„Disinformation´s main challenge to a society is that it destroys trust between each other“

Friday, 10. January 2020 um 10:49 Uhr

Der Niederländer Rolf Nijmeijer und der Brite Jan Erik Kermer befassen sich derzeit als Gastwissenschaftler am Institut für Sozialwissenschaften, Arbeitsbereich Politikwissenschaft, der Universität Hildesheim mit digitalen Methoden in der sozialwissenschaftlichen Forschung. Die beiden Forscher arbeiten im Data Science Lab und tauschen sich mit dem Team um Professor Wolf Schünemann vom Forschungsschwerpunkt Politik und Internet aus.

Interview with the guest researchers Rolf Nijmeijer and Jan Erik Kermer

Mr. Nijmeijer, Mr. Kermer, you are currently working in the Data Science Lab in Hildesheim. What research question are you working on?

Rolf Nijmeijer: I am working in the field of Political Science and in particular digital political communication. It is a very exciting and dynamic field. In my research I mostly focus on three different aspects of disinformation, that is, fake information that is spread intentionally to mislead people and to sow distrust. I am looking at the United States, United Kingdom and Germany to see if they have been targeted by disinformation campaigns. Many people think this has been the case. I am also   analysing whether there are big differences between these disinformation campaigns – do they target different kind of groups in the country, do they raise different issues, like migration in Germany? Lastly, I want to compare the targets of these disinformation campaigns to results from social surveys. These surveys ask people whether they have trust in instutions like the media and the government in their country. Lower trust in these instituions may be caused by disinformation campaigns, but one has to keep in mind that this may also be caused by other factors. By comparing all these various forms of data, I hope to gain a better view of the effects of disinformation on societies.

Disinformation is a very hot topic right now – you hear and read a lot about it –  particularly ´fake news´. But I do think it is a bit misunderstood. In many ways it is presented right now as if we are completely manipulated by social media: as soon as somebody puts a false narrative in front of us, we believe it and that influences our elections. I think it is not so simple. It is difficult to change peoples´ minds entirely and I think disinformation´s main challenge to a society is that it destroys trust between each other and within the country people are living in. That is what I want to find out.

Jan Erik Kermer: My project aims to explore whether the Europeanization of national debates in tabloid newspapers (i.e. in terms of the increasing visibility of EU actors, salience of transnational issues, and increasing politicization of EU politics in national arenas) has contributed to the (re-)nationalization of public spheres. In my current field, mass readership papers such as BILD and The Daily Mail have been largely overlooked in the scholarship so far. So I intend to address this research gap. For example, if you think of Brexit – would one define it as a domestic or  transnational issue? Anecdotally speaking, picking up a British newspaper, you would probably conclude that it is a purely national and domestic issue. But if you picked up a German or Italian paper, you might conclude otherwise. Think also about the migration crisis (transnational issue) which has effectively been subsumed into national public spheres as a quintessentially national debate. So we should perhaps be mindful of overemphasising the “transnationalization of public spheres” phenomenon. I ask three central research questions: Does national media coverage of EU affairs increase the salience of national identity and national channels of representation?  Which political actors benefit from an increasingly Europeanised debate? Do national public spheres display within-country similarities or differences in their reporting of EU affairs?

I aim to adopt the method of political claims analysis as a proxy to measure the extent of a public spheres’ renationalisation, complemented by discourse network analysis. Using these methodological tools, I hope to be able to measure and visualize political claims and identify the networks of actors affiliated to each claim.

What do you hope to gain from your research stay at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Hildesheim?

Jan Erik Kermer: I hope to enrich my knowledge of different computer programming software such as the R programming language at Hildesheim’s very own Data Lab and trial a method that I intend to use in my PhD, namely, discourse network analysis. I hope to discuss ideas and exchange views concerning my project with Hildesheim’s experts in the field of political communication – particularly Professor Wolf Schünemann, who is an expert in my field, and Stefan Steiger. Fortunately, I know a couple of the guys here have some expertise in this area. I also would like to learn new digital methods in Hildesheim. Lastly, I would like to see Hildesheim and Hannover, particularly, the Mariendom and St.Andreas Kirche!

