed standards of objectivity in the news room.
At the same time, survey data shows that here has been a loss of trust in the media. This year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report finds that only 33% of Americans say that they trust the news “most of the time” compared to 65% of Finns. Though declining trust in the media is not necessarily new, the 2016 election cycle saw a sharper decline.
Elections and election coverage often leave audiences with the feeling that media organizations are more focused on partisanship rather than interrogating policy positions. This challenges audiences’ notions of media objectivity when media organizations and journalists are perceive to be picking favorites.
The challenge of objectivity is particularly great when journalists engage with audiences on social networking sites like Twitter, which appear to blur the lines between professional and personal opinion. When journalists tweet, the tension between norms of objectivity and accountability are heightened, but it also provides a way to direct traffic to published artciles. Sites like Twitter provide journalists a platform for engaging audiences in real time and provide a means for journalists to prime audiences for a developing story.
Photo by Neon Tommy, Flickr CC

The Trump administration continues to ramp up policies that not only curb the flow of undocumented migrants into the United States, but also bolster an already formidable deportation system. Currently, many “Dreamers” protected by former president Obama’s executive order are worried that president Trump will overturn this crucial immigration policy, which grants residency status to undocumented individuals that came to the United States as children prior to 2012. This unprecedented move could potentially lead to the detention and deportation of nearly 800,000 people. Surprisingly, social science has found that immigration policy in the United States does not typically follow immigration patterns, but more often shaped by economic and political conditions.

Many legal avenues for migration to the United States were dismantled from the late 1950s through 1965, including the elimination of many temporary worker visas and country and hemispheric quotas. This policy shift resulted in an uptick in undocumented migrants from Latin America until the late 1970s, which subsequently tapered off with the passage of the Immigration and Reform Control Act in 1986. Due to this influx of undocumented immigrants, political rhetoric surrounding immigration took a punitive turn, fueling anti-immigrant sentiment and restrictionist policies with strict enforcement practices, especially during the mid 1990s through the 2000s.
Deportations of both undocumented and documented immigrants has increased significantly in the past few decades, so much so that under the Obama administration, a record 2 million immigrants were deported by the end of 2013. These unprecedented numbers of deportations typically involved people with no criminal record or those with minor convictions, such as traffic offenses or marijuana possession, and nearly one quarter of the 400,000 deportees in 2012 were parents of U.S. citizens.
Scholars have demonstrated the parallels between the system of mass deportation and mass incarceration in the United States, both of which disproportionately impact men of color, are rife with punitive rhetoric, and are bolstered by massive government and private expenditures. Tanya Maria Golash-Boza contends that deportation is nested within the current state of global capitalism.  She argues that deportations serve the function of removing surplus labor while keeping undocumented labor populations in the United States compliant and vulnerable. This era of mass deportation and “crimmigration” comes at a significant cost to immigrant communities and families. Unfortunately, if the current political climate of “America First” is any indicator, these social and human costs will only exacerbate in the recent future.
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The selling of Mexico’s nationalized oil company has caused gas shortages and rising gas prices, sparking nationwide protest. In the midst of  “El Gasonlinazo,” unlikely heroes have stepped forward to fight for affordable gasoline — Mexican drug cartels. The cartels are threatening to burn gas stations, specifically those run by foreign companies, and they have started stealing oil and selling it back to Mexican citizens for a lower cost. They claim that it is a disservice to the people of Mexico to make them pay such high prices for gas, especially when many do not even make a living wage.

It is not unusual for individuals or groups with a negative image to present themselves in the best way possible through “impression management,” and drug cartels are no exception. Past research shows that developing an image of being helpful to the community helps cartels and gangs to garner legitimacy and respect. In Mexico, there is a long tradition of rebel groups acting in the name of the community, for example, the Zapatistas portrayed themselves as liberators, rather than criminals, in their fight against globalization. 
The Niger Delta experienced a similar situation when Chinese oil companies bought entry into the land. Citizens of Nigeria banded together to form rebel groups, using kidnappings and other violent measures as forms of resistance. Oil is a vital resource, which is why citizens of under-developed nations are willing to look to non-traditional groups for help fighting the interests of foreign companies and international elites.
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Trump’s rise to the presidency still has many people wondering why large numbers of whites with low to moderate incomes voted for a candidate who supports policies that are likely to have a negative impact on them. In other words, how is a millionaire real estate developer from New York City seen as an average Joe and a champion of white workers? Two prominent sociological explanations involve the racist attitudes of whites’ and feelings of anger and abandoment in economically struggling rural communities.

