Agarwal honored as international IARIA fellow

Nitin Agarwal. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy endowed chair and information science professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, was recently honored for a prestigious international fellowship for his achievements in social media and technology research.

Agarwal was honored as a fellow of the International Academy, Research, and Industry Association (IARIA) during the Seventh International Conference on Social Media Technologies, Communication, and Informatics (SOTICS 2017) held Oct. 8-12 in Athens, Greece.

Every semester, the international organization recognizes about 10 scientists for their outstanding research, their scientific contributions to the organization’s events, and their continuous leadership roles in conferences.

Agarwal, who also is the director of the UA Little Rock Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), is highly respected for his social media research, and he continues to work with influential national and international organizations such as NATO, U.S. Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Research Lab, the U.S. Army Research Office, and the National Science Foundation.

His research focuses on studying the role of socio-technical systems, especially social media in conducting cyber campaigns such as Saudi Women’s efforts to raise awareness regarding inequitable and gender-biased laws; Autism support groups’ efforts to debunk misinformation campaigns run by anti-vaccine groups; anti-West, anti-NATO disinformation campaigns run by pro-Russian media and groups; and ISIS’ radicalization and recruitment campaigns.

During the conference, Agarwal delivered the conference’s Oct. 11 keynote address, “Fake News, Social Media, and Bots.”

“I talked about the various research efforts at COSMOS, primarily our studies on examining mobilization and coordination of information campaigns ranging from awareness of the autism spectrum disorder to women’s rights issues to conducting deviant acts threatening democratic principles and institutions,” Agarwal said. “I spoke in depth about our studies supported by several DoD (Department of Defense) multi-year grants, on examining how social media is used for weaponizing narratives, manipulating discourse through misinformation or disinformation campaigns, recruitment, and radicalization, and the fake news phenomenon.”

Agarwal also talked about how social media analysis tools and methodologies he and his team have developed are used by Department of Defense employees, NATO public affairs officers, and strategic communication officers.

Most recently, COSMOS began working with George Mason University to establish a Department of Homeland Security-funded Center for Crime Investigation and Network Analysis. The center will study the role of the dark web, dark markets, and crypto currencies by transnational crime organizations to influence thinking, provoke hysteria and chaos, and affect instability.

Additionally, Agarwal moderated a panel, “Dealing with Citizen-centric Social News: A Behavioral View.” The panel brought experts from telecommunication, computational science, and information science domains who have tremendous expertise in understanding socio-technical behavior evolution.

The panel aimed to present a well-rounded perspective of social media’s role in citizen journalistic efforts in news production, distribution, and consumption. Dr. Serpil Tokdemir, research project analyst at the Office of Medicaid Inspector General in Little Rock and research associate at COSMOS, also served on the panel.

Agarwal also presented a paper co-authored with his doctoral students, Esther Mead, Muhammad Nihal Hussain, Samer Al-khateeb, and Mohammad Shiblee Nooman.

The paper, “Assessing Situation Awareness through Blogosphere: A Case Study on Venezuelan Socio-Political Crisis and the Migrant Influx,” explored how blogs disseminate information regarding social and political views and concerns of citizens within a community.

As a case study, the researchers examined nearly 30,000 blog posts from a Venezuelan community collected between August 2003 to March 2017 to determine if Venezuelan blogs were indeed discussing concerns in the region and possible migration due to these concerns.

Our analysis showed that the blogosphere is indeed being used as a platform for citizens to discuss these issues,” Agarwal said. “Of particular interest is the keyword trend analysis that shows that blogs are being used to discuss issues associated with quality of life and interest in migration away from Venezuela as a result of the crisis. We believe that this study can be used as a starting point to show the value of analyzing blogs in facilitating humanitarian assistance efforts.”

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