You chose to come to Hildesheim, not Berlin, not Munich. Why Hildesheim?

Rolf Nijmeijer: A good question! Last year we attended a conference here in Hildesheim about the transformation of the public sphere through digitization. There we met scholars from Hildesheim, including Professor Marianne Kneuer and Professor Wolf Schünemann. The latter also came for a research stay to Rome. We noticed a lot of overlap between their research and our research and we found a lot of similarities in what we want to achieve. Professor Schünemann and Stefan Steiger here in Hildesheim analyzed how political campaigns have been conducted with Twitter posts, so the research in Hildesheim is very relevant to me and I can learn from the methodology they used for my own research. Hildesheim is definitely advanced in this regard.

What opportunities arise when you work together in international research networks, especially in the field of digitisation?

Jan Erik Kermer: Many opportunities! It is a great environment to further research ideas and exchange views from different cultural standpoints. As the saying goes: „not all classrooms have four walls.“ This research stay in Hildesheim is especially fruitful for my research on transnational public spheres and Europeanization in the digital age. Coming to Germany to discuss with scholars is an invaluable opportunity which is crucial to my research. Germany is the birthplace of intellectual giants such as Jürgen Habermas and Karl Deutsch. German universities are also at the forefront of digital methodological innovations and cutting-edge facilities.

Rolf Nijmeijer: It is very useful to have people from different countries working on similiar topics together, and to learn from and help each other. We are, for example, taking a look at my data set to try and see if the methodologies used by Prof. Wolf Schünemann and Stefan Steiger can be used for my research. The data I am using right now is from the 2016 US elections. I am really curious to see what comes out of this data set. There are millions of Tweets to analyze.

Mr. Kermer, is there, as a researcher, a fear how the Brexit will develop?

Jan Erik Kermer: I do not think, there will be huge changes, but of course, if the UK would still be in the European Union, we´d have more funding and research opportunities for British scholars. I think Brexit is a shame. But I am still confident that research networks between Germany and the UK will still flourish post-Brexit given the deeply entrenched networks that already exist.

Questions: Isa Lange

Wenn Sie die Gastwissenschaftler treffen möchten, kontaktieren Sie Rolf Nijmeijer (r.nijmeijer@luiss.it) und Jan Erik Kermer (j.kermer@luiss.it) gerne per Email. Die Wissenschaftler sind bis zum 16. Januar 2020 in Hildesheim.

Forschungsschwerpunkt Politik und Internet

Digitalisierung im Fokus der Hildesheimer Sozialwissenschaften

Der Niederländer Rolf Nijmeijer und der Brite Jan Erik Kermer befassen sich während ihres zweiwöchigen Forschungsaufenthalts am Institut für Sozialwissenschaften der Universität Hildesheim mit digitalen Methoden in der sozialwissenschaftlichen Forschung.

Die beiden Doktoranden der LUISS-Universität in Rom möchten in Hildesheim vor allem ihre Kompetenzen im Hinblick auf Digitalisierung und digitale Methoden erweitern. Sie arbeiten im Data Science Lab und tauschen sich in mehreren Arbeitssitzungen mit Wolf Schünemann, Juniorprofessor für Politikwissenschaft mit dem Schwerpunkt Internet und Politik an der Universität Hildesheim, aus. Zwischen den Universitäten in Hildesheim und Rom bestehen seit 2018 enge Austauschbeziehungen im Hinblick auf die Digitalisierungsforschung. Diese wurden begründet durch die Leiterin des Forschungsschwerpunkts Politik und Internet in Hildesheim, Prof. Dr. Marianne Kneuer, und den Direktor des Centre for Conflict and Participation Studies (CCPS) an der LUISS-Universität, Prof. Dr. Michele Sorice.

Der Forschungsaufenthalt der beiden Gastwissenschaftler wird anteilig durch das Niedersächsische Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur über das International Office der Universität Hildesheim gefördert.

Die Gastwissenschaftler Jan Erik Kermer (rechts) und Rolf Nijmeijer (Mitte) im Data Science Lab der Universität Hildesheim mit dem wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiter Stefan Stieger. Foto: Isa Lange/Uni Hildesheim