Five research projects receive digicomlab seed funding

Five new exciting projects have been selected to receive seed funding from the Digital Communication lab in 2023! The titles and short abstracts of the projects can be found below.

We are looking forward to the results of these cutting-edge research endeavours:


Critical Beings: A Podcast Study

by dr. Gian Hernandez

This proposed study aims to explore diverse embodiment through the use of innovative digital methods, focusing on podcasting as a medium for science communication (O’Hara, 2020). Criticality has emerged as a vital issue in health and fitness communication; notions of structure and agency remain undertheorized in the field (Lupton, 2009; Tiller et al., 2022; Zoller et al., 2019).  The project utilizes a website for both dissemination and research purposes, on which podcast interviews regarding embodiment, diversity, and health and fitness with prominent experts from diverse backgrounds will be hosted. Transcripts of the recorded conversations will be posted on the platform to be commented on annotatively by audiences interested in critical health and fitness.  Finally, these comments on the transcribed conversations will be analyzed using critical discourse analysis (Wodak & Meyer, 2001) to uncover audience attitudes, perceptions, and engagement with diverse themes within critical health and fitness.


A cross-platform, multi-modal investigation into political moral appeals

by dr. Frederic Hopp and dr. Linda Bos

This project investigates the use of moral foundations by Dutch political elites on social media. We will collect all social media posts from Dutch party leaders and parties posted between January 2021 and May 2023, and subsequently use crowd-coding to obtain annotated moral foundations on a subset of these posts. We then fine-tune a cross-language BERT model (XLM-R) on a corpus of English Tweets annotated for moral foundations and test how well this model can classify moral foundations in our crowd-sourced Dutch social media posts. In addition, we aim to computationally explore and classify the visual cues that accompany and undergird the moral language of Dutch political elites.

Personalization over-time or over-time personalization? A study on the within- and between-session personalization effects of conversational agent recommendations

by dr. Carolin Ischen, dr. Theo Araujo, prof. dr. Jochen Peter and dr. Alain Starke

Conversational agents (CAs) can make personalized product- or service-related recommendations based on user input, and allow for repeated interactions with their users over time. This study distinguishes between within-session effects which refer to the (longitudinal) effects of one-shot personalized recommendations, and between-session effects which refer to the effects of a CA remembering user input from previous interactions (conversational memory). We aim to test the persuasive effects of these two types of personalization. This project makes a methodological contribution: It extends our conversational agent research toolkit by (1) integrating recommender systems and (2) working with conversational memory over time.


Facts to you, opinions to me: Examining annotation biases in a crowdsourcing study

by Zilin Lin, dr. Susan Vermeer and dr. Anne Kroon

Machine learning has been thriving in the field of communication science. Yet, it should be noted that decent model performance could only be possible to achieve when there is an ample amount of training data with correct annotation. Such model input, unfortunately, is sometimes difficult to obtain, due to the trade-off between quality and quantity within a reasonable research budget and timeframe. In our study, we would like to explore the potential of crowdsourcing as an approach to providing accurate model input. Specifically, we investigate whether annotation biases exist, and if so, whether they are associated with different individual characteristics.


Moved to Comment: Analyzing Social Information Created in Response to Emotional Corporate Films

by dr. Marthe Möller and dr. Joanna Strycharz

Comments written in response to social media content can tell a lot about how people experience this content. The goal of the present project is to use social media comments to detect users’ entertainment experiences in response to social media messages. It does so by analyzing the comments posted in response to emotional corporate films in particular. This way, the project aims to add to the methods that scholars have to measure viewers’ experiences of online entertainment content. In addition, by comparing this novel way of measuring entertainment experiences to more established methods for measuring entertainment experiences (i.e., surveys), the project aims to advance our methodological understanding of different approaches to studying entertainment experiences.


Congratulations to all receivers!

Digicomlab is hiring a post-doctoral researcher

The Digital Communication Methods Lab and Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) is looking for a 2-year post-doctoral researcher.

This postdoctoral position focuses on research aimed at advancing computational methods for communication science (e.g., automated content analysis). Technological advancements enable communication scientists to collect different types of data (e.g., through scraping social media data, gathering data through digital agents, receiving data through data donations). Introduction of these novel data collection methods results in availability of large quantities of data that come in various formats (e.g., text data, visual data). This brings on methodological challenges of analyzing such data. In sum, communication researchers now have a broad range of novel computational methods at their disposal to gather and analyze large amounts of data that vary in their format. However, there is a lack of knowledge about the usage and validity of these methods. For example, whereas some algorithms are available to analyze visual data, these algorithms have not been validated on data relevant to communication scholars. This postdoctoral position will contribute to advancing the Lab’s methodological and substantive research in this area by conducting research that advances and validates methods aimed at gathering and analyzing data that are relevant to communication scholars.

