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WhatsApp, Misinformation and Elections in India and Afghanistan

Fri, August 30, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Hilton, Jay

Abstract

Research on the political effects of information and misinformation is fast-growing but is still largely confined to industrialised Western nations. Yet communications technologies like WhatsApp have spread very quickly through regions with younger democracies and more conflictual politics. In this paper, using data collected in the run-up to the Indian and Afghan elections of spring and summer 2019 respectively, we report on a data collection funded by Facebook and designed to test the spread and impact of information through WhatsApp. In each country, an initial sample of 2,000 adults will complete a pre-experimental survey and be asked to supply their WhatsApp number. Those who consent will form the experimental sample and be provided with election-relevant treatment information. The follow-up survey will test the spread and durable impact of that information. Our specific focus, relevant in both contexts, is on the roles of respondent and candidate ethnicity in moderating the acceptance of the treatment information. This innovative data collection can thus provide insights into both the role of information technology in these two important elections and the nature of opinion formation in such ethnically conflictual political contexts.

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