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Researchers win grant to combat misinformation

Hand holding a smartphone.
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Washington State University researcher Porismita Borah is part of a project to study the most effective methods of combating misinformation online that recently received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator

Borah, an associate professor in WSU’s Murrow College of Communication, joins a cross-disciplinary team undertaking the effort which includes researchers in journalism and engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Georgia Tech.

Porismita Borah portrait
Porismita Borah

“This project is a neat mix of theory and practice,” said Borah, a co-principle investigator on the grant. “We will detect misinformation on social media platforms and test messages with experimental research to address the pressing issue. We hope to aid professional fact checkers and journalists with our findings on misinformation correction.”

Misinformation on social media has presented significant threats to both public health during the COVID-19 pandemic and democracy throughout the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and the researchers hope the effort will help curb its effects.

“This project will help determine what corrections of misinformation are effective and get that information to professional fact checkers, who can work in real time to correct misinformation circulating on social media,” said Mike Wagner, principal investigator on the grant and a professor at UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “This is a real convergence of different disciplines and methods that allows us to find solutions to the problem and share good evidence with fact checkers and the public.”

The project, titled “How Large-Scale Identification and Intervention Can Empower Professional Fact-Checkers to Improve Democracy and Public Health,” plans to purchase ads on Facebook and Twitter and leverage the platforms’ A/B testing mechanisms, a randomized experiment with two variants, to determine what methods of debunking misinformation are most effective. These findings can then be shared with fact checkers so they can deliver corrections most likely to make an impact.

“Social networks are already doing A/B testing, and now researchers can use this for misinformation correction,” said Sijia Yang a co-principal investigator from UW, Madison. “We hope to empower professional fact checkers and journalists by amplifying their role and allowing them to leverage data and proven methods found through A/B testing.”

Launched in 2019, the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator builds upon research and discovery to accelerate use-inspired convergence research into practical application. The Convergence Accelerator is making timely investments to solve high-risk societal challenges.

“The Convergence Accelerator is a relatively new NSF program, but our unique program model is focused on delivering tangible solutions that have a positive nation-wide societal impact,” said Douglas Maughan, Office Head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program.

This story was adapted from a UW-Madison article.

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