Researcher receives grant to further study ‘deviant’ social media behaviors

Nitin Agarwal head shot

A new grant from the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research (ONR) will help a University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor further establish himself as a leader in social media research.

The grant, which builds on a previous ONR-funded project that Dr. Nitin Agarwal conducted, enables him and his team to dig deeper into the organized use of social media by deviant groups to spread misinformation, stoke violence and panic, and conduct recruitment and radicalization campaigns.

Agarwal is the Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair and a professor of information science at UALR.  

His previous project, “Predictive Modeling of Cyber Flash Mobs: Understanding Emerging Socio-Technical Behavior for Conflict Monitoring,” investigated how groups mobilize and spark action in the “real” world via social media. The recent $85,964 grant will fund new computational equipment that will allow the researchers to conduct richer, more nuanced examinations of social media tactics and patterns, leading to practical, innovative results.

It will also allow the UALR researchers to work directly with researchers at Arizona State University, University of Maryland Center for Advanced Studies of Language, Naval Postgraduate School, and Carnegie Mellon University, easily sharing discoveries, resources, and knowledge.

“The equipment will enable further discovery and analysis (and) data and knowledge exchange among stakeholders,” Agarwal said.

Though the field and use of social media propaganda is relatively young, the relevance and importance of this research is significant, Agarwal said.

“There is a need to systematically study these new artificial means of spreading rumors, hate speech, viewpoints, and opinions,” he said.

The recently funded project is part of a larger research program in Agarwal’s lab, funded by the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, Air Force Research Lab, and Army Research Office.

This project is sponsored by the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP). More details on these projects can be found at ualr.edu/nxagarwal/Homepage/Projects.html.

Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Naval Research.

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