As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, we live in a richly connected world, facilitating not only the efficient spread of a virus but also of information and influence. What can we learn by analyzing these connections? This is a core question of network science, a field of research that models interactions across physical, biological, social, and information systems to solve problems.
The 2021 Graph Exploitation Symposium (GraphEx), hosted by MIT Lincoln Laboratory, brought together top network science researchers to share the latest advances and applications in the field.
“We explore and identify how exploitation of graph data can offer key technology enablers to solve the most pressing problems our nation faces today,” says Edward Kao, a symposium organizer and technical staff in Lincoln Laboratory’s AI Software Architectures and Algorithms Group.
The themes of the virtual event revolved around some of the year’s most relevant issues, such as analyzing disinformation on social media, modeling the pandemic’s spread, and using graph-based machine learning models to speed drug design.
“The special sessions on influence operations and Covid-19 at GraphEx reflect the relevance of network and graph-based analysis for understanding the phenomenology of these complicated and impactful aspects of modern-day life, and also may suggest paths forward as we learn more and more about graph manipulation,” says William Streilein, who co-chaired the event with Rajmonda Caceres, both of Lincoln Laboratory.
Several presentations at the symposium focused on the role of network science in analyzing influence operations (IO), or organized attempts by state and/or non-state actors to spread disinformation narratives.
Lincoln Laboratory researchers have been developing tools to classify and quantify the influence of social media accounts that are likely IO accounts, such as those willfully spreading false Covid-19 treatments to vulnerable populations.
“A cluster of IO accounts acts as an echo chamber to amplify the narrative. The vulnerable population is then engaging in these narratives,” says Erika Mackin, a researcher
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