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Soziologisches Institut Lea Stahel

Aktuelle Projekte

Algorithm vs. friends – An examination of algorithmic and social influences on individual decision-making in a digital society

Project partly funded by the Digital Society Initiative (DSI) of the UZH

Project period: 2024

with Sarah Geber

In today’s digital media environment, people are facing predominantly two sources of recommendations: social contacts – such as friends, family, and acquaintances – and algorithms (i.e., recommender systems). Due to their social versus technical nature, they can influence individual decision-making differently, harmonizing but also conflicting with each other. The state of research, however, lacks an integrative and coherent theoretical understanding of how both algorithmic and social contacts influence individual decision-making. Moreover, because of the current focus on news recommender systems in the political area, there is scarce corresponding knowledge in the areas of health and work, both of which are highly relevant and often intertwined domains of daily life (e.g., work-related stress). Therefore, this project asks: How do algorithms and social contacts influence health- and work-related decision-making? How important are they relative to each other and how do they interact?

Former projects (selection)

Extent of digital hate speech in the Swiss population and its socio-structural basis

Project funded by the Federal Office for Communications (OFCOM)

Project period: 2021 – 2023

with Sebastian Weingartner, Dirk Baier, Katharina Lobinger

The aim of this project is to determine for the first time the proportion of perpetrators and victims of digital hate speech in a representative sample of the Swiss population. Furthermore, it will be investigated in which socio-demographic and socio-economic groups the perpetrators and victims are particularly frequently represented. In parallel, a differentiated survey instrument for digital hate speech will be developed for survey studies. These goals will be methodologically implemented in a survey in all three major language regions of Switzerland. We will provide the scientific community with insights into the socio-demographic and socio-economic basis of online hate speech and an elaborated measurement tool for digital hate speech. The results will also help to develop target group-specific countermeasures.

Explaining external pressure and influence on journalists in Switzerland

Project funded by the Fund for the Promotion of Young Academics (FAN) at UZH

Project period: 2021 – 2022

with Katja Rost

Journalists in Western democratic societies not only feel economic pressure within their media companies. They are also the target of coercive influence by interview partners, politicians, and disgruntled readers. The corresponding external influence refers to all active methods, perceived by journalists as invasive and inappropriate, used by actors outside journalistic organizations to influence editorial content. It includes verbal pressure and abuse, defamation, physical violence, vandalism, positive and negative economic sanctions such as bribery and threats of legal action. The much-discussed increase of external influence in Western democratic societies is observed with concern, as it threatens freedom of expression and of the press. However, very little is known about the phenomenon, its extent, and its causes. This project pursues the following questions: How often do journalists in Switzerland experience different forms of external influence and by whom and why? How does external influence affect journalistic work? We use a sociological explanatory model that incorporates individual and organizational factors. We test the model in an online survey among a nationally representative sample of journalists in Switzerland.