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It has been found that cybercrimes and threats to women online are rising by the day, so that they are the prime targets of some sensitive crimes like revenge pornography and sextortion. Reasons causing this are not only economical, but also social and cultural, that prevent women from using the internet and issues like trolling that pop up when one uses it too often. With the development of a more advanced and digital age , it is of paramount importance to break this gender divide and create awareness among internet users, to help curb the threats and problems associated with the internet and its usage, and also pave a path to reap the benefits of these great technological advancements.

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We are delighted to announce the recipients of the WhatsApp Misinformation and Social Science Research Awards. We are grateful for the level of interest we received – about 600 proposals were submitted and reviewed and our awardees represent the highest quality projects across several relevant research areas. Recipients span the globe including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States.

We understand misinformation to be a complex problem that lies at the intersection of human psychology, civil society, and technology. While it is not a new problem, it is compounded by technology driven communication platforms whether they are encrypted or not. Addressing the impact of misinformation is a long-term challenge and we hope these awards will help us build a model of engaging with academic experts to develop culturally relevant, long-term, and sustainable solutions to this complex problem.

The goal of these research awards is to facilitate high quality, external research on these topics by academics and experts who are in the countries where WhatsApp is frequently used and where there is relatively limited research on the topic. We believe this is important in order to get unbiased insights that account for the social and cultural variation in how people use our product. We are committed to understanding through this research what steps can be taken both within WhatsApp and through our support to civil society to help address this problem.

The final studies include many international collaborations that will help facilitate both local and global understanding of this nuanced problem. All of the studies will comply with the academic institutions’ ethics and academic review processes and will not involve the use of any WhatsApp user data. We will be hosting a workshop for awardees at our headquarters in Menlo Park, California in November. The goals of the workshop include educating the awardees on the WhatsApp product so their research can be most effective, and beginning to build a global community of academics and experts focused on understanding and addressing misinformation.

Below are the studies we are funding that cover the five areas of investigation that were part of our call for proposals:

Information Processing of Problematic Content

These studies will examine how do social, cognitive, and information processing variables relate to the content’s credibility, and the decision to share that content with others.

Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?

S. Shyam Sundar, Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) and P. N. Vasanti, Center for Media Studies, New Delhi

This study examines the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation by comparing Indian WhatsApp user reactions to three fake news stories, each prepared in either text-only, audio-only and video formats. The psychological differences in information processing across these three modalities when consuming fake news on WhatsApp will be examined.

Information, Trust, Engagement, and WhatsApp in Mexico and Latin America

Noam Lupu, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University (Principal Investigator); Alberto Simpser, Ph.D., ITAM; Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University

This study aims to examine the connection among WhatsApp usage, political (mis)information, elections, and democracy in Mexico. The involves an case study of Mexico city as well as adding three questions on WhatsApp usage on LAPOP’s 2018/19 AmericasBarometer surveys to examine these topics from 17 Latin American countries.

Is correction fluid? How to make fact-checks on WhatsApp more effective

Edson C. Tandoc Jr.,Ph.D., Nanyang Technological University (Principal Investigator); Lee Chei Sian, Ph.D., Nanyang Technological University; Sin Sei Ching Joanna, Ph.D., Nanyang Technological University

This study will use field experiments to understand how WhatsApp can serve as an effective platform for correcting misinformation. This study will focus on different aspects of proximity – including interpersonal closeness (source proximity), psychological distance (issue relevance), technological space (spatial proximity), and perceptions of time (temporal proximity) – and their impact on the effectiveness of corrections to misinformation via WhatsApp.

What’s up with news? Fighting misinformation on WhatsApp: users’ approach

Pere Masip, Ph.D., University Ramon Llull (Principal Investigator); Carlos Ruiz, Ph.D., University Ramon Llull; Jaume Suau Martínez, Ph.D., University Ramon Llull

This study examines the awareness of misinformation and problematic content on WhatsApp in Spain. It will examine these question in the context of users moving discussion to messaging apps where interactions between users are mostly private in an enclosed ecosystem of friends and acquaintances. This study uses a variety of methods including focus groups, nationally representative surveys, diary studies to examine these questions.

Beyond the Forward: The Social Shaping of (Mis)information through WhatsApp

Scott Campbell, Ph.D., University of Michigan (Principal Investigator); Ozan Kuru, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania (Principal Investigator); Joseph Bayer, Ph.D., Ohio State University; Lemi Baruh, Ph.D., Koc University; Richard Ling, Ph.D., Nanyang Technological University

Drawing from related streams of research and theory, this study examines how individual and group level characteristics support and suppress the questioning news content, forwarding questionable content, referring to fact-checking sources, and correcting others against misinformation in their groups.

