WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation

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 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.

Program Format

Our preference is for proposals based on independent research, in which the applicant develops conceptual tools, gathers and analyzes data, and/or investigates relevant issues. Each awardee will retain all intellectual property rights to their data and analyses. WhatsApp staff may provide guidance, but investigators are responsible for carrying out the scope of work.

The program will make unrestricted awards of up to $50,000 per research proposal. All applications will be reviewed by WhatsApp research staff, with consultation from external experts. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university or organization as an unrestricted gift.

In addition to the award monies, WhatsApp invites award recipients to attend two workshops:

  1. The first workshop will provide awardees with a detailed introduction to how the WhatsApp product works as well as context on the focus area of misinformation. It will also enable participants to receive feedback from WhatsApp research staff and invited guests on their research proposals. We hope this will facilitate international collaborations across researchers and teams in this area. The tentative date for this event is October 29-30, in Menlo Park, CA.
  2. A second workshop will allow awardees to present their initial research findings to WhatsApp and other awardees, providing an opportunity to contextualize their findings with each other. Our hope is that upon completion of the research, award recipients will seek to share their research with the wider public. Tentative date is April 2019, exact date will be updated on this page at a later time.

WhatsApp will arrange and pay for the travel and accommodation of one representative from each awardee. This will be in addition to the research award amount.

Data

  • No WhatsApp data will be provided to award recipients;
  • All data from award research efforts will be owned by the researcher, and need not be shared with WhatsApp.

Applications, Eligibility & Participant Expectations

  • Applications must be written in English and include the following:
    • A research title, identification of the Principle Investigator (PI) and their institutional affiliation for the purposes of the proposed research;
    • A brief program statement (double-spaced, 12 point font, not to exceed 5 pages) that specifies the proposed work. This statement should include the following elements:
      • specification of question(s) being asked;
      • clear statement of the methodology together with examples of when/where this approach has given research insights;
      • plan for any data collection, analysis, and/or conceptual work;
      • description of the expected research outputs and findings;
      • relevance for our understanding of user experiences in online environments.
    • A 1-page bio and CV for the PI together with selected publication references. Summary bios of any other team members or collaborators.
    • A clear statement of the budget requested.
  • Preference will be given to research conducted in countries where WhatsApp is a prominent medium of communication (India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.).
  • Preference will be given to proposals from researchers, or collaborations with researchers, based in the country/countries being researched.
  • WhatsApp will accept applications from researchers who hold a PhD. In exceptional cases, we will review applications from individuals without PhD's who have shown a high-level of achievement in social science or technological research.
  • The award is restricted to social science and technological research that contributes to generalized scientific knowledge and its application. Documentaries, journalism, and oral history projects are not eligible.
  • Awards will be made to an awardee's university department, research institute or organization; all applicants must therefore be affiliated with an organization that supports research and can process external funding awards. All awards will be made in US dollars.
  • Proposals may be submitted by individuals with no prior experience in social media or Internet research. We welcome proposals from researchers who seek to expand their research portfolio into the area of information and communication technologies.
  • All award recipients are strongly encouraged to attend the two WhatsApp workshops associated with this program. Travel and accommodation will be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.
  • The proposed research should be carried out by the date of the second workshop, in April 2019. Presentation materials that comprise the final report should be written in English and made available for WhatsApp and the other award recipients by the date of the final workshop. All rights to these materials will be held by the award recipient.
  • Once awardees have accepted their awards, WhatsApp will publicly share the details of the selected applicants by posting a summary of the results together with the PI's name and the title of the proposal on the Facebook Research blog. This information may also be included in other presentations or posts relating to this effort.

By applying to this award, you are agreeing to the following:

  • You are affiliated with an institution that supports research and can process external funding awards.
  • If chosen, your institution will receive the award as a gift in US dollars and in the amount decided solely by WhatsApp.
  • You acknowledge that you have been invited to two, in-person, WhatsApp workshops (tentatively in October 2018 and April 2019).
  • You acknowledge that WhatsApp will publicly disclose your name and the proposal title as an award recipient.
  • You plan to attend and present the research findings at the second, WhatsApp workshop, likely to be held in Menlo Park, CA, USA in late April, 2019. The workshops and presentations will be conducted in English. Interpretation will be provided if needed. Note: airfare, hotel and transportation to be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.

Timing and Dates

Applications are due by August 12, 2018, 11:59pm PST. Award recipients will be notified of the status of their application by email by September 14, 2018.

Questions

For all questions regarding these awards, please contact us.

Candidature