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Social Networks

 According to the World Economic Forum, massive digital misinformation is one of the main threats to our society . Our recent studies show that users online tend to select information by confirmation bias and  to join virtual echo chambers where they reinforce and polarize their beliefs. Considered as a liberalizing technology as exemplified by Arab Spring to Maidan, hopes were high that social media might bring innovation and democracy across the world. However, social media have the power to inform, engage or mobilize, as well as the power to misinform, manipulate or control.

The main concern is that if people select information according to their personal beliefs and emotional states (confirmation bias) we need to better understand the process of news spreading and consumption to address the design of efficient communication strategies accounting for the cognitive needs of users. In fact, the process of accepting a claim (whether documented or not) may be altered by normative social influence or by the coherence with one’s individual system of beliefs as is well documented in the literature on cognitive
and social psychology of communication. At the extreme of the spectrum, conspiracy theorists tend to explain significant social or political aspects as plots conceived by powerful individuals or organizations, and they share an important characteristic with so-called “urban legends”: the object of the narratives inevitably threaten the established social order or well being and focus on what communities and social groups deeply fear. These phenomena can be considered as a sort of “thermometer” of social mood. As these kinds of arguments can sometimes reject logic or science, alternative explanations are invoked to replace evidence.

In such a disintermediated environment, the public deals with a large amount of misleading information generated by nationalists, populists and conspirators, that is corrupting reliable sources at the heart. This project aims to study, quantitatively characterize, and model both the process of spreading news and the consumption of news for the early detection of trends in public opinion.
The project architecture is three-fold: the first layer will focus on the implementation of data gathering software and tools used in spreading news; the second will implement a dashboard with visual analytics tools for predicting social trends from news; the third layer will implement services for the mobile application market to exploit the sensing platform. For instance, people who reject the link between HIV and AIDS generally believe that AIDS was created by the U.S. Government to control the African American population. Since unsubstantiated claims are proliferated on the Internet, what could happen if they come to be used as the basis for policy making?