UB, partners awarded $ 750,000 to fight online disinformation | Web supplement

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BUFFALO – A multidisciplinary research team led by the University of Buffalo has received $ 750,000 to develop digital literacy tools to reduce the deleterious effects of online disinformation.

The grant comes from the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator, a program launched in 2019 that leverages basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions with societal impact.

The research team includes experts in artificial intelligence, humanities, information sciences and other fields. In addition to UB, they are affiliated with Clemson University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Lehigh University, and Northeastern University.

The project – titled A Disinformation Range to Improve User Awareness and Resilience to Online Disinformation – focuses on the development of a suite of digital literacy tools, as well as advanced educational techniques, which aim to reduce the harmful effects of disinformation online. Researchers plan to have a prototype ready in June, when they share it with the elderly and teens, two groups particularly susceptible to online disinformation, according to a growing body of research.

“Just like a vaccine inoculates people against a virus, we want to inoculate media consumers against misinformation. Inoculated users are the first line of defense against the dissemination of corrupt and misleading information, ”says grant principal investigator Siwei Lyu, Empire Innovation professor of computer science and engineering at UB.

The gamified platform includes social robots

Online disinformation erodes trust in legitimate news sources and poses a thorny challenge for society, Lyu says.

The range of disinformation will include lively discussion sessions, fun group activities interspersed with short lectures. It will also include quizzes and individual exercises.

“The goal of Disinformation Range, with its gamified and collaborative platform, is to increase awareness and resilience of media consumers in a safe environment,” explains Lyu.

Rohini Srihari, professor of computer science and engineering at UB and assistant professor of linguistics, is co-investigator of the project.

“We will develop innovative chatbots, also known as social bots, to engage participants in targeted conversations that will lead to timely interventions to prevent the spread of disinformation online. These social robots will be modeled on social science research into building trust, empathy and persuasion, as well as cutting-edge technology in neural dialogue generation, ”she said.

Need for social science researchers, young adult education

Co-principal investigator David Castillo, professor of Romance languages ​​and literatures and director of the UB Humanities Institute, says collaboration between computer scientists, sociologists and academics in the humanities is necessary to develop effective solutions to combat online disinformation .

“As unprecedented as the speed and scope of disinformation in the digital age is, this existential challenge cannot be separated from the complex histories of our social, economic, political and cultural structures,” he said. “This is why sociologists, humanists and educators must be involved in any serious attempt to understand the root causes of disinformation and to mitigate its harmful effects. “

A grant partner is Buffalo Prep, a nonprofit organization that helps underrepresented talented students prepare for, enter, and excel in demanding preparatory high schools. The research team will share Disinformation Range with teens affiliated with the group, Castillo said.

The aim, he says, is “to develop contextual approaches to raising awareness of disinformation for integration into school curricula.”

Seniors, fun learning modules

Co-Principal Investigator Darren Linvill, Associate Professor of Communication and Principal Investigator at Clemson’s Media Forensics Hub, highlights the need for digital literacy skills in older adults.

“We have known for a long time that media literacy should not be taught only in our schools but also in our retirement homes. One of the groups most vulnerable to disinformation are older Americans. Research shows they spread fake news at rates several times higher than college-aged adults, ”he says.

The research team will share the range of misinformation with seniors at Osher’s lifelong learning institutes.

Anita Nikolich, Research Scientist and Director of Research Innovation at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, is Co-Principal Investigator. The key to Disinformation Range’s success, she says, is creating entertaining learning modules.

“There is a lot of important academic work in this area, but our challenge is to bring concrete solutions to those affected by disinformation,” she says. “Creating a game that is fun and engaging, but also has an impact on society, is our most important goal. “

Project lays foundation for UB’s Information Integrity Center

Disinformation Range was selected in the first phase of the 2021 cohort of the NSF Convergence Accelerator. This is one of the 12 teams funded under the Trust and Authenticity in the Accelerator’s Communication Systems component.

It lays the foundation and platform for a UB Information Integrity Center to accelerate multidisciplinary collaborative research that will involve a large group of faculty members who have worked on the topic of disinformation / disinformation from different disciplinary perspectives.

The planned center will target specific applications, such as voting rights, health disinformation and climate change science, among others.


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