ASIS&T’s SIG-USE has named Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I)'s Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Kaitlin Costello, and her colleague, Devon Greyson, Assistant Professor of Health Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recipients of the 2018 Elfreda A. Chatman Research Proposal Award.
ASIS&T’s (Association for Information Science and Technology)’s Special Interest Group - Information Needs Seeking and Use (SIG-USE) awarded Costello and Greyson’s proposal, titled “Sympathy Sockpuppets: A Pilot Study of Non-Nefarious Online Community Infiltration,” for its originality, timeliness, and potential significance to information science research.”
Costello and Greyson will receive the award at the 2018 ASIS&T meeting in Vancouver, Canada, November 10-14, 2018.
“I am absolutely honored to share this award with my colleague, Dr. Greyson,” Costello said, “and I am very excited that we have the opportunity to work together on this project. The namesake of the award, Elfreda Chatman, inspires me greatly as a researcher: her focus on underserved groups; careful, thorough approach to building middle-range theory; and her methodological approach are all qualities I greatly admire.”
Chair of SC&I’s Library and Information Science Department and Associate Professor Ross Todd said of Costello’s achievement, “The ASIS&T Elfreda A. Chatman Research Award honors first a distinguished contributor to Library and Information Science research. Elfreda Chatman gave attention to understanding the social barriers to access to information in every day contexts, and especially with underserved or marginalized groups, and championed theory development in LIS research. Professor Costello is an innovative researcher in health information users and uses context, extending this research tradition through developing a holistic understanding of the information practices of patients diagnosed with chronic illness. This work is significant both in terms of theory building for our field, and for the provision of timely pertinent access to need information.”
Explaining the nature of their proposal, Costello said, “Dr. Greyson and I will be undertaking a qualitative pilot study on the phenomenon of ‘sympathy sockpuppets’ -- people who join online groups for non-nefarious reasons, such as to gain sympathy or cultivate a sense of belonging."
As their research proposal states: “While antisocial activities such as trolling (deliberately offensive and provocative online posting) and catfishing (luring a target into a relationship through online deception) have clear negative impacts on both the individuals targeted and their online communities, communities that discover ‘outsiders’ masquerading as members of the group under false pretenses may also be deeply affected. We call these individuals ‘sympathy sockpuppets’ for the purposes of this study. Such violations of community norms may sow discord and dismay, both personally for members and in terms of future community trust, cohesion, and norms. However, this more subtle and complex form of online deception is not well understood, and the impacts of this form of social deviance within communities have not to date been studied. This knowledge gap leaves each community that experiences such a disruption alone to navigate appropriate responses, develop new policies, and attempt to maintain or regain their community norms, values, and sense of safety.”
Their research has practical and theoretical implications, Costello said, explaining how the findings and outcomes of their research will have the greatest impact. “Many people are increasingly turning to online communities for social interaction, but community moderators and administrators are often operating on an ad-hoc basis. This study will provide evidence-based information about potential actions and policies around deception. Theoretically, the work will help to elucidate the relationship between types of online deception; to date, work in this area has focused more on clearly antisocial behaviors (e.g., catfishing, trolling) and less on non-nefarious types of deception. We will be taking a dual case study approach in this pilot project, conducting interviews with members of communities where this form of online deception has occurred, including moderators and administrators, people who discovered this type of deception occurring, and other community members who were impacted.”
According to the SIG-USE website, the purpose of the a Elfreda A. Chatman Research Proposal Award “is to recognize the best research proposal that falls within the scope of information behavior. Information behavior is broadly defined to include how people construct, need, seek, manage, give, and use information in different contexts.”
Costello and Greyson were chosen from a competitive pool of candidates. Their proposal was noted for its potential significance to information science, both in relation to methods and to topic. Reviewers note that the research problem is timely and cutting-edge, with potential long-term benefits for advancing research on online deception.
As an organization, the website explains, “SIG-USE members are concerned with people’s behavioral and cognitive activities as well as their affective states as they interact with information . . . The SIG wishes to promote contextual studies of human information-related behavior and provision of information services, and to encourage the application of the study results to information systems design.”