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Wouter van Atteveldt appointed as professor

31 March 2022
Wouter van Atteveldt has been appointed professor of Computational Communication Science & Political Communication. The chair is established at the Department of Communication Science of the Faculty of Social Sciences at VU Amsterdam.

The chair will focus on the use of computational science in the study of political communication. In his research, Wouter van Atteveldt has been combining social sciences with computational techniques for years. This has given him a unique research vision and made him a pioneer within the field of Computational Communication Science.

"Traditionally, I do a lot of automatic text analysis to see what kind of information we can extract from articles. For example, how diverse the political news is, which political parties, viewpoints, and frames are covered, and what effect that has on our worldview and political preferences," Van Atteveldt explains his research. "Recently, we have also been doing more research on news algorithms: to what extent do the algorithms of for example Facebook, Google and NPO as well, control our political information supply, and how can these techniques be used to increase political interest and participation instead of leading to filter bubbles, polarisation and distrust. Finally, we are working hard on using data donations as a research tool: we are asking people to share their digital footprints with us in order to gain insight into news behaviour and the role of social media."

Wouter van Atteveldt received his bachelor's degree from University College Utrecht and a master's degree in computational linguistics in Edinburgh. He obtained his PhD at VU Amsterdam in an interdisciplinary programme (VUBIS) with a supervisor in both artificial intelligence and communication science. Van Atteveldt: "After that, I moved 100% into social sciences, but always with a computational viewpoint: how can we use techniques from AI and linguistics to contribute to solving social issues? In the last five to ten years, this has become its own field, computational communication science."

Van Atteveldt is very happy with his appointment: "It is not only an honour for me to succeed Jan Kleinnijenhuis as leader of the political communication group, it also feels like a sign of appreciation for both my own efforts and the role of computational techniques in social science. When I started my PhD 18 years ago, this field did not yet exist, and I am very happy that exactly what I love to do and find interesting has now grown into a flourishing research field. I am also convinced that computational techniques, in combination with traditional quantitative and qualitative techniques, is an important instrument to answer questions about news supply and trust in politics and journalism in a time of social media, polarisation and fake news."

In the coming years, Van Atteveldt looks forward to continuing to lead his department in a positive direction. "We are a nice club of mostly young and successful researchers and it gives me a lot of energy to work with my team," said Van Atteveldt. "I look forward to being able to focus fully on what I care about: helping and encouraging the people in my team, and doing useful and important research on political communication."

"The Department of Communication Science is excited about Wouter’s appointment as full professor of computational science and political communication," says Professor and head of the department, Tilo Hartmann. "Wouter emerged as an international leader of the computational communication science movement that utilizes the power of, for example, Artificial Intelligence and big data to illuminate core questions of our discipline. We are proud that his group is currently booming in our department. In the past decade, our department gained a strong reputation for providing innovative research on the digital society - and Wouter's combined focus on novel research methods and political communication represents very well what we are good at."        

Ivar Vermeulen is associate professor in and research manager of the Department of Communication Science and the chair of the appointment advisory committee for this chair. "Wouter van Atteveldt is internationally one of the leading researchers in the new field of computational communication science. Indeed, he has single-handedly put this field on the map, including the establishment of a journal, a division in our international association and a pan-Amsterdam research group," said Vermeulen. "Partly thanks to Wouter's efforts, a lively, large and very productive international community has now formed within this field. Wouter's own work is also of high quality and provides us with both new research methods and insights into the dynamics of political news."