Cognitive Cybersecurity Miniseries Guest Speaker: Dr. Cody Buntain
Making the Online Information Ecosystem More Informative, Civil, and Resilient Against Misinformation and Manipulation
Dr. Cody Buntain
New Jersey Institute of Technology
While social media has revolutionized the production and dissemination of information, especially during moments of disruption and unrest, these same spaces have exposed the general public to large quantities of 66, threats of manipulation, and potential radicalization. Despite these threats, what factors make communities vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation, how one can track efforts to exploit these communities, and which interventions are actually effective in reducing these threats remain critical open questions, as online platforms try to address these issues without sufficient understanding of the underlying problems. In this talk, I describe my research into these issues, wherein I develop an understanding for, methods to track, and evaluations of interventions to stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation in online spaces. First, I describe a study on understanding the tactics used by multiple foreign disinformation campaigns to undermine institutions and advance a preferred candidate during and in the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election, showing how these exploits reach across the information ecosystem rather than just a single platform. Then, I present a framework for tracking these disinformation campaigns over time, demonstrating that we can follow the messages pushed by such campaigns over time, even if we do not know the full extent of those involved with the campaign. Finally, I present a method for evaluating the impact of a platform-level intervention deployed by YouTube to stem the flow of misinformation on their platform, show how it was effective across the information ecosystem, and describe potential unintended consequences of their efforts in increasing the popularity of conspiratorial content in certain communities. I close with a discussion of remaining key, open questions in understanding, tracking, and preventing the spread of misinformation and combating sophisticated, multi-modal disinformation campaigns.