Call for Papers: Hate and Disinformation on WhatsApp: Global Perspectives (workshop)

International Workshop
Hate and Disinformation on WhatsApp: Global Perspectives
Workshop dates 30, 31 March 2023

Closing date for extended abstracts: 30 November 2022

Venue: Stellenbosch Institute for
Advanced Study (STIAS), Stellenbosch, South Africa

Hosted by
Sahana Udupa, University of Munich (LMU), Germany
Herman Wasserman, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

This workshop aims to examine the cross-platform messaging service WhatsApp and its relationship with disinformation and extreme speech in a global perspective. Our objective is to contribute to disinformation and extreme speech scholarship by exploring the unique cultures, affordances and challenges of WhatsApp. Based on insights from different regions and diverse contexts of use, we aim to map the differences, similarities and connections globally, and highlight regulatory and methodological challenges that encrypted information services such as WhatsApp have raised for academic research and policymaking. WhatsApp’s popularity has been linked to low Internet connectivity and high data costs in the global South contexts but its uptake in different regions of the world, including parts of the global South, awaits systematic research around how distinct user practices, infrastructural conditions and political deployments have developed around the messaging service, and how such features have uniquely inflected disinformation and extreme speech environments.  

The workshop will have five interrelated focal points: Culture, regulation, content, infrastructure and method. Questions we will be exploring include:

Cultures and contexts

  1. What contextual social and cultural conditions amplify the co-creation, consumption and spread of disinformation and extreme speech on Whatsapp? What kind of practices have emerged around WhatsApp, and how do they fold into extreme speech as habitual, deliberate and lived forms of discourse and meaning? 
  2. How do contemporary practices of extreme speech and disinformation on Whatsapp map onto longer social, political and cultural histories?
  3. To what extent do political cultures shape the nature and tone of discourse on Whatsapp?
  4. How do political campaigns and disinformation services engage and deploy WhatsApp? How do such strategies include the very instrumentalization of “fake news”, “hate speech” and “disinformation” as rhetorical and misleading devices for divisive politics
  5. How does state surveillance against political dissent unfold on and with WhatsApp?
  6. What kind of subversive speech practices and anti-hate activism have developed in and through WhatsApp? 

Regulation

  1. What is an appropriate normative framework within which Big Tech can be held accountable for the spread of extreme speech and disinformation on their encrypted and cross-platform messaging services?
  2. What challenges does Whatsapp pose for policy-making across countries and regions with vastly different media rights environments?

Content

  1. What are examples of problematic content on Whatsapp? How do they connect with or draw from problematic content types circulating on other platforms? 
  2. How can problematic content on WhatsApp be countered, corrected or challenged?
  3. What challenges do content in languages other than English as well as visuals, memes and multimedia materials pose for regulation and moderation?

Infrastructure

  1. What affordances offered by WhatsApp facilitate or help amplify problematic and harmful content? How do these affordances develop in situated contexts of use and as sociotechnical architectures shaped by global technology?
  2. How should we understand the impact of low connectivity and high data rates on the popularity of Whatsapp? 
  3. What challenges to awareness raising campaigns are posed by WhatsApp’s significance in low-data environments? 
  4. What are the unique infrastructural possibilities of WhatsApp where data and connection are not an issue? 
  5. What capacities does Whatsapp offer to tackle disinformation?
  6. How does WhatsApp as an infrastructure intersect with and constitute the disinformation ecosystem in very specific ways? 
  7. To what extent can solutions for disinformation on Whatsapp be relevant for similar encrypted information services?

Method:

  1. What are the unique methodological challenges that encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp have posed to research? What are the ways to overcome emerging problems? 
  2. How do researchers negotiate ethical and practical issues of data protection, privacy, confidentiality and trust in studying WhatsApp?
  3. What are the opportunities for researchers to combine ethnography, field experiments and computational methods in WhatsApp research? 
  4. How do WhatsApp networks challenge methodological nationalism?

The types of problematic content we will be covering in the workshop include:  Extreme speech (derogatory, exclusionary and dangerous), Dis-/misinformation (including health misinformation, political disinformation, conspiracy theories, rumors and scams) and foreign influence operations.

We welcome a wide range of methods and approaches, including ethnographies, field experiments, online content analysis, political economy analysis, network analysis and NLP,  and policy and regulation research. 

Workshop Format: 

The workshop will run over two days. To enable participants to learn from a diverse range of perspectives, approaches and methods, all sessions will be in plenary format.

We invite researchers to send extended abstracts (1200 words) to whatsappworkshop@ethnologie.lmu.de before 30 November 2022. Selected participants will be notified by 15 December 2022. Abstracts should contain a clear outline of the argument, theoretical framework, methodology, empirical findings, and a brief note on how your research links to the overall theme of the workshop. Please also include 3-5 keywords that describe your work, and a short bio (up to 100 words, stating affiliation). Full papers (6000 words) of selected submissions are due on 28 February 2023.

Attendance to this closed workshop is fully funded. Organizers will cover the costs of travel and accommodation. Submissions will contribute to a planned co-edited volume, and should therefore not be under consideration for publication elsewhere.

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