Vacancy: Postdoc position for project Cyber Troops in Southeast Asia

This research project studies comparatively how social media-based public opinion manipulation is organized in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. Computational propaganda is the coordinated and semi-automated dissemination of political disinformation by networks of hired social media influencers (‘cyber troops’). It constitutes a considerable threat for the quality of public debate and, consequently, democracy around the world. This threat is particularly pronounced in Southeast Asia. In this area, high social media penetration and low newspaper readership provide perfect conditions for ‘buzzers’ (Indonesia), ‘keyboard warriors’ (Philippines), or ‘trolls’ (Thailand) to manipulate public opinion by spreading political disinformation.

Addressing this urgent topic, this project will set up a unique interdisciplinary collaboration involving three KNAW institutes (KITLV, IISG and Meertens institute). Dutch and Southeast Asian researchers from computational science, social sciences and humanities will collaborate to further develop a multi-method approach that combines computational social media analysis, digital ethnography, and fieldwork. Cmputational social media analysis serves to study the scope, effectiveness and distribution of propaganda on Twitter. Digital ethnography will zoom in on the narrative and discursive strategies employed by cyber troops. Finally, interviews with ‘buzzers’ will serve to trace the organization, strategies, and political interests behind cyber troops.

The study focuses on three countries with comparable economies and social media usage. They are either backsliding democracies (Philippines and Indonesia) or reconsolidating autocracies (Thailand). The project employs this comparison to study the interaction between political regimes and computational propaganda. In doing so this project aims to generate new knowledge about an important and new phenomenon. It also encourages to strengthen public debates by producing academic and non-academic publications that raise public awareness about how cyber troops distort public debate.

Job Description

We are looking for a Postdoctoral candidate for this very innovative project. You will be based at KITLV and take care of the implementation of this project. You will do so together with project coordinators Ward Berenschot (Senior researcher at KITLV and Yatun Sastramidjaja (Assistent Professor Anthropology at Universiteit van Amsterdam). Due to the funding, the employment will be for two years, starting at the end of 2022.

You will train and supervise research teams in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia together with local partners, which will require several times of travel abroad. In each country we will cooperate with six field researchers for four months in the first year. In the second year, you will work together with a digital archivist at IISG for six months. During the project you will engage in computational social media analysis of key public debates, together with research partners in the Netherlands and the research countries. As a result, you will take care that publications are written and organize the dissemination of research findings.

Deadline: 31 October 2022.

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