Researcher biography

Dr Cedric Courtois specialises in digital and computational methods in media and communication research. His research centres on the user consequences of online platforms with a particular focus on how users and algorithmic mechanisms interact.

In the past decade, Courtois has been at the forefront of innovations in communication research, crossing boundaries between media and communication on one hand, and data science and computer science on the other. This interdisciplinary work translates into research that has pushed boundaries, expanding the reach of media studies and its methodological repertoire (i.e. digital and computational research methods).

During the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Courtois undertook a study on global government communication on COVID-19, and the impact of varying health care systems on communication style (Courtois & Weder, 2021). This required harvesting 90K tweets from all over the world, automatically translating and “cleaning” them, and leveraging a machine learning-based text mining approach to make sense of the patterns in these unstructured data. Specifically, Courtois used topic modelling to identify key themes in government discourses and related those discourses to key systemic variables including countries’ Universal Health Coverage, GDP, and Democratic Performance.

At the 2020 webinar forum “What can the humanities tell us about COVID-19?”, Dr. Cedric Courtois and Dr. Franzisca Weder spoke on the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying ‘infodemic’, researching how government leadership and health officials around the globe have negotiated these tensions between security and insecurity, reassurance and caution. For this project, Courtois and Weder analysed 66,167 tweets from 324 government leaders, health ministers and ministries from 139 countries using topic modelling, identifying ten distinct themes, indicative of the focus (and tensions) on public health as opposed to more general themes in political communication.. As a result, Courtois and Weder identified clear regional differences in the presence of the topics, further explained by indicators of countries’ economic, health coverage, and democratic performance.

Due to the enormous increase in digitised and digitally-borne data sources, the opportunities to derive sensible meaning and knowledge from this kind of data have vastly expanded.  Leveraging these possibilities, however, requires creativity, a significant array of skills and techniques and, most importantly, a critical stance informed by a solid conceptual and theoretical background.

Courtois’ research is informed by academic debate, including the impact of online algorithms on users’ interactions with (mis)information.

At the end of 2019, Courtois was awarded funding to research Google users’ interactions with search results, factoring in varying degrees of algorithmic bias and third-party manipulations. This required building a dedicated online platform, in which participants were asked to perform a questionnaire and then accessed Google to run through their own search queries, interacting with real-time results. This study took place in a fully-controlled environment in which real-time results were manipulated to induce varying forms of bias, while participants actions were monitored.

The new knowledge that Courtois contributed to these debates is rooted in novel ways of collecting, processing, and analysing data. Starting from a research question, Courtois leverages programming and data skills to find unprecedented methods, striving for validity and reliability, that can enable further inquiry in the field.