Newhouse Impact: Social Media Impacting Change in Large Organizations; Research to Combat Misinformation Draws More Funding

Welcome to the latest edition of the Newhouse Impact research and creative activity roundup, which highlights the work of Newhouse students, faculty and staff, along with accolades and other distinctions.

Newhouse Impact Podcast

The disappearance of a female soldier at a U.S. Army base in Texas 2020 was met by silence and opaqueness from military officials. When family social media posts were amplified by a celebrity and Latina advocacy group, it might have been the necessary pressure for change. 

Former Army soldier and public affairs specialist Michelle Johnson researched this as a case study into whether a groundswell of social media attention could result in organizational change, even in such a large, inflexible entity as the U.S. military. Johnson is now a Ph.D. student of Mass Communications in Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. 

Johnson found the case of Vanessa Guillen — whose body was eventually found murdered — showed that enough social media attention could engage change agents. Johnson spoke with host Chris Bolt on the Newhouse Impact podcast about the case, the #IAmVanessa Guillen movement, and what can be learned about public relations messaging from response to this tragedy.  

Listen to the full show by going to the Newhouse Impact episode page.  

You looked into how a social media movement was able to affect change against the US military in the tragic case of a missing person. How did you become interested in this? 


I am a 25-year military veteran. I am a woman. I was an Army leader. And I was a sexual assault victim. All these things made this particular case very important to me. I was in the military at the time that this happened, and I watched it all unfold. Being a soldier, a woman, a sexual assault survivor (not in the military, but a survivor nonetheless), and a mother of soldiers; I thought it was essential that we really understood why this unfolded the way it did. Since I had the right expertise and was at Newhouse (where I had the ability to study things that matter to me), I decided to see if we could figure out why this happened, the missteps involved, and how we could avoid something like this happening again. 

You have touchpoints to this in a lot of ways, not just as a member of the military. Would you describe that as sort of an intersectional approach? 


Yeah, I think that the intersection of identities here really influenced why people were so emotionally tied to this story. 

Before we get into the particulars of the case, could you discuss your 20-plus years in the military? 


Sure. I was trying to finish my undergraduate degree while working. And it was really hard to keep doing those things at the same time, so I decided to join the military and get some help paying for school. I enlisted in the Army National Guard in Ohio, where I’m from, and spent five years as a military police officer. 

I also met my husband there. He eventually decided to go on active duty; and I decided that if he was going to, I would as well. But this time I was going to do a job related to my degree. So, I was a broadcast journalist for the first 10 years of my active-duty career. And after that, I switched to public relations. I also got to live in three different countries and do a lot of really interesting things. 

Also listen to: Loneliness Can Lead to Mental, Physical Health Issues: What PR Can Do

Recent accolades, highlights and notes

Research by Jason Davis and Regina Luttrell to detect and combat misinformation draws more funding.

For Sean Branagan, the ScreenME-Net Summit in Estonia last semester marked the culmination of his Fulbright work.

Shaina Holmes is the visual effects supervisor for the short films Bequest and Marshall Man, and was the dailies producer for feature film Cabrini. 

G Douglas Barrett’s book monograph, “Experimenting the Human: Art, Music, and the Contemporary Posthuman,” was reviewed in the latest issue of Neural.

Greg Munno’s Knight Foundation grant proposal was awarded $137,500.

Sean Branagran was quoted in the article “Apple and Meta’s new VR headsets look like a sports force multiplier.”

Bryce Whitwam participated in a live webcast that discussed key findings of a report on the changing marketing landscape in China.

Charisse L’Pree is involved with a new faculty research project that was awarded a grant by the Lender Center for Social Justice.

Shaina Holmes was co-host and panelist for “Celebrating VFX Authors,” and moderator for “The VFX Lifecycle for Today’s Budgets and Teams.” 

Two of Michael O. Snyder’s images have been awarded as Finalists in the Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest. 

The proposal that G Douglas Barrett wrote with the group he co-leads in the Bioinspired Institute, Posthumanities: Arts and Sciences won for the 2024 Wali Lecture.

Bryce Whitwam’s research paper “Delivering Change: The Diffusion of Doula Care in Black American Communities” won the ICA’s 2024 Top Student Paper Award.