UA Little Rock paper wins award at international conference for research on tracking disinformation campaigns through social media

Muhammad Nihal Hussain, a fifth-year doctoral student in information science, is the lead author for the paper.

A UA Little Rock research paper on strategic integrations of social media platforms received the Challenge Problem Runner Up award at the 2018 International Conference on Social Computing, Behavioral-Cultural Modeling, and Prediction and Behavior Representation in Modeling and Simulation this summer. 

The research project, “Examining Strategic Integrations of Social Media Platforms in Tracking Disinformation Campaign Coordination,” explores the role of media orchestration strategies in conducting disinformation campaigns. It was presented July 11-13 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  

Muhammad Nihal Hussain, a fifth-year doctoral student in information science, is the lead author for the paper. He is also a core researcher at COSMOS (Collaboratorium for Social Media and Behavioral Studies), a research group led by Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair of Information Science.

The paper’s co-authors include Kiran Kumar Bandeli, a third-year doctoral student in information science and a researcher at COSMOS, Dr. Samer Al-khateeb, former postdoctoral research fellow at COSMOS who is now an assistant professor of computer science at Creighton University, Dr. Serpil Tokdemir, a research project analyst at the office of Medicaid Inspector General and a postdoctoral research fellow at COSMOS, and Agarwal.

The research presents an in-depth examination of the information networks using social network analysis and cyber forensic based methodology to identify prominent information actors and leading coordinators of the disinformation campaigns.  

“Most researchers focus on one platform to study disinformation, but dissemination strategies have evolved,” Hussain said. “Multiple social media platforms are used in coordination to maximize disinformation diffusion. This paper is a step towards identifying these complex strategies. We plan to continue to monitor and identify disinformation dissemination strategies as they evolve.”

Using the developed research methodology, the study reveals a massive disinformation coordination campaign pertaining to the Baltic region conducted primarily on blogs, but strategically linking to a variety of other social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and VKontakte.

“Currently, the United States and our global partners are in the infancy of where participatory media, technology, and policy meet — a lawless Wild West of social media,” Agarwal said. “This calls for rigorous studies on sociotechnical behavioral modeling, content generation and regulation in social media, cyber-threat assessment, social cyber security, cyber-diplomacy, cyber-human systems, and social computing technologies in general, to develop methodologies to diagnose novel pathologies of online social media This research is a step towards that direction.”

The researchers note that at a time when people rely on social media to consume news more than the mainstream media, irresponsible citizen journalism poses a threat to democratic principles and institutions by misrepresenting facts and information.

Using Blogtrackers, YouTubeTracker, and Focal Structure Analysis tools, the team demonstrated unique ways of tracking disinformation campaigns that leverage a mix of various social media platforms to coordinate the campaigns.

This research is funded in part by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, U.S. Army Research Office, U.S. Air Force Research Lab, U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Jerry L. Maulden/Entergy Endowment at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Researchers are grateful to the support.

In the upper right photo, Muhammad Nihal Hussain, a fifth-year doctoral student in information science, presents the paper at the 2018 International Conference on Social Computing, Behavioral-Cultural Modeling, and Prediction and Behavior Representation in Modeling and Simulation this summer.

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