Doctoral Researcher 13 (CONVERGENCE of HUMANS and MACHINES): The Influence of Algorithms or Bots on Political Communication in Social Media / Väitöskirjatutkija: Algoritmien tai bottien vaikutus poliittiseen viestintää sosiaalisessa mediassa

Tampere University of Technology
February 15, 2023
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Tampere University and Tampere University of Applied Sciences create a unique environment for multidisciplinary, inspirational and high-impact research and education. Our universities community has its competitive edges in technology, health and society. www. tuni.fi/en

CONVERGENCE of HUMANS and MACHINES project at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences is looking for a Doctoral Researcher to work on the topic of work on the topic of the influence of algorithms or bots on political communication in social media.

Convergence is the trailblazing doctoral field, aiming at bringing together expertise of natural sciences & engineering (ENG) and social sciences & humanities (SSH) in multidisciplinary union. As many as 16 doctoral research projects are related to the following developments: affective computing, gamification, augmented reality, cybernetics, ubiquitous connectivity, dispersed computing, AI & machine learning, and robotics & machine perception. Each student will be supervised by two leading senior faculty members (and, sometimes, a PostDoc or company/organization representative). The main supervisor and the co-supervisor are from different research fields: ENG and SSH. Check the end of the position description for the supervisory team details.

Join Convergence … And make a change!

Convergence has 16 funded doctoral positions. The applicant may only apply for up to 3 positions within Convergence. If you are unsure if this (#13) is the correct one – please, check the website with the list of Convergence positions. Make your selection first and only apply the ones that are suitable for your background.

Project background

Convergence is a new research field that brings together academics from Social Sciences & Humanities and Technology & Engineering to train the next generation of Doctoral Expertise and address future challenges and opportunities of multidisciplinary Convergence of Humans and Machines. Convergence is funded by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

Convergence is based on the premise that, on the one hand, people are increasingly integrated with technology and our culture and practices are increasingly dictated by information technology. On the other hand, machines are becoming more alive, creative, and dynamic. In other words, human and machine are converging. The project has emerged from the need to redefine and renegotiate the roles of human and machine in society and from the need of cross-disciplinary collaboration understand this rising area.

Job description

We are looking for a Doctoral Researcher in the area of social media, political communication, communication, politics, internet skills, algorithms, bots, software robots, or intelligent technologies. To pursue the research towards “The influence of algorithms or bots on political communication in social media” field.

Successful candidates will pursue a doctoral degree at Tampere University. Full-time doctoral studies are expected to be completed in four years.

An applicant may only apply for maximum 3 Convergence positions from this list. This position number is 13.

Short description:

It was originally assumed that social media would create a new kind of pro- democracy platform for communication between citizens and political actors. However, many have been disappointed with the possibilities offered by social media as, far from facilitating the deliberative, pro-democracy discussion anticipated, the platforms seem to foster negative forms of communication and interaction. The negative features of discussion are often regarded as being due to the impact of the technology itself: platform design, social media algorithms, and automated bots (software robots). These intelligent technologies work together by collecting information about users' Internet behaviour and using it to decide how to react to their tendencies.

Research on political communication on social media has explored the impact of platforms, bots, and algorithms on public communication and politics. Platforms have been found to affect citizens', political actors', and journalists' communication on social media by, for example, supporting offensive communication styles and conflicts as well as feeding polarisation. Previous research shows that bots might be effective in influencing public opinion at scale, for example before elections. Moreover, politicians have been found to be aware of how algorithms work and adapt their communication to them. Similarly, social media editors have been found to modify their news according to social media algorithms. At the same time, studies show that these groups lack a deep understanding of how social media technologies work.

On the other hand, not only do algorithms influence people, but people influence algorithms. It has been found that a proportion of users, so-called algorithmic activists, tend to challenge social media algorithms and thus even change their functions. These activists have both good Internet skills and political efficacy. However, it is unclear what a citizen needs to know about the algorithms in social media to be able to participate effectively in political communication, resist their effects, or even succeed in changing them.

