DARPA program wants to corral zany social media world into a science

DARPA’s social media program wants to take luck out of monitoring important activities on social media sites

Looking to reign-in the sort of wild-west atmosphere that can surround social media outlets, military researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are offering $42 million in grants to develop what it calls a new science of social networks.

The general goal of DARPA's  Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program is to develop a social networks science that will develop automated and semi‐automated operator support tools and techniques for the systematic and methodical use of social media at data scale and in a timely fashion, DARPA stated.

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From DARPA: "Events in social media space involve many‐to‐many interactions among numbers of people at a compressed scale of time that is unprecedented. Entirely new phenomena are emerging that require thinking about social interactions in a new way. The tools that we have today for awareness and defense in the social media space are heavily dependent on chance. We must eliminate our current reliance on a combination of luck and unsophisticated manual methods by using systematic automated and semi‐automated human operator support to detect, classify, measure, track and influence events in social media at data scale."

SMISC will require the confluence of several technologies including, but not limited to, information theory, massive‐scale graph analytics and natural language processing. While SMISC will not directly support natural language processing development efforts, DARPA says, it will certainly use the results of previous programs as well as contribute new challenges to further stimulate ongoing efforts.

DARPA went on to say the program has four specific goals:

1. Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.

2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities.

3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.

4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.

SMISC technology development could include:

  • Programs that could track linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, topic trend analysis, narrative structure analysis, sentiment detection and opinion mining;
  • Meme tracking across communities, graph analytics/probabilistic reasoning, pattern detection, cultural narratives;
  • Inducing identities, modeling emergent communities, trust analytics, network dynamics modeling;
  • Automated content generation, bots in social media, crowd sourcing.

Recent research has shown that traditional approaches to understanding social media through static network connectivity models often produce misleading results. It is, therefore, necessary to take into account the dynamics of behavior and SMISC is interested in a wide variety of techniques for doing so, DARPA stated.

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