Misinformation in the form of fake news has become a characteristic of the 21st century, driven by technologies such as social media platforms that enable information to spread quickly and to be targeted at individual beliefs, biases and emotions. One factor that may be of importance is culture. Cultures vary on several dimensions, including individualism vs collectivism, power distance (between those at the top of the social hierarchy and those at the bottom), masculinity vs femininity and uncertainty avoidance. It is reasonable to expect that different types of fake news would spread more easily in different cultures. For example, in a country that is highly collectivistic it is possible that a fake news story of a well-known person transgressing a social norm would spread more quickly than in an individualistic culture. If this is indeed then it raises the question of if the authors of fake news target specific cultures with specific types of fake news that they believe are optimal for that culture.
Another possibly relevant factor is decision making heuristics. These refer to quick decisions that we make based on limited information. There are several different heuristics that have been identified, such as for example the secrecy heuristic, which results in us assuming information presented as being leaked or confidential in some way is more likely to be genuine. It is an under-researched area, but it is possible there is a relationship between culture and heuristics. For example, the example the secrecy heuristic may be more pronounced in cultures where there is a high power distance, as people are less accustomed to learning details of those at the top of the power hierarchy.
The PhD would consist of several stages. The first would be an analysis of fake news stories on social media. These will be identified in English, Chinese, Russian, German, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, and Portuguese, in order to ensure a full range of countries and cultures are included. Information about the fake news stories will be collected, such as how many times they have been re-posted or liked. Depending on the social media platform and the metadata available additional data (all in the public domain) will be collected, such as the age and gender of the social media users. Software will then be used to determine how different types of social media propagate through different cultures, and if this is associated with any particular user groups. The second stage will then use a combination of fake news stories identified in the first stage along several well-known fake news stories. The language and imagery used in these stories will be analysed in detail to determine if they differ between cultures, and if this is consistent with the characteristics of that culture and the associated heuristics.
This proposed PhD will make an important and novel contribution to what is an increasingly important social issue. The limited academic research that has been conducted to date on this topic has focussed on the how and what of the spread of fake news – the proposed PhD will make a fundamental contribution by addressing the why.
How to apply:
Applications are made via our website using the Apply Online button below. If you have an enquiry about this project please contact us via the Email NOW button below, however your application will only be processed once you have submitted an application form as opposed to emailing your CV to us.
The PhD Studentships are open to UK, EU and international students. Candidates for a PhD Studentship should demonstrate outstanding qualities and be motivated to complete a PhD in 3 years and must demonstrate:
• A 1st class honours degree and/or a relevant Master’s degree with distinction or equivalent. If English is not your first language you’ll need IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 minimum (with a minimum 6.0 in each component).
Funded candidates will receive a maintenance grant of £15,000 per year to contribute towards living expenses during the course of your research, as well as a fee waiver for 36 months.