Deadline: 12 August 2018
WhatsApp is offering funding through its Research Awards to support research projects to tackle issues arising from fake news and misinformation.
WhatsApp cares about the safety of our users and is seeking to inform our understanding of the safety problems people encounter on WhatsApp and what more we can do within WhatsApp and in partnership with civil society to address the problem.
For this first phase of our program, WhatsApp is commissioning a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp.
Proposals are welcomed from any social science or related discipline that foster insights into the impact of technology on contemporary society in this problem space. The WhatsApp Research Awards will provide funding for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities.
These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio. Applications are welcome from individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas
High priority areas include (but are not limited to):
- Information processing of problematic content: Proposals are welcome that explore the social, cognitive, and information processing variables involved in the consumption of content received on WhatsApp, its relation to the content’s credibility, and the decision to promote that content with others. This includes social cues and relationships, personal value systems, features of the content, content source etc. We are interested in understanding what aspects of the experience might help individuals engage more critically with potentially problematic content.
- Election related information: Proposals are welcome that examine how political actors are leveraging WhatsApp to organize and potentially influence elections in their constituencies. WhatsApp is a powerful medium for political actors to connect and communicate with their constituents. However, it can also be misused to share inaccurate or inflammatory political content. WhatsApp is interested in understanding this space both from the perspective of political actors and the voter base. This includes understanding the unique characteristics of WhatsApp for political activity and its place in the ecosystem of social media and messaging platforms, distribution channels for political content, targeting strategies, etc.
- Network effects and virality: Proposals are welcome that explore the characteristics of networks and content. WhatsApp is designed to be a private, personal communication space and is not designed to facilitate trends or virality through algorithms or feedback. However, these behaviors do organically occur along social dimensions. We are interested in projects that inform our understanding of the spread of information through WhatsApp networks.
- Digital literacy and misinformation: Proposals are welcome that explore the relation between digital literacy and vulnerability to misinformation on WhatsApp. WhatsApp is very popular in some emerging markets, and especially so among new to Internet and populations with lower exposure to technology. It is interested in research that informs our efforts to bring technology safely and effectively into underserved geographical regions. This includes studies of individuals, families and communities, but also wider inquiries into factors that shape the context for the user experience online.
- Detection of problematic behavior within encrypted systems: Proposals are welcome that examine technical solutions to detecting problematic behavior within the restrictions of and in keeping with the principles of encryption. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encrypted system facilitates privacy and security for all WhatsApp users, including people who might be using the platform for illegal activities. How might it can detect illegal activity without monitoring the content of all our users? It is particularly interested in understanding and deterring activities that facilitate the distribution of verifiably false information.
Preference is for proposals which are based on independent research, in which the applicant develops conceptual tools, gathers and analyzes data, and/or investigates relevant issues. Each awardee will retain all intellectual property rights to their data and analyses. WhatsApp staff may provide guidance, but investigators are responsible for carrying out the scope of work.
The program will make unrestricted awards of up to $50,000 per research proposal. All applications will be reviewed by WhatsApp research staff, with consultation from external experts. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university or organization as an unrestricted gift.
In addition to the award monies, WhatsApp invites award recipients to attend two workshops:
The first workshop will provide awardees with a detailed introduction to how the WhatsApp product works as well as context on the focus area of misinformation. It will also enable participants to receive feedback from WhatsApp research staff and invited guests on their research proposals. We hope this will facilitate international collaborations across researchers and teams in this area. The tentative date for this event is October 29-30, in Menlo Park, CA.
A second workshop will allow awardees to present their initial research findings to WhatsApp and other awardees, providing an opportunity to contextualize their findings with each other. Our hope is that upon completion of the research, award recipients will seek to share their research with the wider public. Tentative date is April 2019, exact date will be updated on this page at a later time.
WhatsApp will arrange and pay for the travel and accommodation of one representative from each awardee. This will be in addition to the research award amount.
For more information, visit WhatsApp.