Racially coded, and racially explicit, language is particularly powerful for tapping into white Americans’ feelings of displacement, loss, and resentment. Sociological research suggests that racialized attacks on “undeserving” immigrants and people of color who benefit from government “handouts” provide a target for anger and a rationale for why white working class communities are struggling economically (while ignoring the privileges that go along with whiteness). Thus, the emotional appeals of racist and xenophobic campaign rhetoric can contribute to lower income people voting against their economic self-interest.
Much of the public commentary about white working class voters has focused on folks in cities and industrial sectors, but another important population to consider is rural residents. People in rural areas are disproportionately white, are struggling economically due to declines in commodity prices, and are confronting rapid demographic changes. Rural citizens, especially white men, perceive their religious and nationalist beliefs as being looked-down upon by liberals, and they draw on a strong rural identity when they describe feeling ignored and abandoned by politicians and elites who devalue their lifestyles. They see the government as creating policies that favor cities and help undeserving minorities and state bureaucrats, all while ignoring rural people. Thus, conservative politicians like Trump have tapped into people’s anger and resentment through emotional appeals to masculinity and male dignity, American nationalism, and Christian morals.

For more on why working class whites voted from Trump, see here, here, and here.

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A recent study found that by age six, girls perceive themselves as less intelligent than boys. The study consisted of an experiment asking girls and boys if they wanted to play a game for smart kids, then telling them a fictional story about a smart person. At the end of the story, the kids had to decide if the “really, really smart” person in the story was a man or woman. The girls were less likely to identify the character as a woman than boys were to identify the character as a man. Social science research shows that stereotypes and childhood socialization shape a person’s understanding of gender norms.

The classic stereotype that boys are better at math and science still persists, even though more women are entering STEM fields. Teachers often perceive that boys are better at math than girls are, which girls and boys both internalize as early as second grade. Students, in turn, stereotype men as smarter than women, as evidenced by student evaluations of college professors. Students refer to male professors as “brilliant” more often than female and minority professors, and the “brilliant” professors are more likely to be in fields, such as math and science, with fewer female professors.
In addition to just thinking boys are better at certain subjects, teachers also treat girls and boys differently. In preschools, teachers tend to let boys be rowdier, louder, and allow them to move around the classroom more freely. Later in school, after kids have learned what behaviors are gender-appropriate in the classroom, teachers associate boys with troublemaking and girls with good behavior, which they in turn translate into beliefs about academic achievement; they tend to view boys as underachievers and girls as high achievers, meaning that girls who struggle in school often get overlooked.
Despite the stereotypes that boys and girls have different intellectual capacities, studies show that they are not really psychologically different, but at certain ages in development they may seem different. In actuality, girls and boys do not have unequal math and science abilities.
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Barack Obama issued 78 pardons and 153 commutations before leaving office, including commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning. While commutations shorten the sentences of incarcerated individuals, but do not alter their criminal record, pardons remove the conviction from the individual’s record. Obama’s latest string of clemency decisions brings his administration’s total to 1,324, the majority of which were commutations.

Research on federal executive clemency shows that rates of clemency are highest when Democratic presidents are in power, when crime rates are lower, and during periods of war. Legal research also highlights variation between states, with certain governors utilizing clemency measures more than others, though not necessarily along party lines. While executive clemency was once a practice commonly employed by U.S. presidents, its use has declined in recent decades. This decreased use of executive clemency has coincided with a sharp increase in arrests, both of which have contributed to the substantial rise in incarcerated individuals across the U.S. 
Scholarship also hints at who is likely to receive a commutation or pardon. Analyses of death sentences shows that women, youth, the elderly, and those who have spent a significant amount of time on death row are more likely to have their death sentences commuted. Additionally, death penalty commutations are more common among governors who are not returning to office (lame duck) and when the death row population is particularly old. However, even though female prisoners are more likely to receive clemency, recent qualitative investigations of commutation hearings suggest that women encounter a systemic gender bias when applying for a pardon or commutation.
Welfare office. Photo by Jacob Norlund, Flickr CC

The New York Times recently faced criticism after publishing a factually incorrect op-ed about how much money people receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps) spend on soda and other sweetened beverages. In a piece challenging the findings, Professor of Public Policy Joe Soss revisits the numbers and finds no substantial difference in spending between people who receive these benefits and people who don’t. Non-SNAP households spend about four cents on soft drinks for every dollar on groceries, and SNAP households spend about five cents per dollar. Soss points out that this error perpetuates stereotypical moral judgments about the poor. Research finds time and time again that these moral judgments often miss the facts, but they nevertheless have a big impact on our social safety net policies.

