CSL professors receive MURI Award funding to study digital misinformation

3/9/2020 Debra Levey Larson, Aerospace Engineering

Written by Debra Levey Larson, Aerospace Engineering


Earth connected by a vast amount of datapoints.
Earth connected by a vast amount of datapoints.

 In a society more connected than ever before, digital misinformation is identified as one of the top global risks. In fact, communications research concerning the widespread circulation of fake stories via social media over the past few years finds: a large population was exposed to fake stories, those who received then tended to believe them, and the most popular fake stories were shared more widely than the most popular true stories. In one effort to understand this phenomenon, a research project was recently funded by the Department of Defense.

As the recipient of one of DoD's highly competitive multidisciplinary university research initiative awards, the team of researchers come from six disciplines across the University of Illinois and Stanford University.

“The goal of this project is to develop models to demonstrate how information—and misinformation-- is transmitted,” said Cedric Langbort, CSL associate professor of aerospace engineering and principal investigator on the project. “We’ll be looking at aspects in the intentional or unintentional propagation of false stories and the psychological and emotional motivation behind propagating stories that aren’t based on proven data, for example.”

Langbort said the models will be backed by experiments in psychology and communication theory and will lead to predictions that can be tested at the individual or network level.

Some of the other questions the researchers seek to answer are: Can the patterns and rate of propagation be predicted at the network scale? Under what conditions can the spread of false messaging be inhibited?

Cedric Langbort
Cedric Langbort

The project, “A Multimodal Approach to Network Information Dynamics,” will receive 6.25 million over five years. In addition to Langbort, researchers from Illinois are: CSL's Tamer Ba┼čar from the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Michel Regenwetter from the Dept. of Psychology.

Researchers from Stanford are: Matthew Gentzkow from the Dept. of Economics, Jeff Hancock from the Dept. of Communications and founder of the Stanford Social Media Lab, and Johan Ugander from the Dept. of Management Science and Engineering.

The project is managed through the Coordinated Science Laboratory at Illinois.

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This story was published March 9, 2020.