WhatsApp is a fast, simple and reliable way to talk to anyone in the world. More than 1.5 billion people in over 180 countries use WhatsApp to stay in touch with friends and family, anytime and anywhere. WhatsApp is not only free but also available on multiple mobile devices and in low connectivity areas — making it accessible and reliable wherever you are. It’s a simple and secure way to share your favorite moments, send important information or catch up with a friend. WhatsApp helps people connect and share no matter where they are in the world.

WhatsApp cares about the safety of our users and is seeking to inform our understanding of the safety problems people encounter on WhatsApp and what more we can do within WhatsApp and in partnership with civil society to address the problem. For this first phase of our program, WhatsApp is commissioning a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp. We welcome proposals from any social science or related discipline that foster insights into the impact of technology on contemporary society in this problem space.

The WhatsApp Research Awards will provide funding for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities. These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio. Applications are welcome from individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas.

Core Areas of Exploration

We will seriously consider proposals from any social science and technological perspective that propose projects that enrich our understanding of the problem of misinformation on WhatsApp. High priority areas include (but are not limited to):

  • Information processing of problematic content: We welcome proposals that explore the social, cognitive and information processing variables involved in the consumption of content received on WhatsApp, its relation to the content’s credibility, and the decision to promote that content with others. This includes social cues and relationships, personal value systems, features of the content, content source, etc. We are interested in understanding what aspects of the experience might help individuals engage more critically with potentially problematic content.
  • Election related information: We welcome proposals that examine how political actors are leveraging WhatsApp to organize and potentially influence elections in their constituencies. WhatsApp is a powerful medium for political actors to connect and communicate with their constituents. However, it can also be misused to share inaccurate or inflammatory political content. We are interested in understanding this space both from the perspective of political actors and the voter base. This includes understanding the unique characteristics of WhatsApp for political activity and its place in the ecosystem of social media and messaging platforms, distribution channels for political content, targeting strategies, etc.
  • Network effects and virality: We welcome proposals that explore the characteristics of networks and content. WhatsApp is designed to be a private, personal communication space and is not designed to facilitate trends or virality through algorithms or feedback. However, these behaviors do organically occur along social dimensions. We are interested in projects that inform our understanding of the spread of information through WhatsApp networks.
  • Digital literacy and misinformation: We welcome proposals that explore the relation between digital literacy and vulnerability to misinformation on WhatsApp. WhatsApp is very popular in some emerging markets, and especially so among those new to internet and populations with lower exposure to technology. We are interested in research that informs our efforts to bring technology safely and effectively into underserved geographical regions. This includes studies of individuals, families and communities, but also wider inquiries into factors that shape the context for the user experience online.
  • Detection of problematic behavior within encrypted systems: We welcome proposals that examine technical solutions to detecting problematic behavior within the restrictions of and in keeping with the principles of encryption. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encrypted system facilitates privacy and security for all WhatsApp users, including people who might be using the platform for illegal activities. How might we detect illegal activity without monitoring the content of all our users? We are particularly interested in understanding and deterring activities that facilitate the distribution of verifiably false information.

For more information and to respond to the WhatsApp Social Science and Misinformation request for proposal, visit the WhatsApp research award page.

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