The University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) is part of an international research cohort that has received about $2.35 million in funding from the Department of Defense (DOD) to investigate the use of social cyber forensics to understand covert online influence.
UA Little Rock will receive $691,339 for its part of the four-year project. Dr. Nitin Agarwal, professor of information science and director of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), will serve as principal investigator for the university.
Countries can use the ease of information access via new media technologies to create manipulation through disinformation and propaganda, which can cause adverse effects on sovereignty and political stability. This research will help fill the knowledge gap the U.S. faces with regard to China’s engagement in “informationized” warfare, and will more broadly establish a model for effective analysis of strategic influence in the Middle East, Europe, and other regions.
“Increasing proliferation of social media provides tremendous opportunities for gaining situational awareness to assist with strategic policy making, particularly in defense, security, diplomacy, and foreign policy,” said Dr. Agarwal. “However, social media data is often riddled with challenges such as high volume and velocity, noisy data, missing data, and incomplete data. This project will develop computational, systematic, and rigorous methods that are grounded in social science theories and cyber forensic methodologies to study big social media data and surmount the challenges.”
Dr. Agarwal and his team at COSMOS will conduct social network and cyber forensic analysis to examine online activity and the dissemination of ideas and elements of these narratives. They will also observe virtual proxies of political action.
“The grant will allow us to develop research-based models and operationalize them in our social media monitoring tools, Blog Tracker and Video Tracker, to assist the United States defense in countering cyber threats in an emerging socio-technical context, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region,” Dr. Agarwal said.
The grant is managed by the Office of Naval Research and awarded under the DOD’s Minerva Research Initiative. Minerva supports basic research that focuses on topics of particular relevance to U.S. national security. The Minerva Research Initiative is jointly administered by the Basic Research Office and the Strategy and Force Development Office in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in partnership with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research.