Dr. Cody Buntain Wins $999K DARPA Grant to Study Social Media in Conflict Zones

- July 11, 2022

Cody’s work will develop models to predict where influence efforts by actors might emerge online.

words "fake news" super imposed over hand holding cell phone.

The Department of Defense has awarded a base 2 year $500K grant with a 1 year $500K option to Assistant Professor Cody Buntain, University of Maryland College of Information Studies, to study new and emerging online social spaces in conflict zones and how these spaces might be exploited to manipulate audiences. Cody’s work will develop models to predict where influence efforts launched by state- (e.g., China, Russia) and non-state (e.g., the Taliban) actors might emerge online. Combining insights from country-level experts with data science methods, this project will build maps of the online spaces in conflict settings, identifying major online platforms, news sources, and influential figures. These maps will enable the identification of new and emerging platforms that are gaining traction within these regions. These maps will provide guidance to stakeholders on what online spaces are at risk for exploitation by bad actors and influence efforts. Building on these maps, Cody will also develop methods to measure the impact of influence efforts and how bad actors respond to platforms’ efforts to defend and moderate these spaces.

The ability to predict which platforms, audiences, and affordances are vulnerable to online influence allows us to more efficiently craft interventions, protect these audiences, and lessen strategic surprise. This work also advances computational social science by 1) developing ways to measure the impact of campaigns that use multiple platforms and by 2) providing platforms and stakeholders with insights about the impact of their interventions.

Every year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awards a small number of awards to early-career faculty members who develop projects that are based on national security needs.  The purpose of the Young Faculty Awards (YFA) program is to create research programs that have long lasting effects. The research should not only stand on its own as ground breaking insight but should also provide the foundation for technologies that can be developed from it.