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GRIPES – Gothenburg Research Initiative for Politically Emergent Systems

Research project
Active research
Project size
6,000,000
Project period
2020 - 2025
Project owner
Department for Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science (and CLASP) and The Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (and the SOM Institute)

Short description

The GRIPES project uses an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing the limits of dogwhistle-style linguistic manipulation by merging computational and theoretical linguistics with opinion research and media studies.
A dogwhistle works only if some of the population "gets it" and fails if everyone understands it well enough to act on it: "adversarial vagueness". GRIPES hypothesizes that this property makes dogwhistles "gameable" through computational methods, although organizations with an interest in doing so also have an interest in ensuring that their use of such methods remains obscure. GRIPES seeks to provide an analysis of dogwhistle development, incentives, and spread that will allow policymakers and the public to understand how this form of manipulation can be automated and how it can succeed.

A dogwhistle is a type of expression used by politicians to send a signal of ideological affinity to one part of the population without being fully understood by another part of the population who may be alienated by the message. For example, a classic dogwhistle in US politics is "inner city crime", which had been used to send a signal of affinity with racist voters while simultaneously maintaining plausible deniability through concern about serious social problems.  A dogwhistle works only if some of the population "gets it" and fails if everyone understands it well enough to act on it: "adversarial vagueness". GRIPES hypothesizes that this property makes dogwhistles "gameable" through computational methods, although organizations with an interest in doing so also have an interest in ensuring that their use of such methods remains obscure.  GRIPES seeks to provide an analysis of dogwhistle development, incentives, and spread that will allow policymakers and the public to understand how this form of manipulation can be automated and how it can succeed.