Whatsapp, Facebook turn to academics to help deter ‘misinformation' issues post-election scandals

Whatsapp launches a call for academic submissions to help deter the spread of misinformation during the election season / Kayla Velasquez via Unsplash

Whatsapp announced via Facebook’s blog yesterday the launch of what it calls a “social science and misinformation request for proposals” for a Whatsapp Research Awards.

These research awards, Whatsapp said, will provide ‘unrestricted’ monetary awards for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities.

The messaging platform has opened up an application portal for individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas.

For these awards, Whatsapp has focused on five ‘core areas for expansion’: information processing for problematic content, election-related information, network effects and virality, digital literacy and misinformation, and detection of problematic behavior within encrypted systems.

Although a couple of core areas mentioned work specifically for the messaging platform—a target for bad actors in India during their most recent elections, Facebook itself had been no stranger to controversy in elections. Cambridge Analytica, best known for utilizing the platform in an exploitative manner during the 2016 US presidential campaign cycle, had won the ARF’s Ogilvy Award — for its efforts before investigations drove its closure earlier this year. As of March this year, the award win itself is under review by the organization.

As it was mentioned that Facebook itself would be a recipient of these shared proposals, the resulting works sent to them may provide an indication of how they plan to address and deter bad actors from using its platforms to influence the approaching midterm elections in November and the next presidential election in 2020. The social network had announced additional transparency provisions late last week to better show who is selling political ads to the public on its main platform.

Facebook has announced that applications are due in mid-August, and winners are to be notified by September 14 of this year.

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