July 31, 2014

Eastern Michigan student shows strong connection between political comedy and social media

Andrew Abad's 'Virtual Watercooler' project at EMU explores how shows such as 'Colbert Report' influence students' political perceptions

by Emily Vontom, Published June 12, 2013

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Andrew Abad

Andrew Abad

They say laughter is the best medicine, and these days, when it comes to politics, sometimes all we can do is laugh and share the laughter with others.

Eastern Michigan University senior Andrew Abad, 20, has taken his love of politics, comedy and social media and created his senior capstone project, "The Virtual Watercooler: Influences of political comedy on social media discussion."

"There are two elements to the project," says Abad, a double major in communications and political science. "The first is exploring how people use social media in a political context. The second is looking at political comedy television shows and how people are more likely to share news from those shows than traditional news shows."

Abad, working closely with his advisors political science professor Jeffrey Bernstein and communications professor Dennis Patrick, is working with groups of students to determine their preferences and thoughts about traditional political news shows and political comedy news shows, like "The Colbert Report."

Through his research, Abad hopes to show that these comedy shows that aren't labeled as news programs, yet deliver news on a daily basis, are influencing and educating young people and how they understand and share political news.

"People use political comedy as a source," Abad says. "I want to show that because it is funny and more appealing that this is how college students understand politics and that these shows are more likely to generate political activity. They engage a different audience while at the same time still educate people about politics."

Because of the impact social media has played on the past two election cycles, Abad is also focusing on how sharing political news and information via platforms like Twitter and Facebook. He likens the sharing of news on these platforms to a watercooler at an office.

"The watercooler is a centerpiece of discussion," Abad says. "It's a place where people can reflect on what is going on. It's the discussion that happens after the news and it is now happening on social media. I want to show that it exists and in what context. Social media is a place, virtually, similar to a watercooler."

Abad still has two more research groups to work with before he can start to reflect on the results of his research, but he is already making plans for studying political communication in graduate school after he graduates in December.

"I've always been interested in politics," says Abad. "The more I study it, the more I enjoy it. It's special that we have the system we have here and that it is so stable. Communication and political science is, for me, a natural fit."

About the Illustrator

Dave J. Woodward is a senior art major from Woodhaven, Mich. When he's not creating memorable illustrations for EMU Housing and Dining, he's pursuing his true artistic passion with childhood friend Chris Sopsich: the creation of a comic book series called "Gordie Gnomo." Follow along at Facebook.com/Gordie.Gnomo.Comics.

Geoff Larcom

glarcom@emich.edu

734.487.4400

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