Portrait of the complexity researcher Jana Lasser
The Internet Foundation awards Jana Lasser (Graz University of Technology) the 2023 netidee SCIENCE grant: In her project, Lasser is researching the factors that influence the popularity of conspiracy theories on digital platforms. © FWF/Timotheus Hell

Historically speaking, conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon. However, in recent years, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, misleading claims and speculative assumptions have been spreading further and faster on social media than before.

Jana Lasser has been working on socially relevant issues at the interface of computer science and physics for several years. In her new research project “Orientation in Conspiration,” which was awarded the Internet Foundation’s netidee SCIENCE grant, the physicist and complexity researcher at the Graz University of Technology is investigating the question of how disinformation spreads on the internet. With the help of machine learning and based on a data set of multimedia messages from the instant messaging service Telegram from the years 2019 to 2022, Lasser is analyzing the factors that influence the popularity of conspiracy theories.

“My project will be implementing new research approaches to help better understand the complexity and various technical, social, and economic factors influencing the spread of conspiracy theories and, subsequently, to be able to curb them. I am delighted to be able to focus on these aspects in my research thanks to the netidee SCENCE funding,” says Lasser.

“The internet connects people around the globe, with all their potential, and opens up a world full of cooperation, opportunities, and innovations. At the same time, an ecosystem has emerged in which numerous factors can reinforce the emergence and spread of conspiracy theories. Jana Lasser’s excellently reviewed research project is making a valuable contribution towards promoting an enlightened, digital society,” says Andreas Schildberger, Chairman of the Internet Foundation.

“Trust in social networks is an increasingly valuable asset in the complex world of online news and media. With her research, Jana Lasser is uncovering the mechanisms of disinformation, building confidence, and providing orientation. Graz University of Technology and Jana Lasser are very pleased with this award,” says Horst Bischof, Rector of the Graz University of Technology, congratulating Lasser on receiving the netidee SCIENCE funding.

“Private partners such as the Internet Foundation are essential for the progress of science and research in Austria. The netidee SCIENCE grant gives outstanding researchers the opportunity to explore the conditions needed for a free and safe internet,” says FWF Vice President Ursula Jakubek. "I wish the award winner Jana Lasser every success with her promising project and would like to thank the Internet Foundation for its continued support,” concluded Jakubek.

Philanthropy for science and research

The increasing charitable commitment of private individuals and organizations makes it possible to support ever more excellent researchers. Currently, private donations allow the FWF to finance research projects worth €1.5 million each year. In addition, the FWF was the first public research funding agency in Europe to establish a nonprofit foundation to provide Austria's researchers with more opportunities in basic research through private grants.

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Get in touch for an initial conversation. We look forward to meeting you and introducing all of the available options (for more information, please see: www.alphaplusstiftung.at).

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