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Grant funds study of social media’s role in spreading political misinformation

by Nov. 14, 2018, 3:17 PM

Elizabeth Zechmeister and Noam Lupu, director and associate director of Vanderbilt’s Latin American Public Opinion Project, are recipients of a $50,000 WhatsApp Research Award to study the role that the messaging app plays in public opinion and the spread of political misinformation in Latin America. WhatsApp is the most commonly used messaging platform in Latin America.

Zechmeister, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science, Lupu, associate professor of political science, and Alberto Simpser, a political science professor at the Instituto Technológico Autónomo de México, are developing a survey that includes questions on social media usage, political preferences, political behavior, opinions on media and government institutions, and evaluations of democracy. They will also conduct an in-depth survey in Mexico City that focuses on political messages, credibility and message sources.

As one of their research endeavors, they will include a number of questions on WhatsApp usage on the Latin American Public Opinion Project’s next round of AmericasBarometer surveys, which are scheduled to be conducted in 17 Latin American countries in addition to the United States, Canada, and some Caribbean countries.

These questions will help the researchers develop a public data set about WhatsApp users’ demographics, political beliefs, and political behaviors that social scientists can use to compare with the demographics, political beliefs and political behaviors of nonusers. As part of their project, Zechmeister, Lupu and Simpser will also analyze and report on the Mexico City case study.

WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation fund independent research on the spread of problematic content across the messaging platform.

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