PhD Projects @CCL

The PhD projects conducted at the Computational Communication Science Lab cover a broad range of methods and topics related to political communication. We here introduce the projects ongoing at the moment in the order of their starting dates and provide links for the related publications. Concluded PhD projects are listed at the end of the page.

Aytalina Kulichkina: The Dynamics of Political Protests in the Era of Social Media

Social media have been studied as an essential communication tool in numerous political protests worldwide. On the one hand, they have enabled previously unheard voices to form powerful dynamics capable of influencing decisions and bringing change at a societal level. On the other hand, they have empowered repressive regimes to disseminate propaganda and strengthen surveillance to suppress dissenting voices. Nevertheless, it is still unclear how exactly and to what extent social media activity at the micro level can influence the macro level dynamics of political protests, especially in authoritarian societies. The cumulative dissertation project aims to contribute to filling this gap by adopting four distinct approaches. First, a computer-assisted systematic literature review will be conducted to categorize and summarize the findings of existing quantitative peer-reviewed studies on the role of social media in political protests. Second, an observational study will examine content, patterns, and volume of social media communication in online behavior of pro-Navalny activists and pro-regime supporters in relation to participation in the current protest movement in Russia. Third, an agent-based modeling approach will be implemented to construct a model of street protests influenced by social media use applicable to authoritarian regimes. Finally, an empirical validation study will explore the relevance of the model to the street protest dynamics in Belarus and Russia and compare two modeled cases.

Start: September 2020
Supervisor(s): Annie Waldherr, Nicola Righetti
Funding/Project: CCL

Noelle Lebernegg: The Role of Media in the Misinformation Society

Following the 2016 US elections at the latest, scholars declared the “rise of the misinformation society,” referring to the increased dissemination of false and misleading information, which may come with tremendous dangers for democratic societies. With informed citizens being the fundamental cornerstone of representative democracies, efforts to come to blows with the spread of and belief in disinformation are crucial. While there is only limited research on the sources of disinformation, it is assumed that changing media environments, particularly the rise of the internet and by that yet unprecedented speed and reach of information dissemination, but also the coverage in mainstream media, play a key role in processes leading to misinformation. Subsequently, understanding the misinformation society requires an understanding of the role of media in this context. The cumulative dissertation project contributes to this line of research by addressing several gaps. First, using survey data from the Austrian Corona Panel Project, light shall be shed on the relationship between media use, media trust, and the belief in falsehoods. Secondly, the supply of false information in different digital, social, and traditional media will be studied employing automated content analytical methods. Lastly, the impact of characteristic disinformation content features on audience perception will be examined in a experimental design.

Start: March 2020
Supervisor(s): Hajo Boomgaarden
Project/Funding: CCL, Knowledge Resistance: Knowledge, Consequences, and Cures

Alina Nikolaou: The Persuasive Effect of Immersive Virtual Environments on Attitudes

Over the past decades, the once scarcely available, pricey and massive Virtual Reality (VR) hardware became mainstream, suddenly affordable to a wide range of industries. With the high resolution and relatively inexpensive Head Mounted Displays eventually finding their way into regular households, a meteoric rise of global investment in VR unlocked a variety of groundbreaking research about how we feel, think and behave in virtual worlds. Amongst the central themes of scholarly interest lies the experience of presence, described as the feeling of “being there” in the immersive virtual environment. In order to enhance our understanding of the persuasive potential of presence and its subtypes on attitudes, this research project yields a cumulative dissertation. It comprises four papers in total, namely a meta-analysis of empirical studies published from 2000 to 2020 about attitudinal change in virtual immersive environments, as well as three experimental studies about the effect of a. self-presence, b. physical presence and c. social presence on the way we think about social matters.

Start: October 2019
Supervisor(s): Hajo Boomgaarden, Sophie Lecheler
Project/Funding: uni:docs Fellowship for Doctoral Students of the University of Vienna

Maria Gruber: Exploring the role of perception in media-supported migration decision-making

Following the repeatedly expressed need for an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of media-supported migration, the cumulative dissertation aims at strengthening the connection between migration and communication theories. New media and ICTs (information and communication technologies) have profoundly reshaped migration processes, shaped the public discourse on migration, and soon found their way into the scholarly debate on contemporary migration. However, recent research focuses mainly on the specific role of media use during migration and the extent to which new media enable or even encourage migration in the first place. From a communication science perspective, the connections between media use and resulting perceptions which ultimately must be regarded as decisive for decisions and actions are largely overlooked in the study of current migration. Hence, the aim of the research is to examine the role of different means of communication during migration, irregular migrants’ use thereof, and to shed light on the role of perceptions that arise in this process. As migration must not be perceived as a one-time decision and action but as a process, the applied research design, which consists of qualitative interviews with irregular migrants at six different locations along migration routes (being conducted as part of the H2020 MIRROR project), is designed to meet this processual character.

