UChicago political scientist Molly Offer-Westort named Carnegie Fellow

Prize will support experiments and tools to study online political discourse and misinformation

How does political information (and misinformation) spread via social media? How do the conversations happening online inform our attitudes and positions on political issues?

Asst. Prof. Molly Offer-Westort designs experiments to answer these very questions. As a 2024 Andrew Carnegie Fellow, the University of Chicago political scientist and statistician will continue to develop methodologies and tools that help us understand the online spaces and behaviors that shape our political reality. 

The fellowship comes with a $200,000 prize to support research that “seeks to understand how and why our society has become so polarized and how we can strengthen the forces of cohesion to fortify our democracy.” 

Offer-Westort plans to use the funds to support both online experiments and open-source tools to study social media platforms.

“As our social and political lives move online, I think it's incredibly important for social scientists to pay attention to the different ways that people engage with information and with each other in these spaces,” Offer-Westort said.

As a Carnegie Fellow, she intends to continue running online studies on political information and discourse. Previously, she has conducted experiments with social media users in Kenya and Nigeria to identify effective ways to curb misinformation around the pandemic.

Offer-Westort also has partnered with UChicago colleagues to recruit social media users in Florida to discuss Florida State Medicaid updates, which would exclude gender-affirming care. “We found that online conversations that encourage perspective-taking moved attitudes towards affected groups and relevant policies,” Offer-Westort said.

She also will use the funds to develop open-source tools aimed at making it easier for social scientists to conduct experiments online. Previously, she has worked on a chatbot, with the support of the Data Democracy Initiative, for social media messaging studies.

“I am deeply honored to receive this fellowship, and to join the ranks of University of Chicago faculty who have previously been named Andrew Carnegie Fellows,” said Offer-Westort, who joins UChicago scholars Prof. Susan Stokes (2021), Prof. Cathy Cohen (2020), Prof. Michael Greenstone (2019) and Assoc. Prof. Benjamin Lessing (2019).