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Polarising chats? Political misinformation on discussion apps in India and Brazil

Political scientist Simon Chauchard (Leiden University) has been awarded a Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). This brings him recognition as ‘researcher with a promising track record’ and enables him to set up a research group in the coming five years. Chauchard et al. will analyse the causes and consequences of misinformation on social media for politics.

The implications of misinformation for democracy

‘Much online communication now happens in closed, private online communities’, Chauchard explains. ‘Discussion apps like WhatsApp play a central role in this evolution: they allow for cheap, rapid and private communication within and across communities of users organised as separate “groups”. I want to understand the deep implications of this change for the spread of online misinformation, and beyond, for democracy.’

Online ‘bubbles’ and manipulation of information

Both mainstream media and political analysists regularly report about online ‘bubbles’ and manipulation of information—usually in rather alarming terms. But, according to Chauchard, ‘we actually know little about what is going on in discussion apps and how this affects the behaviour of citizens, political activists and politicians.’

In the project Polarising Chats? Political Misinformation on Discussion Apps in India and Brazil Chauchard and his team of investigators will employ both qualitative and experimental methods. Relying on in-depth interviews, they will examine how and why social media users embrace the technology. Furthermore, they will engage in crowdsourcing to quantify misinformation on WhatsApp. Thirdly, Chauchard et al. will develop two types of experimental designs to examine the determinants of individual-level belief in misinformation, as well as the effect of misinformation.

Support from colleagues

Of course, Chauchard is delighted by winning such a prestigious grant. ‘This is great news, both for me and for the community of researchers working on social media and politics. This grant will allow me to assemble a team of researchers and to implement ambitious research designs to tackle an important policy question. During the preparation of my research proposal for the ERC, I received much support from my colleagues at the Institute of Political Science. I am very grateful to them!’

‘Scientific track record showing great promise’

The European Research Council (ERC), set up by the European Union in 2007, is the main European scientific funding organisation. The ERC’s yearly Consolidor Grant competition targets ‘outstanding researchers’ with 7 to 12 years of experience since the completion of their PhD and a ‘scientific track record showing great promise and an excellent research proposal’. The funding (averaging €2 million per grant), is provided for up to five years and mostly covers the employment of researchers and other staff to consolidate the grantees’ teams.

In 2020, the ERC received 2,506 proposals for Consolidator Grants. Simon Chauchard and three other researchers from Leiden University where among the 327 successful applicants.

Further reading

Profile page Simon Chauchard

European Research Council

ERC Consolidator Grants for four Leiden Researchers

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