In recent years, the age-old battle for hearts and minds has moved to a different frontier.
Today, militant organizations use social media to recruit, and nations deploy coordinated online propaganda campaigns to drive home their narratives.
To analyze and track these behaviors, U.S. Department of Defense and NATO officials turn to the expertise of Dr. Nitin Agarwal, a University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor of information science.
Agarwal uses algorithms and computer modeling to understand how people interact on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like.
“What we want to understand is how groups emerge,” Agarwal said.
His research has applications beyond military and political realms, as businesses and nonprofit organizations also seek his help. Through the years, Agarwal has been involved in numerous National Science Foundation-funded projects. In addition, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Research Lab, and the Army Research Office has funded several of his studies.
“Over the last six years, Dr. Agarwal has distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the field of information science,” said Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the college. “I think he is an excellent choice to fill this position.”
Agarwal, who joined UALR in the fall of 2009, uses data-oriented research to understand human behavior on a large scale.
As a Ph.D student at Arizona State University in 2005, Agarwal focused on data mining and how information spread. That was about the time the popularity of social media started exploding.
“So that fascinated me, because it was like a technology that came out of nowhere,” Agarwal said.
When Agarwal started his research of Internet-driven communities, MySpace was the hot social media brand. While the social media outlet of choice changes through the years, “the styles of communication still remain the same,” Agarwal said.
Agarwal said being named to the Maulden-Entergy chair position is motivating and will help him in tasks such as building multi-university coalitions, advancing interdisciplinary research, and expanding outreach efforts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, especially the computational and information science areas.
During the course of his research, Agarwal said, he collaborates with “fantastic” and “brilliant” students, including those working toward Ph.D. and master’s degrees as well as undergraduates.
“There is a lot of room for exploration and advancement in this area, and there are a lot of talented folks,” Agarwal said, “and we need to bring them together and join forces.”
For more details about Agarwal’s research projects and work, click here.