About the Project

How do people use private social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat or Apple Messages to discover and share information?

This project focuses on people’s everyday experiences, social contexts, and media diets to investigate how potentially misleading information spreads online.

Overview

Misinformation is when false or misleading information is shared, but no harm is meant by the sharer. It is unintentional behaviour that may inadvertently mislead. It is different from disinformation, which involves an intention to mislead and cause harm.

Understanding the Everyday Sharing of Misinformation on Private Social Media is a three-year, Leverhulme Trust funded project to develop more contextualised understandings of why people share—or do not share—false and misleading information online.

We see private social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Apple or Android Messages as unique hybrid, public-interpersonal communication environments.

This means we begin from the reality that private platforms are used mainly, though not exclusively, among strong-tie networks of family, friends, parents, co-workers, and local community members, and that people’s experiences on these platforms are shaped by the intimate, reiterative, mobile, and socially networked contexts of smartphone use and perpetual connection in the texture of everyday life. And yet, often the information shared on these services originates with elites in the public worlds of news, politics, science, and entertainment, before it then cascades across multiple private groups.

To study private platforms’ roles in misinformation’s spread therefore requires methodological and conceptual sensitivity to these unique affordances.

The project has two phases. Phase one involves in-depth and longitudinal qualitative fieldwork with members of the UK public. Insights from phase one inform phase two: national panel surveys of the UK population.

This project was conceived in May 2019 and funded by Leverhulme in March 2020. Fieldwork, delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, began March 2021. It is being conducted by researchers in Loughborough University’s Online Civic Culture Centre (O3C) The Principal Investigator is Professor Andrew Chadwick.

Key Project Objectives

1

To explain the complex mix of social, political, and technological factors that lead individuals, in their everyday social settings, to challenge false and misleading information and decide not to share it online.

2

To generate new concepts and data that update and expand the idea of digital literacy.

3

To establish the links between specific digital literacies and informed and responsible citizenship.

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