The Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University develops public tools to investigate the diffusion of (mis)information, uncover the vulnerabilities of the media ecosystem, and increase the resilience of citizens and democratic systems to manipulation.
As people around the world increasingly access critical news and information through social media, the vulnerabilities of these platforms and their users to abuse and manipulation through inauthentic actors and coordinated disinformation campaigns are posing a critical threat. Democracies are under attack by foreign and domestic actors, while in repressive regimes, state actors exploit social media with populist messaging or suppress democratic movements through flooding the information ecosystem. To help mitigate these vulnerabilities, the Observatory on Social Media aims at lowering the entry barrier for social media researchers, journalists, and the general public who wish to research online disinformation and manipulation.
We offer a suite of free and open tools for detection, interactive visualization, and analysis of social media data. Three major tools under active development are Botometer, Hoaxy, and BotSlayer. Botometer checks the activity of a Twitter account and analyzes its behavior to determine how likely it is that account is automated. Hoaxy allows individuals to visualize the spread of claims and fact-checking from account to account on Twitter. BotSlayer is an application that helps track and detect potential manipulation of information spreading on Twitter; it can be used by journalists, civil organizations, and political candidates to discover in real time new coordinated campaigns in their domains of interest, without any prior knowledge of these campaigns.
Through the Internet Freedom Fund, we plan to develop more accessible, robust, and feature-rich versions of these tools, expand our research collaborations, and disseminate the tools as well as provide training. We will also extend the functionality of our tools so that they are able to detect coordinated campaigns sponsored by repressive governments, and cope with the large amounts of unexpected data produced by the flooding of social media associated with these coordinated campaigns. The goal is to empower communities to determine the trustworthiness of information and sources in the absence of reliable intermediaries. Such efforts may increase the resilience of citizens to manipulation and support democracy around the world.
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