It has been noticed, for example, that the number of bots increases in social media before elections. Election time is also an opportune moment for information-influence operations. In future elections, the role of social media communication is expected to be greater than ever before. In addition, wholly new attempts will be made to influence public debate by technological means. Studies seeking to understand the effects of such technology-induced influence typically rely on the perspectives of either human sciences or engineering sciences only; however, a wider understanding of the phenomenon would clearly benefit from a multidisciplinary viewpoint that combines both technical and political communication research perspectives.

Tentative Research problems/questions:

  • What kind of bots and algorithms seem to guide debate in the run-up to an election?
  • How do bots and algorithms seem to guide political communication in social media?
  • How can users challenge and influence how algorithms and bots work in social media?
  • What should citizens understand about social media algorithms?
  • Which are technical characteristics of these bots and algorithms?
  • Requirements

    The applicant needs to have a Master's degree in communication or political sciences or information technology or a related field and have demonstrated (during your studies towards the Master's degree or otherwise) the competence and motivation to pursue postgraduate studies. Please be prepared to provide proof of your merits when requested.

    Successful candidates must be pursuing or will be accepted to study towards a doctoral degree in the Doctoral Programme of Humans and Technologies (DPHAT). Please visit the admissions webpage https: // www. tuni.fi/en/study- with-us/programmes/doctoral-programmes for more information on eligibility requirements. Please, pay special attention to the language requirements.

    The research topics require either:

  • Excellent programming skills or comprehension of intelligent technologies and demonstrated interest in social media or political communication OR
  • Excellent knowledge of communication, social media, or politics and demonstrated interest in programming or intelligent technologies.
  • Candidates are selected based on the level of promise that they show, and this will be evaluated on the basis of their study and research interest description, their previous success in studies, and merits in writing the doctoral thesis and / or scientific publishing, as well as their background match to the research topic.

    Tampere University is a unique, multidisciplinary and boldly forward-looking, evolving community. Our values are openness, diversity, responsibility, courage, critical thinking, erudition building, and learner-centeredness. We hope that you can embrace these values and promote them in your work.

    We offer

    An applicant may only apply for maximum 3 Convergence positions from this list. This position number is 13.

    The position will be filled for a fixed-term period of maximum four (4) years. The starting date is 1 September 2023 or as mutually agreed. A trial period of six (6) months applies to all our new employees.

    The salary will be based on both the job requirements and the employee's personal performance in accordance with the salary system of Finnish universities. According to the criteria applied to teaching and research staff, the position of a Doctoral Researcher is placed on level 2—4 of the job requirements scale. A typical baseline starting salary for Doctoral Researchers is approximately 2,500 EUR/month.

    We are inviting you to be a part of a vibrant, active and truly international research community. We value interdisciplinarity, as it allows you to expand your research network and exposes you to new perspectives and ideas to solve complex research problems and pursue novel research findings. We are strongly committed to the highest level of scientific research and the provision of high-quality doctoral education.

    As a member of staff at Tampere University, you will enjoy a range of competitive benefits, such as occupational health care services, flexible work schedule, versatile research infrastructure, modern teaching facilities and a safe and inviting campus area as well as a personal fund to spend on sports and cultural activities in your free time. Please read more about working at Tampere University. You can also find more information about us and working and living Tampere by watching our video: Tampere Higher Education Community - our academic playground.

    Finland is among the most stable, free and safe countries in the world, based on prominent ratings by various agencies. Tampere is the largest inland city of Finland, and the city is counted among the major academic hubs in the Nordic countries. Tampere region is the most rapidly growing urban area in Finland and home to a vibrant knowledge-intensive entrepreneurial community. The city is an industrial powerhouse that enjoys a rich cultural scene and a reputation as a centre of Finland's information society. Tampere is also surrounded by vivid nature with forests and lakes, providing countless opportunities for easy-to-access outdoor adventures and refreshment throughout the year.

    Read more about Finland and Tampere:

  • Visit Finland
  • This is Finland
  • Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment: Welcome to Finland
  • Visit Tampere
  • How to apply

    To address these rising challenges, Convergence is looking for 16 funded doctoral researchers. Note, the applicant may only apply for 3 positions within Convergence.