Digital literacy and misinformation

These projects examine the relation between digital literacy and vulnerability to misinformation on WhatsApp. WhatsApp is very popular in some emerging markets, and especially so among new to Internet and populations with lower exposure to technology.

HabLatam: Digital skills and misinformation among youth in Latin America

Fabro Boaz Steibel, Ph.D, Institute for Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro (Principal Investigator); Andrés Lombana-Bermudez, PhD, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University; Debora Albu, M.Sc., Institute for Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro; Diego Cerqueira, B.A., Institute for Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro; Ezequiel Passerón, Faro Digital; Lionel Brossi, Ph.D.,University of Chile; Marco Konopacki, M.A., Institute for Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro; Thayane Guimarães, B.A. Institute for Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro

This study will use mixed methods to understand digital literacy among youth in Brazil and will co-design workshops in which young people will develop tools and content focused on creating a safer and healthier online information environment.

Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies

Vineet Kumar, Cyber Peace Foundation (Principal Investigator); Amrita Choudhary, CCAOI; Anand Raje, Cyber Peace Foundation

This mixed methods study will examine how vulnerability to fake news is affected by socioeconomic, demographic, or geographical factors, and explore the patterns in forwarding particular types of information across nine states in India (Assam, Delhi, Haryana Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa and Telengana).

WhatsApp Group and Digital Literacy Among Indonesian Women

Novi Kurnia, Ph.D., Universitas Gadjah Mada; Engelbertus Wendratama, M.A., PR2Media; Rahayu, Ph.D.,Universitas Gadjah Mada; Wisnu Martha Adiputra, M.S., Universitas Gadjah Mada.; Syafrizal, M.A. Universitas Gadjah Mada; Eka Indarto, M.Eng., Jogja Medianet

This research will map how Indonesian women use various WhatsApp groups and their digital skills in doing so. The combination of national survey and interviews will be conducted for this study in five main Indonesian cities: Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Makasar, Aceh and Jayapura.

Game-based interventions against the spread of misinformation

Sander van der Linden, Ph.D., University of Cambridge; Jon Roozenbeek, University of Cambridge; Melisa Basol, University of Cambridge; Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation

This research will adapt game-based interventions to the WhatsApp context that aim to “vaccinate” people against fake news by preemptively exposing individuals to the main techniques used in the production of misinformation. The effectiveness of this approach will be tested running 4 studies (a field experiment, two online survey experiments, and an in-game survey) in the UK, the Netherlands, and India.

Election related misinformation

WhatsApp is a powerful medium for political discourse and engagement. However, it can also be misused to share inaccurate or inflammatory political content. We are interested in understanding this space both from the perspective of political actors and voters as understanding how to prevent the misuse of the product in electoral processes.

Information Sharing and Voting Behavior in the 2018 Brazilian Elections

Patrícia Rossini, Ph.D., Syracuse University (Prinicipal Investigator); Erica Anita Baptista, Ph.D., Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais; Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Ph.D., Syracuse University; Vanessa Veiga de Oliveira, Ph.D., Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

This mixed methods study aims at understanding two interconnected issues. First being, the potential impact of the use of WhatsApp by political campaigns in the ways users experience the platform and receive political information. Second, the extent to which WhatsApp users actively engage and share content related to the elections within their peers and how they evaluate the credibility and the reliability of political information circulating through the platform.

Social media and every day life in India

Philippa Williams, Ph.D. Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator); Lipika Kamra, D.Phil., O.P. Jindal Global University

This study will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behavior & Good Governance

Robert A. Johns, Ph.D., University of Essex; Sayan Banerjee, Ph.D., University of Essex; Srinjoy Bose, Ph.D., University of New South Wales

Utilizing a field experiment with WhatsApp and multi-wave survey experiments on the ground in India and Afghanistan, the study aims to establish causal relationship between misinformation spread through social networks and public opinion on ethnic relations and public policy choices.

Use and Misuse WhatsApp Among Indonesian Campaigners and Users

Kunto Adi Wibowo, Ph.D., Universitas Padjadjaran; Elizabeth Stoycheff, Ph.D., Wayne State University (Co-PI); Detta Rahmawan, M.A., Universitas Padjadjaran; Justito Adiprasetio, Universitas Padjadjaran

This study will critically assess how misinformation arose during the 2018 West Java gubernatorial election campaign and the public’s interactions with it and the implications it has on potential voters in the lead up to Indonesia’s 2019 presidential election. The study employs face-to-face interviews that will capture the actual behaviors of both election campaign teams and a large sample of West Java WhatsApp users.

