This year, three professors at the Valenti School of Communication landed grants to research COVID-19 to help different communities and countries limit the spread of misinformation and improve disaster communication.
Assistant professors Wenlin Liu and Yan Huang were awarded $9,551 for their proposal to research access to health advisory messages among various communities.
Their project, “COVID-19 Public Agency Disaster Communication on Social Media: Assessing Multiethnic Community Outreach and Citizens’ Uncertainty Management Behaviours,” aims to help communities navigate health messages through social media and to support community stakeholders and disaster management agencies in their disaster communication.
“We plan to work with computer scientists at the University of Houston to analyze citizen engagement tweets with Texas public agencies' as the first step,” says Dr. Liu, who is the principal investigator for the project. “Based on the preliminary findings, we plan to conduct an online experiment in October or November.”
Though the pandemic will make collaborative research more challenging than usual, this project provides the perfect site for their partnership. Dr. Huang focuses her research on uncertainty management, and Dr. Liu explores social media disaster communication.
More importantly, they both find shared meaning in this research. “Since almost everyone is affected by Covid in some way or other, it's an especially urgent research topic and we feel very connected to it personally,” said Dr. Liu.
In addition to helping our communities, social media can impact how information around COVID-19 is spread in non-English speaking countries. To assess this, Dr. Dani Madrid-Morales, an assistant professor of journalism, is using the $10,000 he was awarded to support a year-long project in Senegal and Kenya. His research will explore how information on COVID-19 is being shared in these countries.
The project,“Effective strategies to counter the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp: An Experiment in Kenya and Senegal,” will gather data by interviewing professionals and social media users from these countries to understand the pattern of misinformation. The comparison between the new and preliminary data will be used as an effort to reduce misinformation.
“We are first going to try to understand the context around COVID-related misinformation in the two countries,” says Dr. Madrid-Morales.
“In addition, we will be creating a series of WhatsApp groups to inform people about COVID-19 and measure what is the impact of this information on people's knowledge about the virus.”
Dr. Madrid-Morales is collaborating with Dr. Melissa Tully, an associate professor at the University of Iowa, on this project. They have worked intensively on this project for the past few months and are hoping to share their findings by next summer.
“I was obviously very happy when the results of this grant came in. The fact that UH thought that this was a project worth supporting was great validation to my work and to the idea,” said Dr. Madrid-Morales.
Both grants were awarded by the University of Houston Division of Research’s Small Grants Program, which is dedicated to funding unique research projects that are not supported by a specific department or college.