Online harms: digital platforms’ responsibilities and societal impact

This project aims at understanding how digital communication platforms shape organization and individual responsibilities in, for example, dealing with social violence, climate change or even pandemics.  

The project is framed within the Centre for Digital Economies at Surrey Business School in a team of researchers that liaise with a network of researcher in the Alan Turing Institute and other world leading research centres as well as with policy makers and leading organizations in the issue of online harms and responsibilities.  

Start date
1 July 2021
3 years for full time students (36 months)
Application deadline
Funding source
The University of Surrey, Project-led Studentship Award.
Funding information

The project forms part of the Universities drive towards greater postgraduate enrolment. To this end a fully funded scholarship is provided, linked to the project described. The funding package for this studentship award is as follows:  • Full UK/EU tuition fees covered for three years for applicants who can commence their PhD in October 2020  • Stipend at £15,285 p.a. (2021/22) for three years  • Research Training Support Grant of £1,000 p.a.  • Personal Computer (provided by the department) 

All studentships are for 3 years or 36 months.  However, a PhD student’s registration is for up to 4 years (48 months).  The aim is to submit the thesis at the end of the funded period but if a student is delayed, they have up to a further one year to submit the thesis.  The final year of registration would have to be paid for by the student themselves.  They can go on to Completing Status in the final year, which has a reduced fee of £620 rather than the full UK fee of £4407 for 12 months. 


Digital communication platforms are giving rise to new social harms and risks that can undermine, but also advance, a variety of social good considerations for example in dealing with social violence but also climate change or even pandemics.  

Proposed Broad Research Question:  

How are digital communication platforms redefining the nature of, the relationships between, and the (mutual) responsibilities of organizations and individuals? 

Background & Theoretical Underpinning:  

Digital platforms are nowadays inseparable from most significant social, political and environmental concerns (Beer, 2017; Cusumano, Gawer, & Yoffie, 2019). Considerations of inclusivity and exclusivity, empowerment and marginalization, and democracy and authority in dealing with these issues are all to some extent shaped by digital transformations (Flyverbom, Deibert, & Matten, 2019; Peeters & Widlak, 2018; Sobieraj, 2017). 

In this project, we aim at better understand the responsibilities associated with digitally transformed means of emoting and reasoning (Collins, 2004; Learly, 2000), documenting and recording (Flyverbom, Deibert, & Matten, 2017), agitating and mobilizing (Snow, 2004). Examples are plenty, examining: which new actors and new organizational forms emerge in managing new transparency issues derived from big data and increased datalization (Hansen & Flyverbom, 2015); whether and how new forms of activism are enabled through social media (Barberá-Tomás, Castelló, De Bakker, & Zietsma, 2019; Kaun & Uldam, 2018; Toubiana & Zietsma, 2017); or in which new ways corporations engage with their stakeholders online (Castelló, Etter, & Nielsen, 2016; Castelló, Morsing, & Schultz, 2013){Castelló, 2016 #1699;Castelló, 2016 #1699}.  

Proposed Method: 

Research will be student led, but we envisage focus on qualitative methods. However, since data may include social media data besides netnographic observations, interviews, etc., quantitative methods might also be used.  

Outcomes for Theory, Practice and Impact: 

The project should lead to academic outcomes developing novel theoretical frameworks, recommendations for practice and engagement in impact cases.  

Related links
Centre of Digital Economy The Alan Turing Institute - Behavioural data science The Alan Turing Institute - Social data science Online Harms White Paper On Artificial Intelligence - A European approach to excellence and trust

Eligibility criteria

Candidates must hold a Merit in Masters and a minimum of 2:1 in Bachelors, or equivalent in Business, Sociology, or Political Science.  

Knowledge of qualitative and quantitative research methods is desirable.  

Applicant must be resident in the UK during the period and study and by free to travel to collect data during their studies. 

Only available for UK/EU applicants who can commence their PhD in October 2020.

IELTS requirements: IELTS of 6.5 overall and a minimum of 6.0 in each category, or equivalent. 

How to apply

Applicants must submit an online application via our online application system.  They must provide colour copies of their Bachelors and Masters official transcripts and degree certificates, Official English translations if the original documents are not in English, an up to date CV, colour copy of their passport, and provide two references.  

We also request a written statement of purpose, explaining why you want to undertake this project, why you have the requisite skill and how you might approach the work (no more than 600 words). 

A further piece of your previous course work, publications or section of an MSc thesis should also be submitted. 

Candidates should provide two written academic references, ideally who can be contacted.  

Applicants need to specify in their applications that they are applying for this specific project.  

We suggest applicants contact the supervisory team before applying to discuss their applications.  

Interview dates will be arranged shortly after the deadline. 

Application deadline

Contact details

Itziar Castello
10 MS 01
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 682602
Annabelle Gawer
58 MS 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 682056
Glenn Parry
59 MS 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 684307

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