Centre for Research in Communication and Culture

Doctoral research

Online Civic Culture Centre for Doctoral Training

Improving the Health of Our Online Civic Culture: A New Centre for Doctoral Training at Loughborough University

Established in 2018 with a £300,000 award from Loughborough University’s Adventure Research Programme, the Online Civic Culture Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) applies cutting-edge concepts and methods from social science and information science to understand the role of social media in shaping our civic culture. Led by Professor Andrew Chadwick, it features a team of ten academic supervisors drawn from the disciplines of communication, information science, social psychology, and sociology. The CDT enables interdisciplinary teams of researchers and PhD students to work together on issues of misinformation, disinformation, and the rise of hate speech and incivility online. It develops evidence-based knowledge to mitigate the democratically-dysfunctional aspects of social media. At the same time, it identifies and promotes the positive civic engagement benefits of social media.

 Across the world, we face fundamental questions about how the routine use of social media is reshaping the civic cultures of democracies. Central to the debate is whether the features of social media that enable citizens to express themselves, exchange opinions, coordinate with others, and rapidly circulate and recirculate messages also encourage the diffusion of false information, incivility, and hatred. We ask:

  • What are the conditions for democratically-dysfunctional outcomes to occur on social media platforms?
  • What are the effects of specific social media platform affordances on the civic character of life online?
  • Are there recent developments that signal more positive citizenship outcomes from the growth of social media?

By answering these questions our PhD students and supervisory team will create research and findings that will impact public debate and policy.


1. The Cultivation of Hatred Online

Primary supervisor: Professor Andrew Chadwick.

Secondary supervisors: Professor Tom Jackson, Dr Line Nyhagen, Dr Cristian Tileagă.

This studentship has been awarded to Ms Catherine Baker. Catherine holds a First Class Honours Degree in Psychology from Trinity College Dublin, where she also worked as a research assistant in the Trinity Institute of Neuroscience. She obtained recognition of “High Commendation” for her study, “At the intersection of protest and race: A critical discourse analysis of how the Black Lives Matter movement is portrayed in US online popular news media.” Catherine will research gender-based targeting and harassment online, including the “incel” online subculture.

2. Incivility and Emotions in Policy Discussions on Social Media

Primary supervisor: Professor John Downey.

Secondary supervisor: Dr Suzanne Elayan, Dr Line Hyhagen

This studentship has been awarded to Ms Dayei Oh. Dayei Oh holds an MA with Distinction in International Media and Communication from the University of Nottingham and has previously worked at the Associated Press (AP). She will research emotions and incivility in pro-abortion and anti-abortion discourse on Facebook news comments in the UK, Ireland, and South Korea.

3. Correcting Misinformation and Disinformation on Social Media

Primary supervisor: Dr Martin Sykora.

Secondary supervisors: Dr Cristian Vaccari, Dr Cristian Tileagă.

This studentship goes to Ms Rachel Armitage. Rachel holds First Class Honours in Political Science from the University of Birmingham where she also won the H. S. Ferns Prize for outstanding achievement. She has worked for Bite the Ballot and Nottingham City Council and in 2016 was awarded the Nottingham Roosevelt Memorial Travelling Scholarship which enabled her to visit the US for three months to explore approaches to voter registration and political engagement amongst young people and marginalised groups in advance of the presidential election. Rachel's project aims to develop online tools and individual resilience skills that will equip individual users to recognise and challenge online misinformation and disinformation.

  • In the latest UK Research Excellence Framework (2014), Communication at Loughborough was ranked 2nd in the UK for research intensity.
  • Information Management at Loughborough is ranked 1st in the UK in The Times University Guide, 2018 and home to the world leading emotional analysis system EMOTIVE. 75% of CIM’s research is world leading or internationally excellent (REF2014).
  • Established world leaders: ranked in the World Top 50 for Communication for the last six years (QS World University Rankings 2013-18).
  • Ranked 7th in the world and 1st in the UK in Communication for influence on scholarly research and debate as measured by research citations (QS World University Rankings 2018).


Research Supervisors

We are a group of ten academic supervisors drawn from the disciplines of communication, information science, social psychology, and sociology. Each PhD project will be multi-method and be guided by an interdisciplinary supervisory team.

Professor Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Communication, Political Communication Research Beacon Lead, Centre for Research in Communication and Culture (CRCC).

Professor Louise Cooke Professor of Information & Knowledge Management, Centre for Information Management (CIM)

Professor John Downey, Professor of Media and Communication and Director of the CRCC.

Dr Suzanne Elayan, Postdoctoral Researcher, CIM.

Professor Tom Jackson, Professor of Information and Knowledge Management, CIM.

Dr Simone Natale, Lecturer in Media and Communication, CRCC.

Dr Line Nyhagen, Reader in Sociology, CRCC.

Dr Martin Sykora, Lecturer in Information Management, CIM.

Dr Cristian Tileagă, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, CRCC.

Dr Cristian Vaccari, Reader in Political Communication, CRCC.

Loughborough University Learn page for the OCCC CDT.


Rob Berkeley, MBE, BBC

Dr Leticia Bode, Communication, Culture, and Technology program at Georgetown University, USA, an expert on online misinformation and its correction.

Dr Emily Dickinson, Opinium Research 

Julie Elliott MP and member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is currently investigating fake news.

Sean Evins, Facebook.

Professor Phil Howard at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University and the leader of its Computational Propaganda project.

Carl Miller, Research Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at the Demos think tank.

Professor Josh Tucker, Director of the Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) Lab at New York University.





The first wave of studentships has been awarded. Further studentships will be internationally advertised in the autumn of 2018.

The Online Civic Culture Centre is part of Loughborough’s Adventure Research Programme, and part of CALIBRE research framework, the Communication and Culture Beacon, and the Decision Sciences Ambition.

A Loughborough Doctoral College Initiative

The Loughborough Doctoral College provides outstanding training and development opportunities for research students, coordinates a comprehensive programme of events across our Loughborough and London campuses, and provides funding and other resources to enhance postgraduate research. Graduate House, a central, dedicated facility for PGRs, is well-used and is home to our dedicated team who deliver training and development to around 1400 research students across our ten academic schools. Our Doctoral Researchers benefit from being well-networked and supported, by their Schools as well as the University’s professional services and many external organisations. All students receive a structured programme of support and guidance.