Renata Dividino and her colleagues are concerned about how social media algorithmic bias is shaping young people’s engagements with political and social issues.
In less than a generation, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others have evolved to become “platforms of fake news, disinformation and propaganda that empower disruptive, divisive voices and conspiracies,” says the Brock University Assistant Professor of Computer Science.
Supported by the federal government’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF), announced April 25 by Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne and Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos, Dividino and her research team aim to help young Canadians develop ‘digital citizenship’ skills on social media.
In the long run, the team — consisting of Assistant Professor of Child and Youth Studies Heather Ramey, Associate Professor of Digital Media Aaron Mauro and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Ali Emami — hopes to transform social media into a “safe, inclusive and positive space where youth can develop and exercise participatory citizenship with confidence,” says Dividino.
Also receiving support through the NFRF are Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Valerie Michaelson and Associate Professor of Nursing Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy, who note that COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have deepened inequalities in access to health care locally and worldwide.
Through their research, their team strives to reduce discrimination in health-care systems by motivating health-care workers to examine how biases and assumptions shape discriminatory decisions and actions.
Their transdisciplinary group includes Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Sherri Vansickle, Associate Professor of Sociology Margot Francis and Professor Emeritus of Dramatic Arts Joe Norris, all from Brock University, as well as Kevin Hobbs with Mirror Theatre, Nisha Sajnani with New York University and Mona Sawhney at Queen’s University.
“These prestigious NFRF awards recognize the profound insights our researchers are contributing on how we can create a more just and inclusive world,” says Brock Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon. “By addressing deep divisions that polarize people, Drs. Michaelson, O’Keefe-McCarthy and Dividino are opening the space for all to engage with, and reap the benefits of, a democratic society.”
With their $249,044 Exploration grant, titled “Next Gen Edtech: A Systematic Analysis and Modelling of the Latent Effects of Social Media on Youth Digital Citizenship,” Dividino, Ramey, Mauro, Emami and their team will study how young people navigate social media and ways to open up the space through:
- Interviews about their social media habits and how they use social media to engage in societal issues and movements.
- Exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) can break ‘echo chambers,’ which is the use of algorithms to direct users to material they and like-minded people are interested in.
- Examining measures that identify toxic linguistic cues in social media posts.
- Determining the most common characteristics that make youth vulnerable to behaviour manipulation techniques, such as ‘likes’ and real-time notifications.
“Our vision is to change the way youth interact, play and learn in AI-based, multi-collaborative online environments as they grow up to be responsible social citizens,” says Dividino.
With their $492,920 Special Calls grant, “Using participatory theatre to eliminate discrimination in health service delivery,” Michaelson, O’Keefe-McCarthy and their team will develop an intervention that is based on applied theatre methods. Their goal is to use it to illuminate and disrupt discriminatory attitudes and actions among health-care workers in clinical settings.
They will do so by:
- Interviewing people who have experienced discrimination in health-care delivery in the Niagara regions of Canada and the U.S.
- Developing theatrical vignettes based on the experiences gathered during interviews.
- Using the vignettes to develop a theatre-based intervention that is intended to help health-care providers become more aware of their own biases.
- Developing a parallel intervention to address health system discrimination of Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s Niagara region.
“Participatory theatre is a form of drama that invites audience members to interact with the performers and each other and is often used to engage audience members to create social change,” says O’Keefe-McCarthy.
The NFRF Exploration grant supports high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research that explores something new that might fail, but that has the potential for significant impact.
The NFRF Special Calls grant supports research that targets emerging areas and aligns with the fund’s overall objectives, which, in 2022, was research for post-pandemic recovery.