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Exploring the relationship between family and health misinformation (HCI/CSCW)(Advert Reference: RDF21/EE/CIS/WARNERMark)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

About the Project

This project will draw on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Support Cooperative Work (CSCW) methods (qualitative/quantitative/mixed) to explore how health misinformation affects family networks across various cultural and/or socio-economics groups, and how family networks may help to reduce the spread and impact of health misinformation; helping tackle one of the most significant information challenges of our time.

Health misinformation is not a new phenomenon, with historical examples available of its negative effects. E.g., research from the 1980’s show how rumours around the contraceptive pill in Egypt caused a misbelief that it would cause ‘weakness’, reducing pill consumption [3]. More recently, the world has experienced COVID-19 misinformation (e.g., fake cures, anti-vax).
Research conducted in Brazil suggests that family WhatsApp groups are significant online spaces where misinformation is spread [4]. This may be problematic, with family members being emotionally closer to each other; therefore, the information they distribute might be perceived as more trustworthy. Moreover, the power dynamics within some cultures may make it difficult for some family members to challenge the veracity of shared information. Some characteristics of online misinformation, and factors related to vulnerability to this type of information, are likely to generalise globally. However, cultural variations which relate to values in people and their families have also been highlighted [2] and found to be factors having a significant effect on spread [5].

Families often contain members of varying ages, with different knowledge and skills. For instance, older family members may possess lower digital literacy skills and rely on family as a support system to help with their experiences with technology [6]. Yet, higher digital literacy skills in younger people do not necessarily result in an increased ability to detect misinformation online [1]. This project will explore a range of questions such as how misinformation is flagged, understood, evaluated, shared and discussed within family networks across different cultural and/or socio-economic groups; strategies and behaviours family members across different cultural and/or socio-economic groups use to challenge shared misinformation; the effects misinformation can have on family relationships and dynamics.

The principal supervisor for this project is Dr. Mark Warner

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF21/EE/CIS/WARNERMark) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: 29 January 2021
Start Date: 1 October 2021
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students, and includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/21, this is £15,285 pa) and full tuition fees.


[1] Bartlett, J., & Miller, C. (2019). Truth, Lies and the Internet a Report into Young People’S Digital Fluency
[2] Cook, J., Ecker, U., & Lewandowsky, S. (2015). Misinformation and how to correct it. Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences: An interdisciplinary, searchable, and linkable resource
[3] DeClerque, J., Tsui, A. O., Abul-Ata, M. F., & Barcelona, D. (1986). Rumor, misinformation and oral contraceptive use in Egypt. Social Science & Medicine.
[4] Gragnani, J. (2018). Pesquisa inédita identifica grupos de família como principal vetor de notícias falsas no WhatsApp. BBC News.
[5] Rampersad, G., & Althiyabi, T. (2020). Fake news: Acceptance by demographics and culture on social media. Journal of Information Technology & Politics
[6] Schreurs, K., Quan-Haase, A., & Martin, K. (2017). Problematizing the digital literacy paradox in the context of older adults’ ICT use: Aging, media discourse, and self-determination. Canadian Journal of Communication

Recent publications by supervisors relevant to this project (optional)

Ngo, H.T., Pickard, A.J. and Walton, G., 2019. Information literacy capabilities of upper secondary students: the case of Vietnam. Global Knowledge, Memory and Communication.
Pickard, A.J., 2013. Research methods in information. (2nd ed.) Facet publishing.
Pickard, A.J., Shenton, A.K. and Johnson, A., 2014. Young people and the evaluation of information on the World Wide Web: Principles, practice and beliefs. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 46(1), pp.3-20.
Shenton, A.K., Pickard, A.J. and Johnson, A., 2014. Information evaluation and the individual’s cognitive state: Some insights from a study of British teenaged users. IFLA journal, 40(4), pp.307-316.
Shenton, A.K. and Pickard, A.J., 2014. Facilitating pupil thinking about information literacy. New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship, 20(1), pp.64-79.
Shenton, A. and Pickard, A., 2014. Understanding the trusting self. eLearning Update.
Walton, G., Pickard, A.J. and Dodd, L., 2018. Information discernment, mis-information and pro-active scepticism. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 50(3), pp.296-309.

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