Hybrid War of Information

VW Grant PreProposal

On October 15, 2017, the research team of Marinov and fellow coPIs filed a pre-proposal to the Volkswagen Foundation, under the call Challenges for Europe.  The preproposal was not successful.  It has lead to a new grant filing, with the DFG, and a spate of working papers on conspiracy theory.  

More on the pre-proposal to VW: Team - CoPIs - Nikolay Marinov and Thomas Bräuninger, Professors, University of Mannheim (roles in research design, modelling); Anita Gohdes, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Zurich (specialty in conflict studies, computational social science, see Gohdes (2018)); Dr Zoltan Fazekas, Postdoctoral Fellow - Department of Political Science, University of Oslo (specialty survey research and methodology, see Fazekas and Larsen (2016)); Dr. Dimitar Vatsov, Human and Social Studies Foundation, Sofia (heads research institution with extensive experience studying disinformation in Bulgaria, see Vatsov and et al (2017)).

Misinformation by foreign actors to deceive public opinion and undercut political unity is hardly a new phenomenon. Going digital, however, has given it new momentum. The aim of the project is to answer a number of relevant questions to the current war of information in comparative perspective: (1) how do events, concerning issues of interest to foreign powers, impact the mix of information and disinformation reaching domestic publics in Europe? (2) do propaganda strategies change when there are random or unanticipated events? (3) How do approaching elections in European democracies change the mix of topics circulating online and offline? Our empirical strategy includes surveys, and topic-modelling of online and offline media. In addition, we will follow social media reception of stories. We will select news stories in outlets such as Russia Today (Deutsch) to analyze the diffusion of individual news stories, as well as the users who post and amplify the stories (for example, through retweets on Twitter). We make use of recent techniques that were developed to identify `bots' (non-human social media accounts) to understand the dynamics of diffusion. Our chosen approach will give different metrics on the war of information, and its impact. The timing and granularity of social media data can help us isolate the transmission of propaganda, and, possibly, its effects. Our theory will open up new questions. We hope to shed light on the underlying motivation to foreign actors for attacking democratic processes abroad. We aim to understand who responds favorably to foreign propaganda narratives. We also want to know how the channel through which the message is sent (e.g. local or foreign media, online or offline) affects efficacy, and whether pointing out the source counteracts the effectiveness of a message. The analysis we propose can help set the tone in the debate on the future of information, and of freedoms in Europe and beyond.