Academic Research

  • Working Paper

    Reducing Prejudice and Support for Religious Nationalism Through Conversations on WhatsApp

    Working Paper, September 2023

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    Can a series of online conversations with a marginalized outgroup member improve majority group members’ attitudes about that outgroup? While the intergroup contact literature provides (mixed) insights about the effects of extended interactions between groups, less is known about how relatively short and casual interactions may play out in highly polarized settings. In an experiment in India, I bring together Hindus and Muslims for five days of conversations on WhatsApp, a popular messaging platform, to investigate the extent to which chatting with a Muslim about randomly assigned discussion prompts affects Hindus’ perceptions of Muslims and approval for mainstream religious nationalist statements. I find that intergroup conversations greatly reduce prejudice against Muslims and approval for religious nationalist statements at least two to three weeks post-conversation. Intergroup conversations about non-political issues are especially effective at reducing prejudice, while conversations about politics substantially decrease support for religious nationalism. I further show how political conversations and non-political conversations affect attitudes through distinct mechanisms.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Sep 09, 2023


  • 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.

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