Hyunjin Seo, an associate professor at the school of journalism, recently received a $9,000 grant from the Waterhouse Family Institute for the study of communication and society. The grant will fund her research of the role of social media in protests, such as the impeachment of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye and the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong.
Seo’s interest in protests and social movements began as a reporter when she covered these events internationally.
“As a journalist you cover the event and as a scholar I get to study the motivation of the use of social media in this aspect,” Seo said.
Seo hopes that through her research she will be better able to understand the role of social media in social changes and be able to better predict the changes of future social movements.
“The use of social media has increased significantly in all of our lives and I want to understand the important implications of the mobilization of people and the sharing of information,” Seo said.
When someone starts with research they don’t start with an answer, Seo said, but a question formulated through previous experience. She will base her hypothesis on her own previous research and studies made by other scholars.
“What I think is happening is that the use of social media helps build a collective identity during social movements and protests and so I want to know how does it help people,” Seo said..
However, according to Seo, there are both positive and negative effects of the use of social media.
“In particular we have a growing problem of misinformation in the digital age,” Seo said. There are people who intentionally spread misinformation that will create confusion and problems and that’s why I’m not suggesting that it’s always positive.”
However, she said that the positive effects include the feeling of inclusion and the mobilization of a group of people for a similar cause.
“Other positive aspects is that people feel included,” she said. “People may not be able to physically attend a protest but they use social media for support and to get information on a movement or protest by following hashtags and watching videos shared via social media to help spread information and engage people both offline and online.”
Bryan Crable, professor of communications at Villanova University and director of the Waterhouse Family Institute for the study of communication and society, said that the Waterhouse Family Institute gives grants to proposals that deal with and focus on connecting communication and social justice. The grant itself is the only one in the country that focuses on these issues, he said. The institute gives out $60,000 in grant money each year, and the highest amount that they’ll give to an individual proposal is $10,000.
“The process is very selective and the University should be very proud of Professor Seo,” Crable said.
He said that the acceptance rate for the grant is around 13 to 17 percent, meaning a good deal of proposals are rejected. This year they received around 80 to 90 proposals and accepted only eight or nine.
Crable said that past proposals dealt with community budgeting, generating mobile communications in Central and Southern America, and food scarcity in urban communities.
Crable added that the proposals are looked over by a committee which goes through an anonymous peer-review in order to ensure that proposals aren’t chosen based upon knowing someone or looking at their resumé.
— Edited by Abi Gleckler