Agarwal, Bandeli present research at NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence

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

Two University of Arkansas at Little Rock researchers presented their findings on the spread of misinformation campaigns through blogs and social media to the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (StratCom COE) Nov. 8 in Riga, Latvia. 

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy endowed chair and information science professor, and Kiran Kumar Bandeli, a doctoral candidate in the information science program, presented their paper, “Blogs, Fake News, and Information Activities,” to an invitation-only event attended by over 120 people.

The paper serves as a chapter in StratCom COE’s research product, “Digital Hydra: Security Implications of False information Online,” which investigates misinformation and disinformation on social media in context of the rise of fake news.

The NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence, based in Latvia, is a multinational, cross-sector organization that provides comprehensive analyses, advice, and practical support to the alliance and allied nations. The report is produced for NATO, NATO member countries, NATO partners, related private and public institutions, and related individuals.

Agarwal’s and Bandeli’s research describes how blogs have empowered citizen journalism, partly supplanting traditional journalism. However, blogs can also be used to spread false information online. Even reader comments can be used to make a false story sound more persuasive.

“However, the absence of a social network structure for blogs inhibits the dissemination of these narratives,” Agarwal said. “Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are used as vehicles to disseminate the content using cross media and mixed-media tactics. The link between blogs and social media platforms is vital for understanding disinformation campaigns.”

The research focused on eight guidelines that can be used to detect blogs containing false information, such as checking if the website has a legitimate “Contact Us” section and checking the images, links, and editorial standards for writing.

Agarwal’s team studied four different blog datasets containing 372 blog websites, 7,576 bloggers, and 196,940 blog posts riddled with misleading or false information, discovering a massive misinformation coordination campaign.

The study further revealed two types of social media integration strategies prominently used in disseminating false narratives on the social media – mix-media and cross-media. They tracked the origin of blog content, such as memes, images, and videos, to evaluate these dissemination strategies and understand how false information in blogs travel the social media ecosystem. This paper is part of a larger effort to develop countermeasures that can be used to fight online misinformation campaigns.

The research is supported in part by the NATO StratCom COE, U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Office of Naval Research, U.S. Air Force Research Lab, U.S. Army Research Office, U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the UA Little Rock Jerry L. Maulden/Entergy Fund.

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