Our Craig Newmark Philanthropies Graduate Students

In 2020, NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics received $400,000 from Craig Newmark Philanthropies — an organization that supports organizations focused on journalism, voter protection, women in technology, veterans, and military families — to support our PhD students.

As an academic research institute dedicated to studying how social media impacts politics, policy, and democracy, a key aspect of CSMaP’s success is our talented and cross-disciplinary group of graduate students. The Center’s co-directors (Richard Bonneau, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua Tucker) train our PhD students on the data science methods and techniques necessary to analyze vast quantities of digital trace data at scale, developing a new generation of scholars who are able to use data to measure the impact of social media on politics and human behavior.

In the midst of the pandemic, this generous donation helped our students continue their research projects examining some of the biggest questions at the intersection of social media and democracy.

One year later, we wanted to provide an update on the fantastic work our Craig Newmark Philanthropies grad students have accomplished. 

Nejla Ašimović is a PhD candidate in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at NYU. Her research focuses on exploring the role digital technologies and social media play in negotiating identities and shaping group dynamics. In June 2021, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published Ašimović’s study examining how social media influences ethnic polarization in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many believe social media alienates us from people who are different and increases societal polarization. But this is not what Ašimović found in her study: In fact, those who deactivated their Facebook profiles reported more negative attitudes toward other ethnic groups — but these effects were largely concentrated among people living in more ethnically homogeneous areas. Ašimović is also working on a similar research project focused on Cyprus.

Zhouhan Chen is a PhD student at NYU’s Center for Data Science. His research interests lie at the intersection of machine learning, social network analysis, and cybersecurity. For the past year, he has contributed to several CSMaP projects by creating Information Tracer, a new tool to discover, understand, and visualize the spread of misinformation online. The system is a fully automated data collection and data processing pipeline to track popular fake news articles in real-time across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit, and visualize how this information propagates on social networks.

Will Godel is a PhD candidate in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at NYU. His research focuses on applying machine learning methods to questions in social science. He is currently working on two research projects focusing on misinformation and fake news. The first proposes a new approach to measuring belief in fake news, and finds that previous methods underestimated the level of belief in fake news and the role ideology plays in believing fake news. The second assesses just how challenging it is to use crowds of ordinary people — even when augmented by sophisticated machine learning models — to identify false and misleading news in real time.

Angela Lai is a PhD student in the Center for Data Science at NYU. Her research interests include network analysis, the intersection of social media and political and social behavior, and natural language processing. In the past year, Lai has helped spearhead a project to determine whether YouTube recommendations tend toward polarized content. She has also worked on a large-scale project to identify, track, and understand the role of domestic and foreign bots on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election. 

Rajeshwari Majumdar is a PhD student in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at NYU. She studies political behavior in developing countries, focusing on group identity and misperceptions about politics. Majumdar is currently using WhatsApp to conduct an experiment studying how conversations can reduce intergroup prejudice. In particular, among members of ethnic groups that have a history of ethnic conflict, are conversations about non-political issues more likely to improve outgroup perceptions compared to conversations about political issues? And when discussing political issues, are conversations that directly address the conflict more or less effective than conversations about more general issues? Data collection for the experiment is ongoing.

Jan Zilinsky is a PhD student in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at NYU. His research focuses on media consumption, learning, and political behavior. Using large-scale survey data from the 2016 election, Zilinsky is currently working on research projects examining whether exposure to media sources correlates with awareness of policy proposals — and analyzing to what extent the media contributed to voters changing their minds during the election. The latter study found voters who saw more right-wing tweets revised their views on policy in a conservative direction.

Philanthropy is vital to our work: Gifts and grants fund everything we do, from undertaking ambitious research projects to building a talented team of researchers. We are extremely grateful to Craig Newmark Philanthropies and many others for the support they provide. If you are interested in learning more about or supporting our work, please reach out to our Executive Director, Zeve Sanderson (zeve.sanderson@nyu.edu).