Overview

Ongoing work at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) over the past several years, including our 2018 “To Secure Knowledge” report, has identified the importance of access to socially-relevant data in order for researchers to address large issues that inform, empower, and protect the public interest. Much of this data, including social media and the algorithms that determine how information is shared, is proprietary, held by private companies and inaccessible for independent research projects. While social media platforms are beginning to engage the broader research community, critical questions of public importance–such as the role of social media in democratic politics–need to be addressed now with available tools that meet the highest scientific and ethical standards.

The Social Data Research Fellowship and the Social Data Dissertation Fellowship, new endeavors of the Social Science Research Council, with support from Omidyar Network, seek to encourage multifaceted pathways for the collection and analysis of social data, with the larger aim of cultivating robust research on technology and society. In particular, we are interested in supporting research that makes creative use of available social data to investigate how social media interact with democracy and elections. Expanding ethical scholarly access, use, and analysis of a range of social data is critical to understanding the complex ways that social media and other technologies impact political life and processes.

SSRC invites proposals from scholars in the social sciences and related fields for the Social Data Research Fellowship and the Social Data Dissertation Fellowship. These fellowships will support research projects of up to 12 months in length that are focused on two key areas:

  1. Advancing scholarly research on the role of social media in elections and democracy, with an emphasis on the 2020 US elections, including local, state, and/or national primary or general elections. Topics may include (but are not limited to) disinformation, polarization, election integrity, political engagement, political advertising, microtargeting, voter suppression, forms of algorithmic bias related to elections, the impact of news reporting and changes to the media ecosystem, or other related areas. Research that explores more than one social media platform or the relationship between social media platforms is particularly welcome, as is research that explores the disproportionate effects on the political participation of women and under-represented groups.

  2. Expanding best practices and methods for accessing and analyzing relevant data that can inform our understanding of the impact of social media on democracy, including (but not limited to) new methods of data collection and sharing; exploring implications for data privacy and ethics; alternative proxy data to inform our broader understanding of proprietary social media data; and ethnographic, journalistic, or other qualitative approaches to data collection.

Covid-19: The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly changed the policy, electoral, and media landscapes related to the 2020 US elections. This grant opportunity’s primary emphasis is related to social media and the 2020 elections, as described above; however applications that investigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as it intersects with the core themes outlined above are particularly encouraged. For example, explorations of policy debates, news, or disinformation circulated via social media on topics relevant to the 2020 US elections and amplified by circumstances related to Covid-19–such as vote-by-mail debates, health care policy, Covid-19 disinformation campaigns related to the election, and so on–are welcome.

Eligibility

The Social Data Research Fellowship program is open to researchers who hold a PhD in a relevant discipline and are based at an institution of higher education (college or university) or a non-profit focused on social research. These awards may not exceed $50,000 US.

The Social Data Dissertation Fellowship program is open to PhD students who are actively enrolled in a PhD program, who may apply for awards of up to $15,000 US in support of dissertation research. Applicants to the program should have completed all PhD coursework by the beginning of the fellowship term.

Proposal Information and Resources

The full Request for Proposals, including a detailed list of proposal requirements and complete eligibility requirements, is available as a PDF here.

  • The SSRC application portal will be open to accept applications beginning April 27, 2020.
  • The Data Management Plan Guidelines are available here.
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Review Process and Selection Criteria

Proposals will be reviewed according to the highest standards of academic research. All proposals are carefully reviewed by SSRC staff to ensure that the proposal meets basic eligibility requirements and that the application fulfills all submission requirements. Each application is then reviewed by persons outside of SSRC who are knowledgeable in the particular fields, methods, or approaches represented by the proposal. The selection committee, or some portion thereof, will meet to discuss proposals and their review, and produce a slate of recommendations for support.

Applications recommended for support will undergo additional ethics and privacy review. Each finalist proposal will be read by ethics reviewers, and any concerns or requests for changes will be shared with the PI via written report. Reports will focus on flagging potential concerns and recommending best practices to mitigate potential harms.

Review Criteria:

  • Intellectual merit: the intellectual significance of the proposed project and its capacity to advance scholarship, scientific understanding, and/or public knowledge, as well as the degree to which the project offers thoughtful and generalizable models or new pathways for studying the impact of social media on democracy.
  • Feasibility: the appropriateness of the proposed activities, methods, planned activities, and budget to accomplish the stated aims of the proposed project.
  • Qualifications: the degree to which the participants have the expertise, skills, and knowledge to accomplish the stated aims of the proposed project.
  • Ethics and Privacy: the commitment to and stated plan to meet or exceed standards for the ethical use of data, including the protection of individuals and their privacy.

This research is funded by Omidyar Network.

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