Historical work finds that aid to the poor in the United States developed to be highly conditional — political leaders often justified policies by focusing on certain “deserving” categories of people like soldiers and mothers. As a result, moral narratives about who deserves aid became central to the policymaking process and continue to shape attitudes about helping the poor.
These moral narratives bias our thinking about people who are poor and hide the fact that they are often no different from people who aren’t. For example, despite efforts to drug test welfare recipients, substance use rates are not much higher among the poor. And single motherhood in poor communities does not come from different sexual behavior — it happens because poor mothers value family just as much as everyone else. By treating poor people as morally deviant, our public policy can do more harm than good.
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In one of the largest days of protest in recent history, the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches drew millions of people out into the streets of major American cities to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump and to call for protecting the rights of women, immigrants, and other groups that are likely to be further marginalized by the Trump administration. A look at research on past women’s movements sheds light on the ways that gender shapes when and how women protest, and the important roles they have played in social movement history.

While some argue that women are too diverse to constitute an “issue group,” women’s social mobilization around issues of reproductive, labor, and voting rights has had an important impact on movement culture in the United States. In fact, women’s groups were some of the first to work outside of the existing political system by relying on changing public opinion, rather than voting, as a movement strategy.
But women have to contend with a social movement culture that is structured around already pervasive gender norms, which means that the strategies used by women’s movements, and women’s roles in social movements more generally, are in many ways reflective of existing gender norms. For example, women’s movements are more likely to rely on nonviolent strategies, like marches, and women are more likely to be recruited into movement groups to perform nonviolent, gendered tasks, such as canvassing or managing the movement’s social networks.
Though women are often relegated to the subordinate roles and more menial tasks of political organizing, research finds that these roles have been a key ingredient to social movement success. A historical analysis of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. reveals that African American women acted as “bridge leaders,” making the necessary connections between movement leaders and constituents that helped grow the movement. Women have also played a vital role in the U.S. environmental justice movement and drawn on their grievances and experiences as mothers to challenge pollution and toxic waste.

The success of the recent Women’s March is further evidence that when women mobilize, they can be a powerful force for change. 

Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann, Flickr CC

President Trump has made several high-profile picks for his cabinet, but he has one of the least diverse cabinets in recent history; there are no Latinos and very few other minorities or women. This has drawn criticism, but why is diversity a good thing for governments and other organizations? Social science research shows how diversity helps, but also how organizations often limit diversity by warping what it means to their members.  

Diversity can be quite beneficial for organizations. For example, schools with a more diverse student body experience superior educational outcomes. Similarly, in business, employee racial or gender diversity predicts higher sales revenue and market share.   
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to questions regarding the lack of diversity by stating that this cabinet is diverse; it has a “diversity of thinking…diversity of ideology.”  This is an example of how diversity acts as “Happy Talk,” a way people can show off their affections for modern equality without any attention to existing inequality. In short, many people talk about “diversity” in abstract ways, but avoid any real discussion of race, gender, and the like.
This inattention toward issues of race, gender, sexuality, and other axes of oppression can take the “oomph” out of claims to diversity and misses its original intent: increasing access for marginalized groups. Ellen Berrey succinctly describes the effects of watered down, amorphous diversity as “taming demands for racial justice.” As the remaining 5,000 cabinet sub-positions are filled, pay attention to whether these selections are diverse and what kind of “diversity” they really represent.
Lt. Shelton, one of the chemical engineers at the Rocket Propulsion Lab, stands at a chalkboard. Photo by Expert Infantry, Flickr CC

One of the most popular new movies in the past month was Hidden Figures, a film that highlights the forgotten story of three Black female NASA employees who were integral to the success of several U.S. space missions in the early 1960s. The film allows audiences to observe both the subtle and blatant instances of sexism and racism that plagued women in STEM, despite the prestige of the field. Over 50 years later, women’s employment in science, technology, engineering, and math remains low compared to that of their male peers, especially among minority women. Social science allows us to piece together where and how these gender differences develop, and how women within STEM careers successfully navigate their environments.

Despite growing numbers of women receiving college degrees, they remain underrepresented within STEM fields. While some research attempts to find biological explanations for gender and racial disparities, a myriad of social science scholars note that cultural stereotypes equate science and math studies with men’s work. As such, young women frequently experience lower self-confidence in their science and mathematical skills. Women of color, in particular, are less likely to attend elite schools with quality STEM programs and are more likely to experience family unemployment. These barriers limit access to the resources necessary to cultivate engagement with STEM studies.
High school environments account for much of the dearth of women in STEM careers. Research finds that 12th grade girls who attend high schools that fail to foster support for girls in science and mathematics, and that encourage gender segregation within extracurricular activities, are less likely to list a STEM career as a potential field of study.
When women enter STEM work spaces, they often experience microaggressions from their male peers, despite receiving the same degrees and having the same skills. Interviews with women working in technology firms revealed that those who identified as heterosexual and traditionally feminine recalled having a harder time in their workplaces because male peers avoided eye contact, questioned their work more than other male peers, and critiqued their clothing choices. Gender-fluid and LGBTQ women, on the other hand, reported an easier time navigating their predominantly male workplace because their styles conformed to the masculine subculture of the workplace.