Aarhus BSS researchers receive Facebook grant

Michael Bang Petersen and Alexander Bor from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus BSS have received a DKK 863,000 grant from Facebook. The grant will go towards exploring the psychological motivations behind political hatred and the sharing of misinformation on social media.

2020.08.10 | Ingrid Marie Fossum

Michael Bang Petersen, Professor of political science Photo: AU Photo

Alexander Bor, Postdoc at the Department of Political Science Photo: Aarhus BSS

A new grant from Facebook allows Michael Bang Petersen and Alexander Bor from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University to conduct further studies into the psychological motivations behind political hatred and the sharing of misinformation on the internet and social media. The researchers will now explore the phenomenon across a number of countries apart from Denmark and the US where they have already been working on the project ‘ROPH Research on Online Political Hostility’ (backed by a DKK 15.7 million grant from the Carlsberg Foundation).

Results from the ROPH project show that people who are concerned with achieving a high status demonstrate more hostility in political discussions online than other people do. As these people also demonstrate aggression in offline discussions, the researchers will be searching for causes outside the actual media.

According to Michael Bang Petersen and Alexander Bor, the causes must partly be found in evolutionary psychology: Human beings display aggression to achieve status. In case of conflict between groups, people will spread rumours and misinformation about their opponents to make them look bad.

The causes must also partly be found in the social challenges that human beings are facing in today’s society: political polarisation, inequality, stress, anxiety and other issues faced by particularly the young and more digital generations.

The desire to achieve a higher status also affects the spread of misinformation, while the desire to “see the world burning” also motivates people to spread hostile rumours. People who feel strongly against political opponents are also happy to spread rumours.

Further studies will now be conducted in Spain, the UK, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Russia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico as well as Denmark and the US.

 

Michael Bang Petersen and Alexander Bor competed with more than 1,000 applicants for the grant entitled Facebook’s Foundational Integrity Research: Misinformation and Polarization.

Grants