Revisions Finished and Cambridge Analytica Journal Article Accepted

Originally published April 13, 2018.

I received a very welcome email from the editor of the Journal of Media Ethics this morning:

"I am very happy with your responses to the reviewers, and I am delighted to accept your article for publication in the Journal of Media Ethics pending pre-production editing. You'll be hearing from me we move into the pre-production phase."

Hooray! Thus ends the main slog of my highly stressful mission to publish research I conducted in spring 2017 on the ethics of Cambridge Analytica's behavioral microtargeting practices.

The publication process began last May, immediately after I had finished work on the research as a class project for a graduate-level journalism ethics course led by Ohio University's esteemed ethicist Bernhard Debatin. I received great feedback on the paper and encouragement to publish from Debatin, so I went for it. While I'm interested in ethics, it's really not in my wheelhouse, and I was reluctant to put my research out there for public consumption. But I felt (and feel) the topic was of pretty grand significance and warranted attention.

I shot first for publication in the upcoming special issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly on social media and politics. Predictably, JMCQ was a pass, as my research was, to quote the rejection letter, "too narrowly focused on a single case study with limited theoretical advancements." JME, on the other hand, offered a revise and resubmit exactly three months after I had submitted the article to it in July. I submitted a significantly revised version in December and additional edits in March. Kind thanks, by the way, to JME editor Patrick Lee Plaisance and my reviewers, who helped whip the article into shape.

I'd published two journal articles previously. This was by far the most stressful, largely because every round of revisions with my reviewers felt like an inquisition. This wasn't because of anything nasty on the part of my reviewers. I was simply wading into unfamiliar waters and, consequently, very self-conscious about the weak spots in my knowledge of the topic.

When I started this process, the full scope of Cambridge Analytica's tom-foolery had yet to be revealed. As a consequence, my research regarding Cambridge Analytica's precise methods of persuasion is already slightly out of date. However, I should stress, the article's core finding—that there's about nothing you can do ethically speaking, short of quitting Facebook, to defend against the insidious psychological persuasion employed by outfits like Cambridge Analytica—is still very relevant indeed.

I suppose that's just the way it goes when you're dealing with topics that didn't happen a hundred years ago. I think I'll retreat to the Gilded Age for a while.

Ken Ward