Creighton University

Creighton professor dedicated to rooting out social media's trolls

10-Dec-2018 10:05 AM EST, by Creighton University

Newswise — Somewhere, right now, an Internet troll — one of those nefarious propagators of disinformation and doubt — is working up a real corker of a rumor to really animate President Donald Trump’s detractors.

At the same time, somewhere, another troll is cooking up a hot batch of nonsense to be spread among the President’s supporters.

The thing is, those “somewheres” are likely within high-fiving distance for these two trolls. The two trolls may even be the very same person.

“If you really study Internet trolls, many of them are people working in the same room,” said Samer Al-khateeb, PhD, an assistant professor of Computer Science and Informatics in the Creighton University College of Arts and Sciences Department of Journalism, Media, and Computing. “They might be sitting in the same room, creating memes, cartoons, and fabricated images that will aggregate shares, followers and spread chaos.”

An expert in online behavior and social media networks, Al-khateeb is in his first semester on the Creighton faculty and working on a book on social cyber-forensics, a field in which he’s been active for several years dating back to his graduate school days at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

While at UALR, Al-khateeb helped start the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), an academic organization now numbering upwards of 30 undergraduate and graduate students, which is helping governmental agencies better understand the connections between social media, fake news and malicious hackings, all of which have featured prominently in the increasingly digitally interconnected world.

One of the studies Al-khateeb has designed is that of the online flash mob targeting an agency’s or company’s social media and that can lead to a disruption of service. In 2015, hackers claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic State group shut down U.S. Central Command, starting with an influx of tweets to the Central Command’s Twitter account.

“It used to be that a flash mob was fun and done in physical space,” Al-khateeb said. “Now, people gather online and do something harmful. With Central Command, they were able to put that page down for two to three hours and hackers were able to get into a government, military Twitter account and able to promote heinous propaganda.”

Even in a brief three years, though, much has changed with the scope, nature and perpetrators of such attacks, Al-khateeb said. First, the agents involved in such attacks need not be human. Bots — automated social media accounts run by software — can now create thousands of social media posts, obviating the need for human coordination to spread propaganda across multiple platforms.

Al-khateeb, at COSMOS, has been at work in finding ways to link social media accounts across many platforms and show that the origin of a number of disinformation campaigns and fake news disseminations come from the same or closely-connected sources.

This fall, Al-khateeb published two papers at the International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining (ASONAM). One paper looks at the role of bots in spreading news about natural disasters, the other examines the use of YouTube in creating large-scale crowd manipulations. Al-khateeb has also published a book chapter on social bot evolution during large-scale combat operations published by the Army University Press.

He’s said as hackers and Internet trolls become savvier with their ways of spreading online chaos, the efforts to track them are also becoming more sophisticated. But in many cases, Al-khateeb said, the personal attentiveness of social media consumers to thoroughly examine and judge what they see and read online is a crucial part of the process.

“There is a danger in people actually believing in some of these things,” he said. “We need to raise more awareness, more education about these issues. Not everything you see is real, so the effort on our end also includes vigilance. One way to mitigate the risk of such acts is by creating more tools that can help the government and the society in general, but we’re always a work in progress. The best tool for risk mitigation is to have some skepticism.”



Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5649
Released: 23-Oct-2020 3:50 PM EDT
Trump Led Biden in Twitter Volume and in Positive Mentions, Analysis Shows
New York University

President Donald Trump received more Twitter mentions, and a greater increase of positive mentions, relative to former Vice President Joe Biden Thursday night, shows a new analysis of online activity leading up to, during, and immediately after the second presidential debate.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 26-Oct-2020 3:00 PM EDT Released to reporters: 23-Oct-2020 2:45 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 26-Oct-2020 3:00 PM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Released: 23-Oct-2020 2:30 PM EDT
Trump continued to falsely claim Biden supported getting rid of private insurance

In the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, moderator Kristen Welker asks the candidates to speak about their plans for healthcare in the United States. President Trump once again accused his oponent of wanting to eliminate private health insurance. Trump has made this claim repeatedly. This claim is false. It conflates Biden's plan with those of other Democrats pushing "Medicare for All."

Released: 23-Oct-2020 1:50 PM EDT
Are we really “rounding the corner" when it comes the coronavirus pandemic?

“We’re rounding the turn,” Trump said during the debate. This implies a meaningful improvement. We rate this claim as false. On that very same day the U.S. recorded 77,000 new cases, according to NBC News. This tops the previous high that had been set in July. We may be learning to "live with it," as Trump mentioned, but this is not an improvement.

Released: 22-Oct-2020 11:55 AM EDT
A video posted by a European-based group called World Doctors Alliance falsely claims the novel coronavirus is “a normal flu virus”

A video posted by a European-based group called World Doctors Alliance claims the novel coronavirus is “a normal flu virus” and there is no COVID-19 pandemic. Although the video was removed from Youtube, portions of the video are circulating on Facebook. We rate this claim as false. Scientists universally agree that the cuase of this pandemic is a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and not a strain of influenza. COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu. COVID-19 so far has killed more people in the U.S. than the past five flu seasons combined.

Newswise: Time is Not on Their Side: Physicians Face Barriers to Voting
Released: 22-Oct-2020 11:00 AM EDT
Time is Not on Their Side: Physicians Face Barriers to Voting
UT Southwestern Medical Center

DALLAS – Oct. 22, 2020 – Two new UT Southwestern studies published today report some surprising findings: Only half of practicing physicians are registered to vote, and the most common obstacle faced by resident physicians is the lack of time to vote. The researchers say finding ways to increase voter participation among doctors is critical as the nation tackles health care issues.

Released: 22-Oct-2020 10:15 AM EDT
Pres. Trump claim that "phony ballots" were printed without his name on it is not entirely true

We rate this claim as mostly false. There was one instance in Los Angeles where a small percentage of mail ballots omitted the presidential race entirely. That meant that it wasn’t only Trump’s name that was missing, but also Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Showing results

110 of 5649