About the Project

Social media have the potential to support public deliberation processes by enabling people to become active citizens, thus overcoming their role as passive spectators of a public sphere shaped primarily by unidirectional mass media.

While there is no question that online social networks (OSNs) such as Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit have become important spaces for political communication, they have not fulfilled all the hopes invested in them. On the contrary, OSNs have been accused of contributing to the present crisis in Western democracies by facilitating the emergence of echo chambers, enabling an increase in hate speech, amplifying conflicts among users, and facilitating orchestrated disinformation campaigns – thanks to so-called social bots or troll farms – that manipulate public opinion.

Our interdisciplinary approach builds on sociological theory, semantic computing, empirical analysis and psychological experiments, as well as a dialogue with civil society stakeholders. To facilitate collaboration, we focus on three levels of analysis and central concerns:

Actor level

Social bots and their strategies to manipulate online communication

Interaction Level

Conflictual discussions and the use of arguments in heated debates

Structural level

Echo chambers and how social bots sustain them.

To advance our collective understanding of social media actors, interactional dynamics, and network structures, the 3B project will develop new interdisciplinary methods that utilize expertise from all involved disciplines. Based on a deeper theoretical and empirical understanding of our central concerns, the 3B project will then develop technical systems with the aim of supporting political deliberation and opinion formation online:

  1. To counter manipulations through social bots, we will improve existing methods to detect them and develop our own benevolent bots that support the detection of malicious bots.
  2. To support political discussions, we will develop monitoring tools in collaboration with civil society stakeholders that measure quality and assist in the introduction of alternative arguments.
  3. To disrupt echo chambers, we will develop bots that connect users within echo chambers to other online communities in order to increase diversity in political discussions.