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Research on Misinformation and the Transformation of the News Media Industry Shared at the Fall Colloquium
At the annual event, SC&I welcomed three faculty members to the community, and the faculty presented their research.
At the annual fall event, SC&I welcomed three faculty members to the community, and the faculty presented their research.

On Wednesday October 6, 2021 SC&I virtually hosted the Fall Colloquium – an annual event held to introduce new SC&I faculty members to the school community and provide them with an opportunity to present and discuss their research.

Dean Jonathan Potter formally launched the event by greeting everyone and providing updates about the school and the university. Chair and Professor of Library and Information Science Marie Radford introduced new faculty members Kiran Garimella and Shagun Jhaver, and Chair and Professor of Communication Lea Stewart welcomed back Matthew Weber, who has returned to SC&I after a two-year absence during which he served on the faculty at the University of Minnesota.

Below are summaries of each faculty member’s research focus and summaries of the presentations they made during the colloquium.

Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Kiran Garimella

Garmilla’s research deals with using large-scale data to tackle societal issues such as misinformation, political polarization, or hate speech. Prior to joining Rutgers, Garimella was the Michael Hammer postdoc at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before joining MIT, he was a postdoc at EPFL, Switzerland.

His research focuses on using digital data for social good, including areas such as polarization, misinformation, and human migration. His work on studying and mitigating polarization on social media won the best student paper awards at ICWSM 2021, WSDM 2017, and WebScience 2017.

Garimella said his colloquium presentation, “Solutions to Misinformation on WhatsApp,” would explain his current research focus: studying misinformation on WhatsApp and developing solutions to address it.

Explaining why moderating content on WhatsApp is so critical, Giramella said the platform has “global scale and popularity, especially for first-time internet users.” He also said the closed nature of the platform combined with a lack of content moderation allows bad actors to go unchecked.

Garimella said content moderation to help control the proliferation of misinformation on What’s App must be accomplished by means of a bottom-up, not top-down method, because it is currently impossible to centrally moderate content on the platform.

His research findings, he said, indicate it might be possible to involve platform users in fact checking content on WhatsApp by “bringing fact checking resources to diaspora communities; and providing the right tools for collaboration between communities, fact checkers, and researchers.”

Improving digital literacy is a part of the solution as well, Garimella said, and this could be accomplished through crowd-sourced games, personalized interventions, and through libraries.

“Misinformation is part of a bigger picture, it’s not platform or problem specific, and WhatsApp is just one piece of the information ecosystem, and any solution must understand this,” he said.

Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Shagun Jhaver

Jhaver’s work lies at the intersection of Social Computing, Human-Computer Interaction and Data Science. His research builds a foundation for designing fair and efficient content moderation systems on digital platforms.

Before joining Rutgers, he was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington and an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

His presentation, “Analyzing the Effectiveness of Content Moderation Interventions,” focused on his research exploring the efficacy of moderation strategies deployed by social media platforms. This research has contributed computational frameworks for analyzing the aftermath of user-level sanctions and community-level sanctions.

Jhaver spoke about his research exploring the effectiveness of two strategies, known as “banning” and “quarantining,” that social media platforms sometimes use to try to modify or control users who post content that is potentially harmful to society.

He said he has recently investigated Reddit, seeking to provide answers to the question “How does quarantining affect the influx of new users to quarantined subreddits?”

He has examined two of the largest quarantined subreddits, r/TheRedPill, focused on misogyny and anti-feminist discourse, and r/TheDonald, banned for its racist posts, and found there was a “sharp decrease in the influx of new users,” following the group’s quarantine by Reddit, and that “quarantining curbs the growth of online hate groups.”

Further, Jhaver examined what happened next: did the users of these subreddits migrate to other platforms after the quarantine and continue to post? His research showed that banning might backfire because users did in fact migrate to standalone websites where they “became significantly more negative, toxic, and hostile.”

Jhaver has also researched the effectiveness of deplatforming on Twitter, specifically, how does it affect the spread of influencer’s ideas and the activities of their supporters in the long run.

His examination of 49 million tweets that referenced influencers Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulus, and Owen Benjamin, or their antisocial ideas six months before and after deplatforming, showed “deplatforming reduces offensive influencers’ impact and lessons toxic rhetoric.”

However, Jhaver’s findings also showed deplatforming by Twitter “increased the prevalence of some offensive ideas” and “a small group of supporters significantly increased both their activity and toxicity levels.”

Therefore, Jhaver said, his findings show that “platforms must defend against second-order harms of deplatforming.”

He concluded that platforms therefore need to be prepared to handle the aftermath of special moderation interventions, such as deplatforming, including “identifying factors that distinguish followers who become more toxic.”

Further research, Jhaver said, needs to explore the long-term effectiveness of quarantining, including discovering if online communities that escape the quarantine and are allowed to be active again ultimately return to their incendiary behavior. 

Associate Professor of Communication Matthew Weber

Matthew Weber has returned to SC&I after having spent 2018-2020 on the faculty at the University of Minnesota. Weber first joined the SC&I faculty in 2011.

Weber’s research examines organizational change and adaptation in response to new information communication technology. His work is funded by a number of external agencies, including the William T. Grant Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He a member of Rutgers’ NetSCI Network Science lab.

Presenting his talk “Disrupting Institutional Ecosystems in Digital Spaces,” Weber said his current research focuses on the transformation of organizations. He examines how they evolve in response to disruptions such as the introduction of new information communication technology, and within that context he extensively researches the recent transformation of the news media industry.

Weber said recently he has largely focused on assessing the state of local journalism. A starting point for understanding the state of local journalism, he said, “involves identifying each source of journalism within a particular community.” Research challenges he has faced are that records of local news outlets are generally inadequate or incomplete.

He explained that collecting data about local news outlets must focus on outlets “that are geographically based in the community; the outlets that have the demonstrated or potential capacity to serve as a source of journalism (ie independent reporting); and data collection must be expanded to include social media content from Twitter and where possible, tracking data from Facebook via CrowdTangle.”

Three recent projects he is focused on, related to how the news media industry has been impacted by new information communication technology, include: 

  • Examining ecosystem content within which misinformation emerges and to help organizations develop strategies for responding
  • Understanding how organizations are reframing their organizational identities in the context of emerging ‘future of work’ trends based on an analysis of their broad communication networks
  • Examining how organizational and governmental policymaking interplays with these institutional systems.

More information about the Communication and Library and Information Science Departments at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information is on the website

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