For complete details, see


Project DigCom receives funding to adapt DigIQ tool for lower literacy

In the project Digital Competence across the Lifespan, we are developing an online tool to test and improve digital competence: the DigIQ tool. Making use of the validated DigIQ measure of digital competence, the DigIQ tool will provide citizens with a way to test their digital skills and knowledge. Moreover, it will give users personalized advice about how they can improve their digital skills, including tailored information about where to find relevant courses and information.

The DigIQ tool is currently being developed for a general population with funding from the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, we do not know to what extent the general version of the tool will also be suitable for persons with lower levels of literacy (i.e., persons who have difficulty with reading and writing). GO Fonds has provided funding to test the suitability and effectiveness of the DigIQ tool for persons who have low literacy levels and to make necessary adaptations. Dian de Vries, Jessica Piotrowski, and Frank Huysmans (Communication Science, UvA) will work on this project together with Bibliotheek Utrecht and BiSC. The project runs from November 2022 to April 2024.

If you would like to learn more about this project or collaborate with us, please contact Dian, Jessica, or Frank. We look forward to sharing our results with you.

Digicomlab meeting on digital and media literacy

In April, the Digicomlab organized a special meeting about digital and media literacy for members of the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR). We learned about six projects by ASCoR members on the topic:

Sophie Boerman shared her research into advertising literacy and persuasion knowledge (e.g., regarding influencer marketing, brand placement, and personalized advertising) and digital literacy (i.e., literacy concerning AI and algorithms, and privacy literacy). In addition, she presented an ongoing project developing and testing the effects of a new Kijkwijzer icon that should signal advertising in online videos.

Annemarie van Oosten pitched her research on media literacy in the context of sexual media content, and specifically her study on using natural language processing to assess the reliability and content of online comments dealing with sexual health questions and advice, as part of the NWA Idea Generator grant.

Dian de Vries, Jessica Piotrowski, and Claes de Vreese presented the development of a valid and reliable measure of digital competence – DigIQ. To learn more about DigIQ, and to download the new scale, visit their OSF page:

Toni van der Meer talked about how news media literacy (NML) interventions can be used to stimulate healthier news diets. The effectiveness of such communicative interventions has been studied in three separate experimental studies. The first research looks at stimulating cross-cutting news selection patterns (van der Meer & Hameleers, 2020). In two selective-exposure experiments they observed the conditional effectiveness of such NML interventions, depending on political ideology or issue stance. However, when the interventions were tailored to audiences’ in-group, they were successful across the board. Project two studied the combatting of a negativity bias in audiences’ news selection (van der Meer & Hameleers, 2022), focusing on how exposure to NML interventions concerning negativity bias or click-bait mitigate a negativity bias in self-selection of news, especially for those who already hold a pessimistic outlook. The third project relies on NML literature to understand how to prevent declining trust in legitimate news in the context of fear for misinformation (van der Meer, Hameleers, & Ohme, work in progress). In this context the effectiveness of NML interventions is less straightforward, only for those who are generally more skeptical, an intervention increased more accurate credibility assessment of news items.

Guda van Noort and Corine Meppelink presented their work-in-progress article on a revised Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM); making this important theory applicable to persuasion driven by AI. In addition to the two key entities in original the PKM (Friestad and Wright 1994) – the target and the agent – this theoretical article argues that a third entity should be added; the media technology.

A study by Hilde Voorveld, Sophie Boerman & Corine Meppelink aimed to identify different consumer groups with respect to algorithmic persuasion by brands on social media, based on people’s awareness of persuasive messages curated by algorithms, their approval of this practice and people’s ability to cope with it. The study revealed four different groups that all require a different empowering strategy.

After the six pitches, a short discussion ensued on how to best develop and target literacy interventions to specific audiences, and the lack of empirically based interventions. Potential funding initiatives for developing interventions (e.g., via libraries) were also discussed. The discussion then moved toward reaching low literate participants for research, in particular the challenge of obtaining informed consent.

The meeting ended with ideas for a future meeting on the topic, potentially looking at ways to find common ground in research on different types of digital and media literacy.

To be continued!

New Master Theses funded by Digicomlab Thesis Grants

Five new Master Theses receive Digicomlab Thesis Grants

The Research Priority Area Communication and its Digital Communication Methods Lab are happy to announce that four proposals have been selected for the fourth edition of the Digicomlab Thesis Grants. These grants provide financial support for theoretically-relevant and digitally innovative (research) master theses written at the University of Amsterdam’s Graduate School of Communication for semester 1 of the 2021-2022 academic year.


