THREATPIE: The Threats and Potentials of a Changing Political Information Environment

This project examines how changes in the political information environment affect conditions in European democracies. The political information environment includes both the supply of and the demand for political information. Changes in the political information environment could lead to the growth of uninformed, misinformed, and selectively or biased informed citizens, thus affecting the functioning of democracy. To investigate these problems, the following objectives are pursued:

  1. How do citizens in European countries receive news today and how is this related to political attitudes and behavior?
  2. What content or content quality of political information are recipients exposed to?
  3. Where are the gaps between politically informed and uninformed people within European societies and do they differ from country to country?
  4. How can citizens be supported in obtaining valuable political information?

Methodologically, these objectives will be investigated through a series of comparative and innovatively aligned studies, e.g., web tracking, comparative quantitative surveys, focus group interviews, and experiments. These studies are being conducted in 14 European countries and the United States. These countries differ in a variety of contextual factors relevant to the project and include, for example, "young" and established democracies with different democratic traditions, different media systems, and media use habits.

The project is financially supported by the NORFACE Joint Research Programme on Democratic Governance in a Turbulent Age and co-funded by FWO, DFF, ANR, DFG, NWO, NCN, AEI, and ESRC, and the European Commission through Horizon 2020 under grant agreement No 822166.

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M-PHASIS: Migration and Patterns of Hate Speech in Social Media – A Cross-cultural Perspective

Within Western societies, the issue of migration is often accompanied by high levels of public anxiety and translates to a significant increase of the use of hate speech towards immigrants and minorities. Social media seem to be a fertile ground for hate speech. Focusing on the social dimension of hate speech, the project M-PHASIS seeks to study the patterns of hate speech related to migrants in user-generated content. The project will address the following aspects to provide a better understanding of the prevalence and emergence of hate speech in user-generated content in France and Germany:

  1. Advance the understanding and assessment of hate speech by considering multiple features of the phenomenon (lexical, syntactical and contextual facets of hate speech) and taking into account explicit and implicit forms.
  2. Develop a research protocol to detect hate speech in text and classify it in terms of its referents (i.e., themes associated with hate speech) and the representations conveyed, as well its circulatory characteristics.
  3. Improve the methods to detect hate speech in terms of validity, reliability, and the equivalence across cultures.
  4. Conduct a cross-cultural comparison of the prevalence of hate speech in France and Germany and the factors that give rise to hate speech in both countries (e.g., platforms on which comments appear, homogeneity of surrounding user-generated context, journalistic intervention).
  5. Proceed to the archiving and annotation of real-life examples of hate speech from social media sources, to be released to the research community for secondary analyses at the end of the project.

M-PHASIS embraces an interdisciplinary approach to its object and seeks to benefit from the inputs provided by computerized processing of hate speech in social media. The insights gained will allow to produce a software app detecting and/or blocking hateful comments automatically. Resources developed during this project will be made accessible in Open Access Platforms to the scientific community.

This project (03/2019 – 02/2022) has received funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the French National Research Agency (ANR).

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The Role of European Mobility and its Impacts in Narratives, Debates, and EU Reforms (REMINDER)

Free movement of workers is a fundamental principle of the European Union and it has become an integral part of member states’ economies and societies. Free movement brings benefits to EU mobile citizens who can earn higher salaries abroad, acquire work experience, and learn a new language. Employers in host countries also benefit from the additional labour supply. However, intra-EU mobility also brings economic, social and political challenges and faces a difficult political environment with the rising support for Eurosceptic parties across Europe. Public concerns range from the potential consequences for the delivery of public services to which EU citizens are entitled (e.g. health, education, social housing), to questions of sovereignty and national control of borders.

REMINDER brings a multidisciplinary approach to understanding free movement in Europe. A consortium of 13 organisations, the project combines expertise from different fields including: development, economics, linguistics, media studies, political science and public policy.

With a focus on political and media narratives about intra-EU mobility REMINDER will examine how different media portray intra-EU mobility and what factors drive individuals’ views on free movement, including narratives used in party political communications and traditional and social media. The project will also examine why media narratives on intra-EU mobility differ across member states. A three-wave panel survey will be conducted in seven countries (D, ES, HU, PL, RO, SE, UK) to assess public opinion on EU mobility. Further, to understand the impact of media narratives on public opinion, additional experiments will be conducted in these seven countries. The team in Mainz works closely with project partners in Vienna (led by Hajo Boomgaarden) and Gothenburg (led by Jesper Strömbäck).

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (01/2017 – 12/2019)

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Effects of media depictions of social groups and stereotypes

While some social groups are marginalized by the mass media others are depicted stereotypically, e.g. the “criminal foreigner” or the “helpless individual  who is disabled”. These stereotypical depictions of social groups in the mass media substantially shape the public image of the respective groups. Thereby depictions of these groups in the mass media will have an impact on the process of integration of the groups. Chances are low that integration of social groups is achieved the more the mass media promote prejudice against the respective group.

Various studies investigate how the media portray different social groups and how such depictions affect the image of these groups in the audience.

These projects (2006–2013) were funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


Populism in politics and mass media: The impact of populist communication strategies on political attitudes

This project aims to integrate research from psychology, sociology, and communication- and political science in order to develop a more coherent framework of populism as an attitudinal syndrome that encompasses cognitive (e.g., anti-elitist opinions or exclusionary or simplistic views) and affective dimensions (e.g., resentment, anger, or frustration).

The first aim of the project is to study the dimensions and the prevalence of populism. It can be assumed that certain personality traits, demographic factors, or values are associated with more pronounced populist attitudes. The researchers are also interested in the influence of media opportunity structures (e.g., the commercialization of the media system), political opportunity structures (e.g., the political system), and opinion climate on the prevalence of populist attitudes among the public. A cross-national survey conducted in twelve countries will shed light on the role these factors play in populist opinions.

The project’s second goal is devoted to the forming and changing of populist attitudes. Specifically, it will examine which ingredients of populist political communication produce which cognitive and emotional effects in the public. In addition, it can be hypothesized that moderating factors (e.g., value endorsement or personality traits) make some people more susceptible to populist appeals than others. The project will rely on data from a cross-national panel from four countries and on experimental studies to investigate changes in populist attitudes.

This project (10/2013–9/2017) is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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