Leader of the ADM+S News and Media Focus Area, Professor Axel Bruns has been awarded an Australian Laureate Fellowship.
Announced 7 July by Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge, Professor Axel Bruns from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre will receive $3,518,080 from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for his project Determining the Drivers and Dynamics of Partisanship and Polarisation in Online Public Debate.
Professor Bruns said escalating partisanship and polarisation, particularly via online and social media platforms, presented an urgent challenge for western democracies including Australia and a threat to cybersecurity worldwide.
The five-year Laureate Fellowship project will conduct the first-ever assessment of the extent and dynamics of polarisation in the contemporary online and social media environments of six nations – Australia, the US, the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland.
“We aim to enable an urgently needed defence of our society and democracy against the challenges of polarisation,” said Professor Bruns, a recognised world leader in media, communication, and journalism studies, with a particular focus on the evolution of online communication practices.
“Polarisation intensifies social conflicts, threatens economic prosperity, undermines public trust, and ultimately destabilises societies. Such instability can be exploited by domestic extremists or foreign influence campaigns to weaken sovereign states.
“Australia has so far been less affected than other leading democracies, but we are not immune to creeping polarisation and subsequent destabilisation. We must understand the threats we face.
“By developing the evidence base for the dynamics of polarisation in news coverage, audience engagement, public discourse, and social networks, we will identify avenues for avoiding and reducing it in Australian society, safeguarding national cohesion.
“Much recent debate still looks for the drivers of polarisation in all the wrong places. Such perspectives see platform algorithms as creating ‘echo chambers’ or ‘filter bubbles’ that lock users into partisan communities with diametrically opposed views and ideologies.
But as I showed in my recent book Are Filter Bubbles Real?, this ignores the fact that even extremely polarised groups follow mainstream debate very closely and in fact exploit the very absence of echo chambers to maximise the reach of their messaging.”