What if we Screenshot all the food we see on social media in a day? A mix-method study: how social media food exposure is associated with eating behaviour.

Connie Chen

In the current study, I aim to objectively measure healthy and unhealthy food post exposure, by having participants share screenshots of their exposure for one day. And we will examine how this exposure impacts norm perceptions regarding food, how this subsequently relates to self-reported eating behavior and the effect is mediated by the message sources (peers, companies and influencers). The study will ask participants to fill out a baseline questionnaire (T1) about their demographics and their food consumptions of the day before, then participants will be trained to take screenshots of any food-related images and videos (including food, brand logos, restaurants, cooking show, food prep, etc.) they receive or/and engage with on social media. Participants upload food-related images/videos encountered on the different social media platforms they happened to be using during 24hrs. Participants will be also asked to take screenshots as soon as they are encountered and upload these at a time and place of convenience (e.g. available Wi-Fi access), to reduce potential compliance barriers or study effect on social media usage. One photo at a time and respondents will answer 1) the social media platform 2) the source: whether it’s from their friends, family, brands or influencers 3) whether they actively search for it or unintentionally come across it . Two daily reminders will also be placed (details to be decided). At the end of the day, they would be asked to fill out another questionnaire (T2) of their food consumption.


Is life brighter when your phone is not? The efficacy of a grayscale smartphone intervention addressing digital well-being: a mixed-method study

Cynthia Dekker

Over the past years, digital well-being has become an increasingly prevalent topic. In response to that trend, many tools have been developed for individuals to monitor smartphone use and improve digital well-being. A relatively understudied but promising self-nudge intervention is turning off smartphone screen colors. Since a grayscale setting is available on all smartphones, it has the potential to be an easily implemented intervention to address digital well-being. Previous research has shown that having a smartphone in grayscale results in significantly less screen time and less enjoyment in using one’s phone (e.g., Holte & Ferraro, 2020). Interestingly, however, this did not lead to an actual decrease in phone pickups, indicating that although using one’s smartphone in grayscale is less gratifying, it does not seem to temper the pre-existing urge to constantly check one’s phone (Holte et al., 2021). No study has yet focused on the effect of a fulltime grayscaling intervention on day-to-day factors of mental and digital well-being (e.g., stress, sleep quality, productivity, online vigilance). To explore whether the grayscale mode could be a valuable intervention to target such outcomes, an experiment will be conducted with the innovative research app Murmuras. Participants’ smartphone use will be tracked for two weeks. The first week serves as a baseline measure (tracking-only), followed by the second week in which the grayscale intervention takes place. Momentary data will be collected regarding general screen time and phone pickups, as well as app-specific behavior. Additionally, participants will receive short surveys every evening to assess daily experiences and well-being.


Cultural Differences in VR Sustainability Advertising: How Perceptions Towards Sustainability Messages in Virtual Reality Differ Based On Cultural Orientation

Laurent Hebette

Finding ways to promote sustainable behaviors is essential in a time where overconsumption is leading to climate change and environmental degradation. Although public awareness of the negative effects of overconsumption is growing, there remains a gap between awareness and behavior change. Recent studies using Virtual Reality (VR) to promote sustainability suggest promising results for increasing people’s sense of responsibility and intentions to adopt sustainable behaviors. However, this research was mostly carried out in the West, and there is a lack of research on how sustainable messages communicated through VR are perceived by individuals from different cultures. Considering the rise of consumption rates in Eastern countries like China and India, it is essential to find ways to promote sustainable behaviors in these cultures as well. To shed light on this lack of research and explore whether perceptions towards sustainability messages in VR are (dis)similar across different cultures, the present study explores how one’s cultural orientation may lead to different perceptions towards sustainability message experienced through VR. This study uses an innovative research approach combining VR with semi-structured interviews, to allow a more in-depth exploration of the varying perceptions experienced by individuals from different cultures when viewing a sustainability message using immersive technology. Throughout the interviews, participants are asked to wear a highly-immersive VR headset and watch an immersive sustainability message developed by UNEP and Sony developers, which educates viewers on climate friendly lifestyles. The perceptions of consumers from different cultural orientations is then analyzed and compared to answer the research question.


