The Digital Communication Methods Lab, an initiative of the RPA Communication, renewed its support to a series of innovative research projects focused on substantive and methodological development for communication science research in partnership with Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) members.

After four successful rounds in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, eight projects have been selected to receive funding for 2022 and complement ongoing activities at the lab.


Automated content analysis

The robot or the brain? Building a classifier for visual news frames of Artificial Intelligence

by dr. Irina Lock
Anecdotal evidence shows that news articles visualize AI repeatedly as stylized humanoid robots or brains, speaking to technology’s anthropomorphization. While AI frames have been studied in news texts, content analyses of AI images are lacking. The way news media visually frame AI purports multiple sociotechnical imaginaries of how the reader is supposed to envision the future. However, we miss systematic knowledge about how news media visually frames AI. This project uses images from open source and commercial editorial image databases to build a classifier that categorizes pre-defined frames in images of AI to be applied to analyses of news or social media.


The Comment Relevance Detector

by dr. Marthe Möller and dr. Susanne Baumgartner
The past years have seen a rise in studies investigating how user comments influence the experiences of social media users. The various studies that have been conducted on this topic so far all seem to be based on the same assumption, namely that comments are relevant in the sense that they actually discuss the main content that they accompany (e.g., a YouTube video, Instagram image). The present project aims to test this assumption by creating a tool that can detect the relevance of comments (i.e., whether or not a comment discusses the main content that it accompanies). Using comments written in response to music videos posted on YouTube, we will train a machine that can automatically classify comments. Scholars can then use this machine to verify the assumption that the comments that they study are relevant (and hence, can influence how viewers experience social media content).


Validity of computational attitude and attitude strength measures for social media data

by dr. Joanna Strycharz and Joseph Yun, Ph.D. (University of Pittsburgh)
Studying attitudes has been crucial in communication and advertising theory development; measurement of attitudes has had a substantial impact on several contexts, including research on advertising effectiveness and consumer reactanceIn recent research, it has been acknowledged that while attitudes are important for beliefs and behavior, strong attitudes have a greater impact on individual’s intentions and behaviors. Thus, both attitude and attitude strength take an important role in communication and advertising research. In the proposed study, we aim to investigate how attitude and attitude strength measurements can be improved in the context of digital communication.


Media Exposure

The influence of parasocial relationships with social media influencers on young women’s body perception, well-being, and health-related behavior. An experience sampling study

by dr. Priska Breves, dr. Sophie Boerman and dr. Nicole Liebers (University of Würzburg)
Social media influencers who post body-focused content have often been criticized for their negative impact on young women (e.g., regarding eating disorders). However, empirical research is lacking, especially concerning the long-term effects. By following and engaging with the same influencer over several weeks, followers are likely to form strong one-sided illusionary relationships. These parasocial relationships have been connected to an intensification of social comparison processes. Thus, the influencer’s impact on participants’ body perception, well-being, and health-related behavior should also be enhanced after several weeks. In our study, we want to use the Experience Sampling Method and confront participants with daily posts from the same influencer while experimentally analyzing the impact of the influencer’s thematic focus and body type.


Stimulus validity in political communication research

by dr. Bernhard Clemm
Experimental or survey research designs in political communication often require the use of information stimuli, which are supposed to represent some aspect of real-world information environments. However, researchers rarely define the target population of information, and do not explain how they achieve a valid representation of this population. This, in essence, is the problem of stimulus validity. In this project, I define stimulus validity formally in the language of estimands, estimates and inference, in close parallel to external validity. I then re-analyse and replicate several studies to illustrate what can happen if we do not pay attention to stimulus validity.


Googling Politics? Motivations of search engine use for news and political information using an mESM approach

by dr. Damian Trilling, Marieke van Hoof, dr. Judith Möller and dr. Corine Meppelink
Search engines are crucial avenues to political information and news, but we know little about what motivates which individuals to turn to search engines. As opposed to other modes of political information consumption, online search is likely driven by information exposure elsewhere (e.g., social media, TV) which can be motivated by factors such as informational utility, perceived credibility, or attitude consistency. By using the mobile Experience Sampling Method, we can obtain a more detailed and accurate account of behaviour occurring multiple times per day. We use a smartphone app to gather in-the-moment self-reports on search engine use and its motivations as well as the search queries used and search results.


Short But Still Valid: Validating One-Item Measures for Key Communication Constructs for Experience Sampling Research

by Lara Wolfers and dr. Susanne Baumgartner
With the deeper integration of digital media into everyday life, the popularity of Experience Sampling Methods (ESMs) in communication science has surged. For ESMs, it is essential to keep the length of daily questionnaires as short as possible. Thus, constructs are often assessed with one item. However, even for key communication constructs, no validated one-item measures are available. The aim of this project is to validate one-item measures for key communication constructs for use in ESM. We will identify central communication science construct, select suitable items for these constructs, and validate these items in an ESM study.


Data Donation

Climate Skepticism, Populism & Digital Alternative Media Use

by dr. Christel van Eck and dr. Mark Boukes
Little is still known about the nature and causes of the association between climate skepticism and populism. Hence, this research will investigate whether climate skepticism is associated with populist attitudes, and whether this relationship is mediated by individuals’ use of digital alternative media. Earlier research measuring alternative media use, often relied on self-reported survey data that is prone to several biases. Therefore, we will use the “Seed Funding for Data Donation” to collect respondents’ existing digital trace data and measure their actual alternative media use. As such, the research and seed funding will contribute both to academic theory on climate skepticism and populist attitudes. Moreover, we make important steps in methodological approaches to collect data on alternative media use.