Start of a new project: How do social issues emerge online?


The new FWF-funded project will investigate the emergence and evolvement of social issues in a hybrid media system. The researchers, led by Annie Waldherr and Thorsten Quandt, will develop a comprehensive explanation of this dynamic phenomenon using interviews, content analysis, and agent-based modeling.

The international cooperation project Social Issue Emergence in the Hybrid Media System (2023-2026) led by Annie Waldherr and Thorsten Quandt (University of Münster, Germany) has officially started! The University of Vienna team consists of Annie Waldherr as the project's lead, Kateryna Maikovska as a Praedoc, and Moritz Sedlatschek as a research assistant.


The project explores the emergence of social issues on social media, which we can see happening in popular hashtag campaigns like #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. The researchers are interested in this phenomenon because it is extremely relevant for democracy and civil society, and the continuous development of social media will only increase its importance. However, science still needs a complete explanation, as previous researchers looked at different factors in isolation. In particular, we need a more comprehensive analysis of temporal patterns and actors' roles in this process.


In this project, two teams based in Germany and Austria will work together using various innovative methods. They will interview actors involved in the social issue emergence, such as social media activists, and analyze content from social media, alternative media, and news. Further, the researchers will apply the theoretical exploration and real-life studies knowledge to create a computer simulation (an agent-based model) showing how social issues develop and spread on social media platforms.


As a result of the three-year research project, the researchers will produce a universal, dynamic, multi-level model of social issue emergence. The model will help us understand this phenomenon and predict social issue emergence in the future.