UALR professor Nitin Agarwal earns grant to support social media research

Nitin Agarwal head shot

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, a University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor continues to garner national and international support for his research into how groups use social media for potentially destructive acts.

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, the UALR Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy endowed chair and a professor of information science, recently received a $186,692 grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research to fund his exploration of cyber campaigns. It’s his fourth major grant in the past academic year.

This new grant enables Agarwal to continue his investigation into the practices, tactics, and motivations of organizers of web-based mass movements and their participants.

His project focuses on deviant, often deceptive online movements, or cyber campaigns, that manifest in physical behaviors and events.

The goal for many of the groups behind these campaigns is to “provoke hysteria, influence mass opinions, stoke civil unrest, effect civil conflict, or even coordinate cyberattacks,” Agarwal said.

The effects of these cyber campaigns have been seen all over the world, with major transnational crime organizations utilizing social media to recruit, spread propaganda, and encourage action. Their tactics are complex and diverse, ranging from publishing fake pictures to hiring armies of “trolls” that spread propaganda on blogs and social media.

To help combat this growing issue, Agarwal and a graduate student assistant will use cyber forensics and deep web searching to study cyber campaigns.

With this data, they will develop models for detecting and predicting the online behavior of deviant groups. The researchers will determine the universal characteristics of cyber campaigns, including how they project a group identity and motivate followers.

This new project, titled “Analyzing Integrated Social Media-Facilitated Propaganda Campaigns Using Social Network Analysis and Cyber Forensics,” builds on Agarwal’s already significant body of social media research and behavioral modeling. It is part of a larger research program in his COSMOS (Center Of Social Media and Online behavioral Studies) lab.

The research program is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Office of Naval Research, U.S. Air Force Research Lab, and U.S. Army Research Office.

More details on these projects can be found on Agarwal’s project website.

This project is sponsored by the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research.

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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