We are in this together? An automated content analysis: Severity of the pandemic, political orientation and the framing COVID-19 regulations

Lilian Li

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed various aspects of social life. As Garfin and colleagues (2020) stressed, the public relies heavily on media to make informed decisions during a health crisis. Therefore, it is essential for us to understand the message conveyed by news media during the pandemic. This study examines the relationship between individual/social framing, the severity of the crisis, and political orientation in news coverage of COVID-19 regulations. First, the topic is essentially a social health issue. As previous studies have noted, coverage of social health issue tends to lean towards individual framing which promotes personal behavioral changes (Thompson and Ofori-Parku, 2020). However, a global pandemic requires not only individual efforts, but also joint effort from the society. Hence, the study first aims to discover the salience of individual/social frames. Second, “Public health is inherently political” (Kim and Willis, 2007, p. 361). The framing of regulations must adapt to the rapidly changing situation of the pandemic but also political influences. Therefore, the study aims to answer the following questions 1) Does the political stance of the news outlet affect frame usage? If so, how? 2) How does the severity of the pandemic affect policy support in news outlets with different political stances? An automated content analysis will be performed on 6 news outlets with left/right political orientations. Human coders will identify frame and policy support in news articles based on the codebook. Then, the data will be used to train and test the machine learning model. Upon successful training, the model can be applied to large-scale research.


Feel Like a Number: Perceived Fairness of the Job Application Process through AI

Nirvi Maru

Prolific integration of AI into human lives have resulted in significant growth and reliance on automated decision making (ADM). The discussions around the pros and cons of the reliance on decisions made exclusively by algorithms are profuse. Employment of AI in recruitment processes is an aspect of these discussions. Multiple studies have exhibited the profitable nature of AI integration in recruitment practices due to efficiency in cost and time for the recruiting organization. Despite being cost and time effective, a sense of dissatisfaction has been noted from applicants who have experienced this process. Understanding then, user perceptions of fairness in this system is critical. The proposed study endeavors to explore the impact of the affordances of the medium of AI – chatbot vs. smart forms, and types of explanations provided for the decision output by the algorithm (XAI), on an applicant’s perceived fairness of the process. Simply put, this study specifically focuses on the impact of the medium and the message on the user’s perceptions of the process. For the experiment, a job application process will be simulated as closely as possible. Participants will be led to emulate he role of job applicants, and interact either with a chatbot or fill a smart form, both designed specifically for this study, in order to be selected for the job. At the end of the process, the algorithm will provide a decision to the participant. This decision will be presented with an explanation which will vary in type, viz. global explanation vs. local explanation. Participants’ perceived fairness of the process will then be measured.


Digicom Thesis Grant Awardee Alicia Gilbert wins Top Paper Award

Former research master student Alicia Gilbert has been awarded a top-paper award at the conference of the Media Reception and Effects division of the German Association of Communication (January, 2021). Alicia received this award for a paper based on her master thesis project that was funded by the digicom lab “Online vigilance and goal conflict stress smartphone users out: An in-situ approach to digital stress”. The thesis was supervised by our digicom lab researcher Dr. Susanne Baumgartner. Alicia is currently a PhD candidate at the Communication Science department at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. We congratulate Alicia for this great achievement!

The call for the fifth edition of the Digicom Thesis Grant Awards is now online.

New Master Theses funded by digicomlab Grant

Four new Master Theses receive digicomlab Funding Grant

The Research Priority Area Communication and its Digital Communication Methods Lab are happy to announce that four proposals have been selected for the fourth edition of the digicomlab Thesis Funding Grants. These grants provide financial support for theoretically-relevant and digitally innovative (research) master theses written at the University of Amsterdam’s Graduate School of Communication for semester 1 of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Deepfake Negativity: Political attacks, disinformation and the moderating role of personality traits on evaluations of politicians

Monika Simon @si_moni_ka

Deepfakes are artificial intelligence (AI) enabled doctored videos that strongly resemble real videos. While scholars worry that deepfakes represent a new powerful form of disinformation (Dobber et al., 2020), which may enable malicious actors to poison the public debate and interfere with democratic elections (Vaccari & Chadwick, 2020), only two studies to date have explored the credibility and attitudinal impact of political deepfakes. To fill this gap in literature, the present study employed a self-produced deepfake of a politician which was created by a pre-trained deep learning model that utilized 2D expression swapping to modify the lip shape of the politician frame by frame.

Synthesizing literature on online disinformation, negativity bias, and negative campaigning, the study will uncover how are voters’ political attitudes affected by exposure to a deepfake featuring attack politics, which has become a prominent characteristic of contemporary US politics. Using an online experiment among US citizens, the credibility and attitudinal impact of a self-produced deepfake featuring an uncivil character attack sponsored by a Democrat targeting a Republican will be compared to real footage featuring a policy attack of the same sponsor and target. As initial evidence shows that effectiveness of negative campaigning “may be a matter of taste” (Nai & Maier, 2020), the present study uncovers the interaction between negativity and personality traits which may contribute to clarifying the so far inconsistent effects of negative campaigning. In sum, the present study will advance knowledge on the attitudinal impact of negative campaigning and disinformation by employing an AI-powered self-produced political deepfake.


