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Reseach funding for 'Decoding Digital Media in African Regions of Conflict'

Mirjam de Bruijn has received funding from the Research Council of Norway for the research project 'Decoding Digital Media in African Regions of Conflict (DDMAC)'. The project is a collaboration with colleagues from Oslomet and Simula, Norway, Utrecht University, University of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia and the organization Voice4thought academy in Mali. The official start of the project is on December 1, 2021 and will go on for three years.

Conflicts and insurgencies threaten to reverse development progress made in recent decades, not least in regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. Digital communication is assumed to have a severe impact both on how conflicts develop and how they are being mediated, but there is a need for more empirical evidence on the role of digital media in regions of conflict. Addressing this challenge, the key goal of the DDMAC project is to gather empirical evidence defining and demonstrating the use, spread, content, and agenda-setting role of social media in regions of conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ethiopia and Mali
Ethiopia and Mali have been selected as focal points of research as they represent two important regions of ongoing conflicts, namely the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. Experiences from Ethiopia and Mali could help illuminate our perceptions of digital media's role in ongoing conflicts. Concomitantly two very different countries, they are both historically tied to weak social contracts, have large diasporas, complex realities of inequalities and conflicts between polarized groups on ethnic lines.

'Scraping' social media data
Through an ambitious interdisciplinary approach combining media and conflict studies, anthropology and computational social science, and a wide range of methodologies ranging from focus groups interviews, nethnographies, 'scraping' of a large amount of social media data, network analysis, media content tracking, and discourse analysis, the project will gain important new knowledge of citizens' social media use, how disinformation and hate speech spread through digital networks, the role of diasporas in conflicts, and the relationship between digital media and traditional media (radio) in regions with relatively low internet connectivity.

Bridging the gap
The project aims at establishing principles and processes to prevent, manage and resolve conflict in a sustainable manner and present them in a context-specific theory on digital media’s role in conflicts in African regions. The lack of communication between research in English and French, two of the largest lingua francas on the African continent, is surprising, and the project aims to bridge the gap between the two research traditions, while also including local languages.

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