Dr. Anna Kerkhof

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich

The Economics of Social Media: Hate Speech, Political Polarization, and the Spread of Misinformation


Social media have an enormous reach and many users visit their favorite sites at least once a day. At the same time, anonymity and the lack of systematic quality control fuel the spread of hate speech and misinformation on social networks, and selective news consumption supports the formation of echo chambers. This project addresses each of these issues in a two-step process, with the first step in each case designed to gain further insight and the second step to develop actionable policy measures.

First, I aim to better understand the causes of hate online. To do this, I examine a dataset of 7 million comments from a large German online discussion forum. Do users become more aggressive over time? Is hate contagious? Are some topics predestined for hate and agitation? Based on these findings, I want to find ways to reduce hate on the web. To do this, I will conduct a field experiment on Twitter or on Reddit, testing the effectiveness of simple interventions (such as automated counter-speech).

Second, I will study political polarization. First, I will use Twitter to analyze whether and to what extent the emergence of the AfD has changed the language of established politicians* in terms of topics and tone. In a second step, I want to find ways to mitigate the influence of echo chambers. As in the context of hate speech, I will conduct a field experiment on Reddit to investigate the effectiveness of simple measures (such as cross-ideological encounters).

Lastly, I will deal with fact-checks and media literacy training as a means against the spread of misinformation. In particular, I will investigate possible effects of fact-checks on unverified news and develop media literacy trainings for students.