Breaking news: How push notifications alter the fourth estate


  • Madelyn Rose Sanfilippo Information Law Institute New York University
  • Yafit Lev-Aretz Information Law Institute New York University



fake news, push notifications, fourth estate


In the face of media mistrust and increasing scrutiny over fake news, the fourth estate traditional power-check functions, as well as its esteem, are in jeopardy. Changes in news reporting and dissemination, including social media and new technologies have greatly reshaped the information environments of an informed electorate within American democracy. While much scholarly progress has been made in studying the socio-political impact of social media, similar critical attention has not been given to some of the technological changes in news dissemination. Research has begun to analyze attitudinal changes, as well as documented general information-saturation culture and online civility. It is not clear if these are related within the context of breaking news, raising distinct research questions, including: How have objectivity and sentiment changed in media representations over time? How have push notifications, as an increasingly popular and exemplar technological change in news dissemination, influenced these representations? This paper addresses these questions by exploring a case comparison between representations of two historically parallel breaking news stories, U.S. President Nixon firing special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973 and President Trump firing FBI Director James Comey in 2017, through computational textual analysis. While headlines and push notifications vary significantly by news providers, push notifications are similar across platforms in distinguishing characteristics such as emotionally loaded and subjective language. Both of these are defining elements of fake and deceptive news and may potentially account for some media distrust recently.

Author Biographies

Madelyn Rose Sanfilippo, Information Law Institute New York University

Madelyn R. Sanfilippo is as a postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Information Law Institute at New York University. Her research fundamentally addresses legal, social, and political issues surrounding information and information technology access, applying a social informatics perspective, particularly as it relates to unequal outcomes regarding interactions between policies, institutions, and information. Current projects examine these relationships with respect to knowledge management, data science, and artificial intelligence. She studied at the University of Wisconsin, Madison as an undergraduate and completed her master's and doctoral studies in Information Science at Indiana University, Bloomington’s School of Informatics and Computing.

Yafit Lev-Aretz, Information Law Institute New York University

Yafit Lev-Aretz is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Information Law Institute and an adjunct professor at the Media, Culture, and Communications Department at New York University. As the digital environment constantly evolves, Yafit studies self-regulatory regimes set by private entities and the legal vacuum they create. She is especially interested in the growing use of algorithmic decision-making, choice architecture in the age of big data, and the ethical challenges posed by machine learning and artificially intelligent systems. Her research also highlights the legal treatment of beneficial uses of data, such as data philanthropy and the data for good movement, striving to strike a delicate balance between privacy protection and competing values. Previously, Yafit was an intellectual property fellow at the Kernochan Center for the Law, Media, and the Arts at Columbia University, where she analyzed online practices from copyright and trademark law perspectives. Yafit holds a SJD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a LLM from Columbia Law School, and a LLB from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.




How to Cite

Sanfilippo, M. R., & Lev-Aretz, Y. (2017). Breaking news: How push notifications alter the fourth estate. First Monday, 22(11).