Newswise — Little Rock, Ark. (Aug. 7, 2014)--An associate professor at UALR has received military grant funding that could provide insight into the continued crisis in Ukraine. The research findings are already being used by NATO.

Project funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) is supporting the social media research of Dr. Nitin Agarwal of the UALR Information Science Department.

Working closely with the NATO officers, Agarwal will compute and analyze the sea of available data related to the Ukrainian crisis in the form of tweets, blog posts, and other social media, using tracking monitoring tools and previously published social media research methodologies published by his team.

He used similar tools to track and then later create a three-dimensional representation of the social media campaign organized by Saudi Arabian women last fall to protest against the driving ban there.

Recently, as Agarwal gazed into a computer monitor filled with a dizzying array of brightly colored dots representing persons and "bots" on social media, he said the rise of such platforms has enabled global connections, both positive and negative, like never before.

Analyzing these interactions could reveal such things as the emergence or decline of political leadership or help de-escalate a growing crisis in a global hotspot.

“Basically, this is an effort to boil down reams of data into relevant information,” said Agarwal. “That information could help policy makers in the decision-making process, and it could also help counteract disinformation and propaganda campaigns circulating out there.”

The project’s title is “Predictive Modeling of Cyber Flash Mobs: Understanding Emerging Socio-Technical Behaviors for Conflict Monitoring.” The ONR-funded project yielded $160,000 through Sept. 30, 2015.

In addition, research arms in two other branches of the U.S. military have provided grant funding for Agarwal’s projects. One of those, funded by the U.S. Army Research Office’s Modeling of Complex Systems program for $15,000, will run through November 2016.

Another project for the U.S. Air Force Research Lab, titled “Social Media Categorization Study,” is funded for $150,000 and runs through Feb. 28, 2015. The study aims at developing a fundamental and systematic understanding of the social media platforms to advance understanding of novel socio-technical behaviors, for example, hashtag activism, crowdsourcing, flash mobs, citizen journalism, “live-tweeting” or “tweetcasting” a crisis event, to support operational targeting and designing strategies to tackle such behaviors.

"Efficient data analysis techniques are needed to provide open source intelligence (OSI) to support situation awareness, risk assessment, mission assessment, and an over all mission effectiveness,” Agarwal said.

Agarwal has a Ph.D. in computer science from Arizona State University with outstanding dissertation recognition.

His research expertise includes social computing and behavioral modeling, knowledge discovery and data miningextraction in Social Media and Web 2.0, modeling and evaluating phenomena social dynamics involving such as influence, trust, and collective action atfamiliar strangers, collective wisdom, and community discovery, largweb-e-scale data management, data mining, web mining, and privacy, as demonstrated by numerous highly cited articles in various reputed conferences and journals including best paper awards.