Acquiring Political Knowledge through Meme Exposure on Facebook: An Eye-tracking Experiment

Julia Dalibor

Political knowledge is a central concept in understanding the mechanisms that promote political participation. Citizens with high levels of political knowledge engage in behavior that contributes to the well-functioning of democracies: They hold more stable opinions and are more likely to translate them into consistent voting behavior (Kleinberg & Lau, 2019). While prior research has investigated learning processes in the context of digital media platforms in general (e.g., Bode, 2016; Boukes, 2019), the effects of specific digital information types on political learning are still understudied.

One information type which might be particularly promising in capturing the audience’s attention, and thereby easing political learning processes, are memes. Memes are a unique mix of visual, textual, and humoristic elements, which are prevalent in most peoples’ newsfeeds. Not only are memes humoristic, they are also user-generated; two factors that in the past have been associated with high levels of generated attention among audiences (Boukes, 2019; Ye et al., 2011). But does the sum of these content characteristics indeed result in higher attention levels compared to other visual information types? And does this, in turn, lead to higher levels of political knowledge?

This study attempts to answer these questions by conducting an eye-tracking experiment. The technology provides an important advantage over self-assessed attention measures as it allows for an ecologically more valid measure of visual attention. In an attempt to widen our understanding of political learning processes, this study aims to investigate how new forms of political information presentation shape knowledge in the citizenry.


Viral Violence: How police brutality and protest violence can influence individual’s affective state, support for political outcomes, and social media behavior. 

Neil Fasching @neilfasching

People have a “negativity bias” when it comes to consuming news content, with individuals putting more weight and attention on negative information (Trussler & Soroka, 2014). Past research found negative news produced much stronger psychophysiological responses than positive news (Soroka & McAdams, 2015). Recently, a form of negative news is spreading not only across main-stream media, but also through social media and interpersonal contact: viral videos and images of police brutality and protest violence. 

This study will help understand the individual level explanations why news – and in particular violence – spreads through social media, as well as investigate whether police and protest violence evokes greater outrage than non-politically-charged violence. It will also probe if ideology is crowding out the effect of violence, as it seems likely that outrage is reduced when violence is against their out-group relative to their in-group. Finally, this project will probe the effect of this violence on the political outcomes, such support for the police, as well as social outcomes, such as willingness to share social media and desire to view similar content.

To investigate these outcomes, a large survey experiment will be run. Custom photos and vignettes will be created, with police brutality and protest violence depicted in the experimental conditions and non-political physical altercations or verbal altercations depicted in the control condition. The photos and vignettes will also manipulate group identity, indicating the violence is against a group they support (in-group condition) or against a group they do not support (out-group condition). 


Designing virtual reality experiences as a persuasive tool to promote pro-environmental behavior: The longitudinal effects of prompts added to VR experience

Hana Hegyiova

Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental crises that our society is facing. With rather ‘prolonged’ and statistical nature (Weber, 2006), its intangible consequences often tend to feel distant for people and not solvable by an individual him/herself (Ahn, Bailenson, & Park, 2014). Recently, the potential of using virtual reality (VR) to perceive distinct environmental problems has become widespread (Ahn, Bailenson, & Park, 2014) with attempts to provoke pro-environmental behavior (Bailey et al. 2015). However, most of the studies focused mainly on vivid visualizations (Markowitz, Laha, Perone, Pea, & Bailenson, 2018), embodiment (Bailey et al. 2015), or stimulating hard to experience situations (Chittaro & Zangrando, 2010), expecting attitudinal or behavioral change. 

Such experiences are undoubtedly memorable but could lack information on concrete pro-environmental actions to take. This study will look at VR technology’s persuasive potential by employing persuasive technology (PT) principles through the behavior model for persuasive design (Fogg, 2003; Fogg, 2009). The author will examine how being confronted with a prompt embedded in the VR experience itself could make such VR technology more effective compared to a scenario without a prompt. 

Moreover, most of the existing research is focused on the participant’s self-reported attitudes measured right after the experience. However, there is a possibility that these short-term measures reflect a sort of a ‘wow-effect’ that most people tend to experience after experiencing VR. At the same time, these initial effects may quickly wear off in time. Whether the change of attitudes or behavioral intentions has long-lasting effects will be examined by an experimental design focusing on longitudinal data with two measurements: firstly, after the experiences, and then, one month after the study.