    Please submit your application through our online recruitment system. The closing date for applications is 15 February 2023 (23:59 EET /UTC +2). Please write your application and all the accompanying documentation in English and attach them in PDF format.

    Please attach only the following documents (in PDF format) to your application:

  • A letter of motivation and description of your research interests (max. 2 page(s)). Named “SurnameMotivationLetter.pdf”
  • The selected applicant will have to apply and be admitted to the doctoral programme prior to the start of the work. The student needs to write a more detailed research plan at that stage.
  • Curriculum vitae according to the TENK template . Named “SurnameCV.pdf”
  • Pdf copy of your MSc and BSc degree certificates, including transcripts of all university records and their English translations (Finnish and Swedish certificates are also accepted).
  • If you do not have the certificates yet, please, include the letter from your university that provides the expected graduation date as well as your current transcript of records. Named “SurnameDegrees.pdf”
  • Certificate of language proficiency “Named “SurnameLang.pdf”
  • The minimum English language test result requirements : Test name: minimum test result (The previous CAE and CPE have been renamed as C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency): TOEFL iBT / TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition: 92 overall, with no section below 20; IELTS (academic) / IELTS Indicator: 6.5 overall, with no section below 5.5; PTE (academic): 62 overall, with no section below 54; C1 Advanced: C; C2 Proficiency: C1; Finnish National Certificate of Language Proficiency (English): Proficiency level 5
  • Exemptions to the language requirements : It is possible to be exempted from submitting a language test score if you have completed a higher education degree in English in certain countries . If you apply without a valid language test result, carefully examine the exemptions that your studies fulfil the requirements.
  • Either 2 Recommendation letters preferably OR the contact details of two referees if the first option is not possible, and with explained reasoning, e.g., your M.Sc. supervisors / employers. Named “SurnameRecommendations.pdf”
  • For further information, please contact the supervisors:

    Professor Pekka Isotalus , [email protected]

    Professor Tapio Elomaa , [email protected]

    External co-supervisor Adjunct Professor Salla-Maaria Laaksonen , [email protected]

    For general question about Convergence , contact: Coordinator, Dr. Aleksandr Ometov , [email protected]

    For questions about the doctoral studies enrollment, check DPHAT doctoral programme contacts.

    Summary in Finnish

    Tampereen yliopisto ja Tampereen ammattikorkeakoulu muodostavat yhdessä Suomen toiseksi suurimman monitieteisen, innostavan ja vaikuttavan tutkimus- ja oppimisyhteisön. Korkeakouluyhteisömme osaamiskärjet ovat tekniikka, terveys ja yhteiskunta. Lue lisää: www. tuni.fi

    ITC on käynnistänyt uuden monitieteisen tutkimussuunnan Ihmiset ja teknologiat -tohtoriohjelmaan (DPHAT) sijoittuvan CONVERGENCE – Ihmisen ja koneen konvergenssi -tutkimusalan puitteissa.

    Maailma on täyttymässä erilaisista koneista, autonomisista ajoneuvoista, reaaliaikaisista käännöstyökaluista, puettavasta teknologiasta ja muista laitteista, joissa ihmisen ja koneen välinen raja on katoamassa. Ihmisen ja koneen konvergenssi -ohjelman päätavoitteena onkin tutkia tulevaisuutta, jossa tietoa, asiantuntemusta ja taitoja voidaan siirtää reaaliajassa ja jossa tekoälyyn perustuvat toimijat ymmärtävät ja aistivat ihmistä reagoiden tähän ennakoiden ja eettisesti. Kehitys näyttää johtavan modernin ihmisen ja koneiden yhteistoimintaan ja rinnakkaiseloon eli konvergenssiin, joka tuo mukanaan täysin uusia tutkimusongelmia.

    Näiden haasteiden ratkaisemiseksi ITC-tiedekunta rekrytoi 16 palkkapaikallista väitöskirjatutkijaa. Jokaista opiskelijaa ohjaa pääohjaaja ja sivuohjaaja, jotka ovat eri aloilta (toinen yhteiskunta- ja humanistisista tieteistä ja toinen tekniikan alalta).

    Luodaan uutta eri alueet yhdistävää osaamista yhdessä!

