Social media has become one of the primary channels through which individuals consume news. However, the participatory nature of social media means that news from official sources competes for attention with news produced by less credible sources, such as online influencers and lay users.
The lack of information vetting and open access to the platform has made social media a breeding ground for fake news and misinformation to propagate. Statistics showed that two in five (41%) UK parents had been exposed to negative misinformation about vaccines on social media (Royal Society For Public Health 2018). As we experienced in the past year, social media users had to confront a daily overload of coronavirus news and opinions offering, at times, conflicting information, leading to confusion, fear, overload, and fatigue.
Consequently, the exposure to and consumption of fake news and misinformation on social media may erode the public’s confidence and participation in intervention programmes that aim to improve society’s well-being. In extreme cases, misinformation and fake news can fuel hate and intolerance, simultaneously inducing fragile emotions and irrational behaviours among the impacted parties.
While an increasing effort has been devoted to addressing the above concerns, IT-based system designs have shed new light on new possibilities to counter misinformation on social media. For instance, Facebook has introduced a verified badge to confirm a page’s authenticity or profile it intends to represent. The conversation concerning the use of IT-based system designs has begun to sprout in academia as a new direction to halt fake news and misinformation (Kim and Dennis 2019, Moravec et al. 2020). However, further exploration is needed to understand the nature of fake news and misinformation and the effectiveness of IT-based system designs in dealing with such situations.
Accordingly, this project aims to examine fake news and misinformation on social media through understanding their nature and testing the effectiveness of IT-based system designs in combating them. The project has two main objectives (RO):
- RO1: To understand how and why fake news and misinformation is consumed and shared via social media and their impacts on individuals’ belief systems and behavioural variations
- RO2: To evaluate the effectiveness of IT-based system designs in combating fake news and misinformation on social media
To this end, this project is expected to answer three broad research questions (RQ):
- RQ1. How do fake news and misinformation prorogate across social networks, and who are more vulnerable to being influenced?
- RQ2. What are the message appeals (e.g., fear) embedded in fake news and misinformation, and how do they intertwine with individuals’ belief systems (e.g., perceived conspiracy)?
- RQ3. How do different IT-based system designs alter and enhance social media users’ awareness of potential misinformation?
The successful candidate will propose an integrative research proposal that draws upon multidisciplinary literature from information systems/science and psychology disciplines to derive rich insights into tackling misinformation on social media. A mixed-methods approach (such as social network analysis, interview, and experiment) will be well-suited to address the above questions.
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 or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.
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. RDF22/BL/MOS/CHAN) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022
Start Date: 1 October 2022
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.
Principal Supervisor – Tommy Chan