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University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Qatar Institute Features Professor’s Social Media Research

The “Arab Spring” demonstrated that the proliferation of social media has changed the way that news is produced and consumed.

It’s a subject relevant to the research of Dr. Nitin Agarwal, assistant professor in UALR’s information science department, who recently delivered a talk at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) in Doha, Qatar.

Taking examples from the Arab Spring, as well as the Saudi Arabian women’s movements and crisis management during natural disasters, Agarwal spoke about the important and ever-increasing role of social media in mobilizing collective actions.

Agarwal believes studying the way in which “unorganized organizations” emerge and work effectively in cross-cultural settings is becoming increasingly pertinent and has vast implications.

Those implications include promoting citizen engagement toward better governance and policymaking or developing smart and connected health applications for the well-being of a society.

Agarwal added that there are other important implications, such as the facilitation of massive and open education and the exploration of the “crowdfunding” model in the micro-financing sector.

He emphasized the imperative need for seeking collaborations from different disciplines such as sociology, psychology, cognitive and behavioral sciences, mathematics, and statistics, among others, for the growth of interdisciplinary research areas such as social computing, and the “synergistic advancement” of the disciplines involved.

This is especially true in the age of big data, according to Agarwal.

“Just as the data is coming from diverse sources so should the perspective of analysis be, to avoid falling into the ‘data-fishing’ trap,” Agarwal said. “Researchers with the same disciplinary background may lack insights to guide the analysis or even shape the hypothesis.”

The Qatar Foundation, which supports the institute’s work, asked Agarwal to discuss his research projects in social computing, especially the promising role of social media in the socio-political and economic transformation of Arab countries and society in general.

The Qatar Foundation’s mission is to transform its largely energy-based economy to a knowledge-based one by 2030.

Internationally recognized scientists frequently visit the institute, which houses research labs on social computing, Arab language technology, distributed computing, and data analytics.

The institute also collaborates extensively with the Al-Jazeera news network for data acquisition, translation of research to real-world applications, and subject domain expertise, among other collaborative efforts.