"Social Issue Emergence in the Hybrid Media System": New project starting soon


Starting October 1, Thorsten Quandt (WWU Münster) and Annie Waldherr will cooperate within the scope of said project.

The project explores the emergence of social issues on social media, which we observe in popular hashtag campaigns such as #metoo or #blacklivesmatter. These issues begin as discussions on social media, and with time, they can become crucial topics that evoke strong emotions and get everyone talking. At a certain point of viral spread, the issues are picked up by professional news media and make their way into the mainstream. It is extremely relevant for democracy and civil society to define which issues are important and need political and societal action, and the continuous development of social media will only increase its importance. However, science still needs a complete explanation of how such issues emerge and grow, as previously, researchers looked at different factors in isolation only.

As a starting point the project team theorizes that social issue emergence involves two parallel and seemingly contradictory processes: first, the viral spread of the issue on social media (for example, via hashtags and reposts), and second, control attempts by groups and individuals (for example, an activist group spreading a certain message or a celebrity sharing a personal story under a particular hashtag). These processes will be studied in-depth to understand their underlying logic and investigate which groups participate in the hashtag debates in which stages and in what way. In order to find this out, the project team will interview actors involved in social issue emergence, such as social media activists. Additionally, content on many social issues from social media, alternative media, and news will be analyzed with the help of machine learning algorithms. Further, the team will examine how issues evolve and debates on them change over time. Based on these empirical insights, a computer simulation showing how social issues develop and spread on social media platforms will be created.

Social Issue Emergence in the Hybrid Media System will be conducted as an international cooperation project together with Thorsten Quandt of the Westfälische-Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany. Annie Waldherr will be the principal investigator of the Vienna-based research team, supported by Kateryna Maikovska as a predoctoral researcher and Moritz Sedlatschek as research assistant. In total, the Austrian Science Fund will provide € 163.000 for the upcoming three years.

Social Issue Emergence in the Hybrid Media System

Funding organization: Austrian Science Fund – FWF (Call: WEAVE)
PI: Annie Waldherr
Duration: 2023-2026
Funding: € 163.696,05