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Mark Leiser part of winning consortium of €1.5 million Volkswagen Foundation research grant

Dr Mark Leiser, Assistant Professor in Law and Digital Technologies at eLaw, is part of a successful €1.5 million bid for a research grant from the acclaimed Volkswagen Institute on “Reclaiming individual autonomy and democratic discourse online: How to rebalance human and algorithmic decision making”.

Dr Mark Leiser

Many concerns have been voiced over the practice of political microtargeting: Platforms' knowledge about users is growing exponentially, but users know little about data platforms or how data drives algorithmic delivery of content. This asymmetry and lack of transparency opens the door to manipulation through micro-targeting of political messages that aim to exploit personal vulnerabilities. Actors are using citizens’ personal data to tailor political advertisements to individuals’ susceptibilities, biases, and errors, which can, in turn, influence voting behaviour.  

This truly cross- and interdisciplinary research programme will identify evidence-based ways to reclaim individual autonomy and to redress the imbalance in the relationship between human decision-makers and corporate algorithms. This will be pursued by: (1) designing information architectures that are transparent and act in the interests of the user rather than the advertisers or the platform; and (2) promoting people's cognitive competences to navigate digital environments and guard themselves against manipulation. 

The research grant allows Dr Leiser and eLaw to partner with the Max-Planck Institute for Human Development, the University of Bristol, Northeastern University of Boston, and a group of world-leading researchers in measuring public awareness and attitudes to political microtargeting, the design of interventions to counter the effects of microtargeted advertisements, what interventions provide tangible results to counter the spread of false information, and translating those finding into regulations that protects citizen autonomy. 

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