Start: September 2019
Supervisor(s): Hajo Boomgaarden
Funding/Project: MIRROR

Annika Schwabe: The influence of digital reading devices on fictional literature reading

Digital reading is spreading more and more and gains in importance in various settings. However, while the body of literature suggests that digital reading of informative texts is inferior to reading the text in a printed version, it is not clear what effect digitization of the reading medium has on reading fiction. Therefore, the aim of this dissertation is to investigate whether a digital reading device effects, due to different affordances and fewer possibilities for spatial orientation in the text, different dimensions of reading literature differently than a printed book, and whether there are interindividual differences in possible effects. To examine this topic, I will synthesize the existing body of literature in a systematic review and conduct meta-analyses. Further, I will run two different experiments with a between-subjects design where participants will read a fictional text either in a printed book or a digital reading device.

Start: June 2019
Supervisor(s): Hajo Boomgaarden
Funding/Project: Books on Screen

Tobias Heidenreich: Mapping European Migration Discourses on Social Media

Complementing the bigger picture of public discourses on migration in Europe, the research of this cumulative thesis investigates European political discourses on social network sites (SNS) addressing the topic of migration in a comparative manner. Applying state of the art automated techniques, large amounts of data from accounts of political actors in six different countries and across multiple platforms are analyzed. As different content characteristics as well as connections to audiences through respective interactions are unveiled, this dissertation project provides insights into the production mechanisms of political communication on a channel experiencing increasing importance when it comes to campaigning and participation. Migration as a topic, furthermore, constitutes not only a pressing issue for the European Union and its member countries through the last years but also an issue heatedly debated in election campaigns. Touching upon the fields of communication of populist and extreme parties, this research considers account level factors such as political affiliation, content characteristics like sentiment or visibility but also how content is perceived by investigating interactions with users (i.e. constituents) on these platforms.

Start: January 2017
Supervisor(s): Hajo Boomgaarden, Jakob-Moritz Eberl
Funding/Project: REMINDER, Tango on a Tightrope

Catherine Sotirakou: Artificial Intelligence & Journalism

Discovering which elements of a news story influence readers’ perceptions has been a cross-disciplinary research goal for the past years, because it can play a crucial role in news dissemination and consumption in the digital age. The objective of the thesis is to build a theoretical model that measures  the quality of online articles along with high-accuracy machine learning models able to predict the quality of a given article.

Catherine was a visiting PhD student at the Computational Communication Science Lab from August 2019 - July 2020.

Start: September 2016
Supervisor(s): Hajo Boomgaarden, Costas Mourlas
Funding/Project: -

Fabienne Lind: Multilingual Computer-Assisted Content Analysis

The cumulative dissertation pushes forward the methodological development of multilingual computer-assisted content analysis in communication science. When social scientists use automated, computer-assisted content analytical methods, they usually do so for texts in a single language, mostly English. This usage does neither reflect the available digitized text landscape nor substantial research interests. The dissertation is therefore working on innovative methodological approaches, that unlock the access to research questions which require the analysis of large quantities of multilingual media content. To this end, the integration of approaches from computer science, linguistics and their translation into the current efforts of communication science scholars is key. The empirical project works exemplary with news media data in seven languages (Spanish, English, German, Swedish, Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian), focusing on the issue of human migration and collected in the framework of the Horizon2020 project REMINDER. Aiming at their general applicability in communication science, different methodological strategies for multilingual computer-assisted content analysis, are presented, compared and applied in four studies: Study 1: dictionary approach, study 2: supervised machine learning, study 3: unsupervised machine learning, study 4: an examination of women's salience in migrant news with a focus on language details.

Start: August 2017; concluded in June 2021
Supervisor(s): Hajo Boomgaarden, Jakob-Moritz Eberl
Funding/Project: REMINDER, MIRROR, OPTED, Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes