WhatsApp

Academic Research

  • Working Paper

    WhatsApp Increases Exposure to False Rumors but has Limited Effects on Beliefs and Polarization: Evidence from a Multimedia-Constrained Deactivation.

    Working Paper, May 2023

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    For years WhatsApp has been the primary social media application in many countries of the Global South. Numerous journalistic and scholarly accounts suggest that the platform has become a fertile ground for spreading misinformation and partisan content, with some going so far as to assert that WhatsApp could seriously impact electoral outcomes, episodes of violence, and vaccine hesitancy around the world. However, no studies so far have been able to show causal links between WhatsApp usage and these alleged changes in citizens' attitudes and behaviors. To fill this gap, we conducted a field experiment that reduced users' WhatsApp activity during weeks ahead of the most recent Brazilian Presidential election. Our field experiment randomly assigns users to a multimedia deactivation, in which participants turn off their automatic download of any multimedia - image, video, or audio - on WhatsApp and are incentivized not to access any multimedia content during the weeks leading up to the election on October 2, 2022. We find that the deactivation significantly reduced subjects’ exposure to false rumors that circulated widely during the weeks before the election. However, consistent with the minimal-effects tradition, the direct consequences of reducing exposure to misinformation on WhatsApp in the weeks before the election are limited and do not lead to significant changes in belief accuracy and political polarization. Our study expands the growing literature on the causal effects of reducing social media usage on political attitudes by focusing on the role of exposure to misinformation in the Global South.

  • Working Paper

    Social Media, Information, and Politics: Insights on Latinos in the U.S.

    Working Paper, November 2022

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    Social media is used by millions of Americans to acquire political news and information. Most of this research has focused on understanding the way social media consumption affects the political behavior and preferences of White Americans. Much less is known about Latinos’ political activity on social media, who are not only the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the U.S., but they also continue to exhibit diverse political preferences. Moreover, about 30% of Latinos rely primarily on Spanish-language news sources (Spanish-dominant Latinos) and another 30% are bilingual. Given that Spanish-language social media is not as heavily monitored for misinformation than its English-language counterparts (Valencia, 2021; Paul, 2021), Spanish-dominant Latinos who rely on social media for news may be more susceptible to political misinformation than those Latinos who are exposed to English-language social media. We address this contention by fielding an original study that sampled a large number of Latino and White respondents. Consistent with our expectations, Latinos who rely on Spanish-language social media are more likely to believe in election fraud than those who use both English and Spanish social media new sources. We also find that Latinos engage in more political activities on social media when compared to White Americans, particularly on their social media of choice, WhatsApp.

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