    Tehtävänkuvaus

    Väitöskirjatutkija (Algoritmien tai bottien vaikutus poliittiseen viestintää sosiaalisessa mediassa)

    Alun perin sosiaalisesta mediasta odotettiin alustaa, jossa keskustelu olisi demokratiaa edistävää. Moni on kuitenkin tältä osin pettynyt sosiaalisessa mediassa käytävään keskusteluun, sillä se sisältää paljon myös kielteisiä piirteitä. Usein kielteisten piirteiden katsotaan johtuvan teknologian piirteistä, kuten algoritmeista tai boteista.

    Aikaisemmassa tutkimuksessa on todettu alustojen, algoritmien ja bottien vaikuttavan sosiaalisessa mediassa käytävään julkiseen keskusteluun. Niiden on havaittu vaikuttavan esimerkiksi kansalaisten, poliitikkojen ja toimittajien viestintään sekä vahvistan monia vuorovaikutuksen kielteisiä piirteitä sosiaalisessa mediassa, kuten hyökkäävä tyyliä, konflikteja tai polarisaatiota. Bottien viestinnän on havaittu vaikuttavan myös yleiseen mielipiteiseen asioista esimerkiksi vaalikampanjoiden yhteydessä. Myös poliitikkojen ja toimittajien on todettu ottavan huomioon sosiaalisen median viestinnässään algoritmit. Samalla tutkimukset osoittavat, ettei sosiaalisen median käyttäjillä ole syvällistä ymmärrystä algoritmien ja bottien toiminnasta.

    Algoritmit vaikuttavat sosiaalisen median käyttäjiin, mutta myös käyttäjien toiminta vaikuttaa algoritmeihin. On havaittu, että osa käyttäjistä ns. algoritmiaktivistit pyrkivät haastamaan sosiaalisen median algoritmeja ja jopa muuttamaan niiden toimintaa. Ei kuitenkaan toistaiseksi tiedetä tarpeeksi, mitä kansalaisten pitäisi ymmärtää sosiaalisen median algoritmeista kyetäkseen osallistumaan vaikuttavasti poliittiseen viestintään sosiaalisessa mediassa, vastustamaan algoritmien ja bottien vaikutuksia tai jopa muuttamaan niitä.

    Tutkimuksissa on havaittu, että etenkin vaalien edellä bottien määrä ja niihin kytkeytyvä informaatiovaikuttaminen lisääntyvät. Tulevissa vaaleissa sosiaalisessa mediassa viestintään enemmän kuin aikaisempien vaalien yhteydessä, ja todennäköisesti siellä on myös uudenlaisia algoritmeihin tai botteihin perustuvia vaikuttamisyrityksiä. Aikaisemmissa tutkimuksissa on yleensä tarkasteltu tätä ilmiötä joko ihmistieteiden tai insinööritieteiden näkökulmasta, mutta laajemman näkökulman saamiseksi olisi tarpeellista yhdistää sekä poliittisen viestinnän että tietotekniikan näkökulmat.

    Mahdollisia tutkimusongelmia tästä teemasta olisivat esimerkiksi: Minkälaiset botit ja algoritmit ohjaavat julkista keskustelu vaalien alla sosiaalisessa mediassa? Kuinka botit ja algoritmit ohjaavat poliittista viestintää sosiaalisessa mediassa? Kuinka käyttäjät voivat haastaa ja vaikuttaa algoritmeihin ja botteihin sosiaalisessa mediassa? Mitä kansalaisten pitäisi tietää algoritmeista sosiaalisessa mediassa? Millaisia teknisiä piirteitä kyseisillä boteilla ja algoritmeilla on?

    Hakuohjeet ja lisätiedot

    Jätäthän hakemuksesi yliopiston sähköisellä hakulomakkeella (linkki löytyy tämän ilmoituksen alta). Katso tarkemmat ohjeet ja yhteystiedot englanninkielisestä ilmoitukselta.

    Hakuaika tehtävään päättyy 15.2.2023 klo 23.59.

    Application period starts: 2022-12-30 13:00Application period ends: 2023-02-15 23:59

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