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New research techniques to understand the effect of social media

7 November 2022
“News is everywhere and nowhere. You can read the biggest newspapers in the world with just a scroll or a simple click. However, the definition of “real” news and who produces it is not as straight to the point. The boundaries between journalism and other “content” are blurring. People increasingly read news through apps on social media instead of traditional media channels or they rather avoid news in its entirety. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the effect of all these types of media. Simultaneously, we know that there is a strong correlation between the use of traditional and social media and people’s trust in politics,” explains Wouter van Atteveldt of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He has been appointed professor of Computational Communication Science & Political Communication and will present his inaugural lecture on the 11th of November.

“Especially during these times of decreasing trust in the government and other public institutions, it is important to research social media influence. This research angle is necessary to explain the origin of polarization and political distrust and how media can help rebuild that trust. To achieve this, we need new research methods and techniques. I perceive social sciences through a computational perspective: how can we use techniques from Artificial Intelligence and linguistics to solve societal issues?”

Because of the rapid increase of digital and social media diversifying how news is consumed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide what kind of news sources people eventually read and in what way this affects how they read and think about the world. This is important to understand as an increasing amount of people end up in “filter bubbles.” “In such a case, people are no longer in control of choosing whether they watch Ongehoord Nieuws or read the NRC, but algorithms decide what kind of information they will be presented with. When, consequently, you no longer notice that your media consumption differs significantly from that of your neighbour’s, this might lead to the assumption that your opinion is the dominant public opinion instead of merely part of a variety of opinions,” explains Van Atteveldt.

“To research this phenomenon, we need new data sources and research methods: we invite people to share their online news behaviour with us through “data donations”. This portrays an exact picture of what types of media people follow and share. With linguistic techniques and image recognition, we analyse the content of this media. We combine this with representative panel surveys to understand how different perspectives of media consumption compare to each other during these times of social media and fake news.”

The chair that Van Atteveldt will hold is aimed at computational techniques to research (political) communication. He has a unique research perspective and is a pioneer in the field of Computational Communication Science.

The inaugural lecture of Wouter van Atteveldt will take place on Friday, the 11th of November 2022, from 15:45 to 16:45. Read more about the chair and appointment of Wouter van Atteveldt.

Contact the VU Press Office

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