We are looking for a PhD candidate to join a new research project led by Dr. Joanna Strycharz, Dr. Hilde Voorveld, and Dr. Corine Meppelink: “Other side of algorithmic persuasion: undesired persuasive effects beyond privacy and how consumers can cope with them”. The project is embedded in the Amsterdam School of Communication Research at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam. This 4-year PhD project aims to investigate the unintended and potentially harmful impact of algorithmic persuasion on individuals and the society.
Companies collect and algorithmically process large amounts of digital traces of individuals with the aim of increasing persuasiveness of online content (algorithmic persuasion). Sometimes, these personalization practices are beneficial to consumers, because they are used to serve relevant content. For example, when a consumer looks for airline tickets and then sees advertisements for airline tickets elsewhere online, this can be experienced as useful. However, such persuasion attempts can also be experienced as harmful as they can be used to persuade individuals into behaviors that are not necessarily in their own interest and change how they make decisions in the online environment. For example, when a situational factor such as the battery level of consumer’s cell phone impacts the services that they are offered online (i.e., being offered more expensive taxi rides when the battery level is low). Or when consumers are targeted due to their psychological state (e.g., social networking sites allegedly targeting young users in state of psychological vulnerability, by inferring when they feel stressed). In this project, the PhD student will try to unravel how people experience such potential harms, how they try to cope with them, and based on these insights, design intervention strategies that will increase individual knowledge related to harms and hence foster coping with algorithmic persuasion.
The PhD project will focus on three research areas: (1) mapping the unintended effects of algorithmic persuasion within the domain of communication science and advertising research (2) identifying individual and situational factors that might increase consumers’ perceived vulnerability to these harms, (3) developing effective strategies that will increase persuasion knowledge among consumers related to such harms and hence foster people’s coping ability with algorithmic persuasion. As the project will both have scientific and societal impact, it is important that the insights obtained within this research projects will be shared with interested stakeholders within and outside academia. The PhD candidate is expected to also contribute to such outreach activities.
A more extensive description of the project is available upon request. Please e-mail dr. Joanna Strycharz for more information: firstname.lastname@example.orgWhat are you going to do?
The project consists of four distinct phases, building on each other:
- To gain proper insight into the literature that is already available, the project starts with a systematic literature review focusing on non-material harms experienced due to algorithmic persuasion. As there is quite some literature available on non-material harms in research areas related to law and ethics, the review will include both communication/social scientific literature as well as legal and normative scholarship. The outcomes of this literature review will serve as input for the other studies and to propose a conceptualization of non-material harms in algorithmic persuasion.
- The second part consists of a series of qualitative interviews with a wide range of consumers (approximately 25 interviews). These interviews will allow gaining in-depth insight into people’s experienced harms caused by algorithmic persuasion and their coping practices. The insights will serve as a starting point for quantitative investigation into experiences of harms in the subsequent phases.
- In the third part of the project, a scenario experiment will be conducted. Based on the insights obtained in the previous parts, this study will test the impact of individual and situational factors on experienced harm. Individual factors that can be manipulated are for example personal states such as anxiety or stress, and situational factors are for example website design or device use.
- The fourth and final phase of the project an intervention will be developed based on the insights obtained in the earlier phases. This intervention (for example, different educational instructions about coping strategies) will be presented to consumers in the form of an experiment.
- Develop, conduct, and publish research on algorithmic persuasion and the harms that are potentially associated with these practices. Complete a PhD dissertation consisting of research articles within the appointment period;
- Contribute to the public debate and organize outreach activities of the project;
- Contribute to the overall project in terms of events, research meetings, activities;
- Present your work at national and international conferences;
- Contribute to the vibrant academic life in Amsterdam by attending workshops, meetings, and lectures;
- Contribute to teaching activities at Bachelor’s level for up to 15% of your time.