The Utrecht Centre for Regulation and Enforcement in Europe at the Utrecht School of Law, Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance, is looking for a PhD candidate to conduct research in natural legal language processing and social media advertising under the supervision of dr. Catalina Goanta (Utrecht University), and dr. Gerasimos (Jerry) Spanakis (Maastricht University).
Content monetization reflects a new era of social media business models, changing the nature of digital advertising from platform to human ads. Human ads are Internet influencers (also referred to as content creators) who earn revenue from social media advertising by creating authentic, relatable advertising content for their armies of followers. While their activity has been touted as a new form of creative labour, the overlap between their freedom of expression, political thought and advertising interests raises some serious concerns. One underlying danger is the convergence of speech in two ways. Consumers and citizens can no longer distinguish
(i) between ads and non-ads, and (ii) between commercial and political communications. This is a new form of consumer vulnerability on digital markets where speech cannot be separated from platform infrastructure. Human ads are an emerging category of stakeholders who turn engagement into currency in novel ways. Users are faced with a double transparency problem:
(i) human ads have incentives to hide commercial interests, and
(ii) platforms have incentives to algorithmically amplify human ads engagement in opaque ways.
This reflects a general good faith and fair dealing problem: the social media economy is increasingly based on deceit. However, we know very little about the size of deceit on social media. Even basic questions such as defining influencers or understanding how much sponsored content they post are difficult to formalize and compute.
This PhD project consists in conducting interdisciplinary research to develop methodologies for the classification and detection of advertising language on social media. The PhD project will be mainly focused on the application of natural language processing to regulatory issues arising out of the proliferation of commercial and political advertising on social media, but could potentially also include web measurement and social network analysis approaches. Examples of questions which could fall under the PhD project include:
- What are the characteristics of commercial v political advertising language on social media?
- What kind of research methodologies can be used to classify social media content that is monetized by content creators/influencers?
- How can content creators/influencers be computationally defined?
- How can we use computer science methodologies to identify, describe and measure social media harms arising out of the proliferation of hidden advertising?
This PhD position is part of the European Research Council Starting Grant HUMANads. The PhD candidate will have an opportunity and be expected to further define the initial research objectives set out by the project, in collaboration with the supervision team. This PhD position will be part of a broader project team featuring computer scientists, law and media scholars, and it will be based in the RENFORCE research center and the Molengraaff Institute for private law