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Battling Electoral Misinformation on Social Media in Low Digital Literacy Environments: Lessons and Solutions from Northern Ghana

1 January 2019 - 31 July 2019

PI/s in Exeter: Dr Elena Gadjanova

CI/s in Exeter: Professor Jason Reifler

Research partners: Co-investigator: Prof. Gabrielle Lynch (Warwick). Collaborators: Ghadafi Saibu, Bayreuth University, Germany

Funding awarded: £ 29,500

Sponsor(s): UKRI, Global Challenges Research Fund

About the research

What effects does social media have for electoral politics in Africa? Does it weaken or strengthen political parties? Does it increase polarization and exacerbate ethnic divisions? Does it widen existing political inequalities or help to improve the representation of marginalised communities? How can circulating misinformation be minimised and its effects neutralised in "low digital literacy environments"?

This research project lead by Dr. Elena Gadjanova (Department of Politics), and involving researchers at the University of Warwick, the University of Bayreuth in Germany, and several project partners in Ghana, seeks to answer the questions above. Researchers have gathered micro-level data on the use and mis-use of social media in politics and election campaigns in Northern Ghana, conducting over eighty interviews and focus group discussions with a wide range of local actors – from elected politicians and campaign operatives, to party members, youth groups, traditional and religious leaders, and media personalities. A public opinion survey, intended to probe social media attitudes and what makes citizens more or less susceptible to misinformation, has also been completed.

The project speaks to broader questions about how social media is transforming political communication in the Global South: whether it contributes to a more fragmented political discourse, whether the enhanced opportunities for micro-targeting are leading to an increased personalization of politics, and the extent to which social media groups are conducive to the survival of diverse political opinions in plural societies.

The project has much potential to be scaled up into a larger research programme, extended to other African countries, and to provide opportunities for PhD students and post-doctoral researchers to work in an area, which is rapidly becoming central to politics and governance throughout the world.