A team of international doctoral students and professors were recently awarded an innovative research grant from Universitas 21 (U21) Consortium — an international collaboration of 27 top global universities. Emphasizing critical global challenges, the research award is intended to catalyze international research collaborations and support the development of early career researchers and/or doctoral students. The six member multinational team includes four doctoral students from the U.S., Japan and Singapore. U.S. team members include SPP Doctoral Candidate Xu Han (who instigated the collaboration), PhD Student Cory Baird, and is supported by Associate Professor Toby Egan and Franz Klein, a UMD computer scientist. These researchers are joined by doctoral candidates from National University of Singapore led by Lin Zhu, and Wadesa University’s Rob Fahey in Japan.
Utilizing machine learning and natural language processing on hundreds of thousands of social media posts on Facebook and Twitter, their project will quantify the impact of government messaging on citizens’ trust in government as well as their compliance with the shelter-in-place policies and mask wearing. The study will target a diverse set of nations politically and culturally ranging from the United States, with a federal state and decentralized government responses, to Singapore with unitary state and centralized government responses, and lastly Japan, whose government is centrally organized but geographically diverse. The project will not only help to probe the impacts of various government communication strategies in the social media age but also inform the government’s choice of effective messaging in different cultural and political contexts.
Understanding the interaction between government and the public on social media is important not least because a large number of the World Population (approximately 3.8 billion) uses some type of social media and the majority of social media users access social media on a daily basis (Ortiz-Ospina 2019; Pew Research Center 2019). With citizens’ perceptions of government messages constantly shifting, social media can be an effective tool to manage public health messaging in a timely and interactive manner (Murthy et al. 2019). These researchers’ work will contribute to understanding the public responses to government messaging during crisis periods, and inform the development and dissemination of accurate and effective public health messaging in diverse contexts. Researching the interaction between governments and citizens can offer important insights not only to address public health emergencies, it will also inform crisis effective communication strategies in general. The study will also build knowledge related to building public trust in government in crisis periods.
“We are honored to be selected as a grant recipient by the selection committee at Universitas 21”, said project originator, Xu Han. The awards committee consisted of deans of graduate schools and graduate program directors from 27 member institutions. The research team will continue to work on this timely and important topic and is expected to present the initial findings in the U.S at the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management Research Conference in November 2020.