Talking politics on WhatsApp: How Groups Afford Civil Cross-Cutting Talk

Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Ph.D., Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The study proposes a comprehensive analysis of the factors that can enable large-scale, diverse publics to engage in political talk, maintain civil cross-cutting discussion, and avoid disinformation in WhatsApp groups. This will be done by examining Israeli groups organically constructed on WhatsApp for the purpose of political talk, that are very heterogeneous politically, and none-the-less manage to actively engage in civil cross-cutting political discussion.

The use and abuse of WhatsApp in an African election: Nigeria 2019

Jonathan Fisher, D. Phil., University of Birmingham (Principal Investigator); Nic Cheeseman, D.Phil., University of Birmingham (co-investigator); Idayat Hassan, L.L.B., Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja (co-investigator); Jamie Hitchen, M.A., AREA Consulting (co-investigator)

This study will use multi-method social science research instruments including in-country interviews, focus groups and surveys to explore how WhatsApp is used by political candidates, and their campaigns and supporters to tailor messages to key audiences during elections. The research will focus on two gubernatorial elections in the upcoming 2019 Nigerian polls – those of Kano (northern Nigeria) and Oyo (southern Nigeria).

Network effects and virality

WhatsApp is designed to be a private, personal communication space and our end-to-end encryption and privacy principles prevent us from examining network level patterns of usage and behavior. These proposals use experiments and examine the characteristics that influence the spread of information through WhatsApp networks.

Values and arguments in the assimilation and propagation of disinformation

Alexandre Brasil Carvalho da Fonseca, Ph.D., Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ); Rebecca Nunn, M.Sc., Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Tamiris Rizzo, M.A., Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ);

This study examines the role of values in the processes involved in communication and disinformation by focusing on the processing of religious information. The study will analyze data from surveys, social network analyses, and Dialogue Groups to examine the processes involved in communication and disinformation that include a religious perspective, among four segments: evangelicals, Afro-Brazilian, atheists and Catholics in Brazil.

How WhatsApp Users and Their Networks Coevolve in Misinformation Diffusion

Narisong Huhe, Ph.D., University of Strathclyde; Mark Shephard, Ph.D., University of Strathclyde

This study examines whether platforms like WhatsApp reinforce sociopolitical polarization by focusing on everyday use of different internet communication platforms and how individuals interact with each other. The study combines time-series complete network surveys with experimental methods that facilitates mapping and tracking both the changing networks of our respondents on different ICTs and their political attitudes and behaviors over time.


Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks

Santosh Vijaykumar, Ph.D., Northumbria University; Arun Nair, Health Systems Research India Initiative; Claudia Pagliari, Ph.D., University of Edinburgh; Venkat Chilukuri, Ph.D., Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology; Yan Jin, Ph.D., University of Georgia

This study aims to identify the nature of, and find potential solutions to the kinds of vulnerabilities that misinformation imposes on older adults during infectious disease outbreaks with a demographic that is shown to be especially vulnerable to this problem. Situated in Bangalore, India, the study will comprise of two phases: formative research that will use automated social media analytics of news coverage to identify key themes of misinformation that spread during previous infectious disease outbreaks in India, and a factorial survey experiment to test how older adults and their children respond to different levels of misinformation presented in different information formats.

WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India

Shakuntala Banaji, Ph.D., London School of Economics and Political Science; Anushi Agrawal, Maraa; Nihal Passanha, Maraa; Ramnath Bhat, M.Sc., London School of Economics and Political Science

This research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and imagine solutions to the spate of ‘WhatsApp lynchings’ that occurred earlier this year. This will be conducted through a literature review, a survey and an analysis of WhatsApp-based misinformation, focus groups and interviews with ordinary recipients of and targets of WhatsApp-based misinformation in four large Indian states, and expert interviews with key technological and sociopolitical stakeholders in India.

Rumors to Rampage: When misinformation lead to mob violence in Indonesia

Ihsan Ali-Fauzi, Ph.D., PUSAD Paramadina; Dyah Ayu Kartika, M.A., PUSAD Paramadina; Husni Mubarok, PUSAD Paramadina; M. Irsyad Rafsyadi, PUSAD Paramadina; Sana Jaffrey, M.A., PUSAD Paramadina; Siswo Mulyartono, PUSAD Paramadina

This study examines the socio-economic conditions that increase the likelihood of mob violence in response to misinformation through social media. Specifically, it investigates the off-line interactions that ensue in a community after problematic content is received through digital applications like WhatsApp. This is examined by drawing on evidence from Indonesia, which is representative of other developing democracies using a combination of sub-national statistical analysis of violence data in Indonesia along with qualitative data from particular cases of mob attacks.