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Research

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Improving the Health of Our Online Civic Culture: A Centre for Research and 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 (O3C) 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 and five PhD researchrs drawn from the disciplines of communication, information science, social psychology, and sociology.

O3C 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 researchers and supervisory teams will create research and findings that will impact public debate and policy.

1. Understanding the Spread of Online Misinformation That Rejects Scientific Consensus: Audiences, Platforms, and Algorithms

Primary Supervisor: Professor Andrew Chadwick
Secondary Supervisors: Dr Martin SykoraDr Cristian Vaccari
Please quote reference number: OCC19-P1U

This project will examine the interrelationships between people's motivations for sharing information, the types of information they share (such as media sources and statements by elites of various kinds), and the affordances of video sharing platforms, particularly YouTube. The project will compile a dataset of misleading information rejecting scientific consensus on selected key issues of our time, such as, for example, climate change or health. It will undertake content analysis as well as examine audience interpretations and responses. The project will also assess the role of algorithmic power in shaping people’s exposure and responses to misinformation rejecting scientific consensus and explore how the spread and societal impact of such misinformation might be reduced.

2. What Role Do Social Media Influencers Play in Spreading Misinformation and Disinformation?

Primary Supervisor: Professor Louise Cooke
Secondary Supervisors: Dr Suzanne ElayanDr Simone Natale
Please quote reference number: OCC19-P2W

What drives people to behave in democratically-dysfunctional ways in the online environment, and how can we change this behaviour? This project will develop culturally-sensitive concepts for designing new algorithms to detect social media influencers who spread misinformation and disinformation on social media. Through a perspective attentive to the ethical and cultural implications of human-machine interactions on social media platforms, it will both improve understanding of the values embedded in platform algorithms and the role social media influencers play in spreading false information in online networks. The work will sit at the interdisciplinary intersection of computational text mining, applied data science, sociolinguistics, media theory, theories of artificial intelligence, and normative ethical theory. 

Find out more here.

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.

The deadline for applying has now passed.

For further details, please contact:

  • Name: Deirdre Lombard, Postgraduate Administrator
  • Email: spgsresearch@lboro.ac.uk 
  • Telephone number: +44 (0)1509 223879

The Online Civic Culture CDT 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.