UA Little Rock's COSMOS Gets $456K To Study Online Information Campaigns


UA Little Rock's COSMOS Gets $456K To Study Online Information Campaigns
Nitin Agarwal will serve as principal investigator for UA Little Rock for the DOD-funded project. (File photo) (UA Little Rock/Ben Krain)

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS) has been awarded a $456,657 grant by the Department of Defense to study covert online information campaigns in the Indo-Pacific region.

UA Little Rock is partnering on the five-year, $5 million project  “Multi-Level Models of Covert Online Information Campaigns”  with Carnegie Mellon University, University of Regina, and The Atlantic Council.

Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy endowed chair, distinguished professor of information science, and the founding director of COSMOS, will serve as principal investigator for UA Little Rock. He’s been studying the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda online for years.

This recent funding will be used to study campaigns during elections, protests, and other major events in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Advanced tactics and maneuvers are used to amplify the messages,” Agarwal said in a news release. “For instance, narratives are framed in blogs and YouTube videos, which are then shared on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and other such platforms. Links to blog posts and YouTube videos are massively amplified using bots, which drive traffic to respective blog posts or YouTube videos. Traffic amplification further leads to the content being recommended more, which creates a feeding frenzy. Such a tactic is known as algorithmic manipulation.”

In this project, COSMOS is studying such tactics. COSMOS will use its existing programs to collect information from YouTube and blogs then use that information to track a video or a blog post’s dissemination across multiple media platforms and their influence.

The funding will help researchers identify key actors, key groups, coordination strategies, and tactics as well as assess inflammatory speech and text that evokes certain emotions. The ultimate goal is to enable further experimentation with countermeasures.