Networks have dramatically changed the way we experience the world. Information access and broadcasting have been revolutionized. The Internet, the Web, and online platforms bring us together: our society is experiencing the effects, both positive and negative, of ubiquitous and unparalleled connectivity. In this talk, I will overview my decade-long journey into understanding the implications of online platforms for our society, democracy, and public health. I’ll first focus on online manipulation and illustrate how bots and trolls exacerbate the spread of inaccurate information. Their operations span domains from politics to public health. I’ll dive deep into our discovery that bots attempted to manipulate the online conversation about the 2016 US Election. Our work is the only peer-reviewed study of online political interference that appeared before November 8, 2016, and it has informed official government investigations as well as new policies and regulations. These problems are far from being solved, as I will illustrate similar issues with the 2020 U.S. Election, as well as COVID-related chatter. I’ll conclude by discussing the tools we developed to understand and combat online misinformation, detect bots and trolls, and characterize their activity, behavior, and strategies, suggesting how they are changing the way researchers and the public study communication networks in the era of automation and artificial intelligence.
About the speaker
Emilio Ferrara is a professor of communication and computer science at USC Annenberg and at the USC Viterbi Department of Computer Science, and Director of the Annenberg Networks Network (ANN) center and co-director of the Machine Intelligence and Data Science (MINDS) center.