If you get your news from social media, as most Americans do, you are exposed to a daily dose of hoaxes, rumors, conspiracy theories and misleading news. When it’s all mixed in with reliable information from honest sources, the truth can be very hard to discern.
Among the millions of real people tweeting about the presidential race, there are also a lot accounts operated by fake people, or “bots.” Politicians and regular users alike use these accounts to increase their follower bases and push messages. PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports on how CNetS computer scientists can analyze Twitter handles to determine whether or not they are bots.
Research on detection of social bots by CNetS faculty members Alessandro Flammini and Filippo Menczer, former IUNI research scientist Emilio Ferrara, and graduate students Clayton Davis, Onur Varol, and Prashant Shiralkar was featured on the covers of the two top computing venues: the June issue of Computer (flagship magazine of the IEEE Computer Society) and the July issue of Communications of the ACM (flagship publication of the ACM). Continue reading Social bot research featured on CACM, IEEE Computer covers
Lately, my hobby has been to develop Quirkies Evolution, an iOS game to teach kids about evolution. This started last year as the 4th-grade science project of my daughter, Iris. She asked for advice about a project idea; she wanted it to be about coding and evolution, two subjects about which she has been learning recently. So we ended up designing Quirkies together, and she used the app to run some simulations and present results at her school’s science fair about how adaptive traits become more common in a population. Iris is actively involved in all aspects of the game, including some of the Swift programming (especially the geometry and core graphics), although I have done most of the coding as it is quite challenging to develop for iOS. It has been fun for me to learn iOS development, play with evolutionary algorithms (the subject of my undergraduate and PhD research), and get inspiration for some work projects.
Quirkies are creatures that evolve through natural selection, reproduction, recombination and mutation of genes. By selecting mates who get to reproduce, players simulate the environment in which the best quirkies survive. You can choose a trait that you would like the population to have. As you play the game, try to select quirkies with that trait. In each generation, the offspring inherit the genes from the parents. The trait that you picked will become common throughout the population. Your fitness score at the top of the main screen will improve, and you win the game with high enough fitness over generations. But quirkies might also be rejected by mates, experience harmful mutations, and risk death. Your quirkies will evolve new traits such as colors, nose, mouth, limbs, hair, and more by regulatory gene adaptations. You can explore it all through the family tree (showing how genes are inherited) and population view.
As you play, quirkies will entertain you with funny comments (even with speech), quiz your understanding of evolution, and make suggestions from hundreds of educational videos and podcasts. You earn badges through these activities. You can also earn survival points with mini-games: help your offspring feed, fight challengers, and find their parents. And don’t tell anyone, but if you get to the biolab, you can manipulate your quirkie’s genes.
Kids can name and save their favorite quirkies (they also get scientific species names), and share them with their friends. (Parents, no worries — your kid cannot post on social media without your permission.) Then they can get news updates when one of their quirkies has new siblings or offspring, and explore the families of their saved quirkies: their parents, siblings, mates, and offspring.
Quirkies Evolution is released through Indiana University and benefits from the scientific advice of Matt Hahn, one of my favorite evolutionary biologists. Iris and I are also grateful to many other friends who helped with their ideas and feedback, including Anushka, Jessica, Kira, Luca, Markus, Max, and many others.
How can you help? Glad you asked! Most importantly, download and install the game on your iPhone or iPad, and rate it (or even better review it) on the App Store. This way you can help others find it among millions of other apps. And of course, if you have kids, let them play with it. Ideal ages are 8-12 but even younger kids and adults can have fun. Iris and I hope you enjoy both the fun and the learning!
Did more people see #thedress as blue and black or white and gold? How many Twitter users wanted pop star Katy Perry to take the #icebucketchallenge? The power to explore online social media movements — from the pop cultural to the political — with the same algorithmic sophistication as top experts in the field is now available to journalists, researchers and members of the public from a free, user-friendly online software suite released today by scientists at Indiana University. The Web-based tools, called the Observatory on Social Media, or “OSoMe” (pronounced “awesome”), provide anyone with an Internet connection the power to analyze online trends, memes and other online bursts of viral activity. An academic pre-print paper on the tools is available in the open-access journal PeerJ.
“This software and data mark a major goal in our work on Internet memes and trends over the past six years,” said Filippo Menczer, director of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research and a professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing. “We are beginning to learn how information spreads in social networks, what causes a meme to go viral and what factors affect the long-term survival of misinformation online. The observatory provides an easy way to access these insights from a large, multi-year dataset.” Read more.
Congratulations to Clayton Davis, who won the best presenter prize at WWW 2016 Developers Day! Clayton presented BotOrNot: A system to evaluate social bots, a paper coauthored with Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Alessandro Flammini and Filippo Menczer, that describes our latest API developments with the BotOrNot system.
In an interview aired on the ABC (Australian) evening news program “The World” on April 4, 2016, Filippo Menczer discussed with host Beverley O’Connor how information and misinformation spread throughout the Internet and the roles of network structure and social bubbles in determining meme virality. Video here.
The CNetS poster “The Rise of Social Bots in Online Social Networks” by Emilio Ferrara, Onur Varol, Prashant Shiralkar, Clayton Davis, Filippo Menczer, and Alessandro Flammini won a Best Poster Award at CCS 2015. The poster was presented by Clayton Davis. The results will also appear in the paper “The Rise of Social Bots” to be published in Comm. ACM (in press, preprint).
The paper “Modularity and the Spread of Perturbations in Complex Dynamical Systems” by Artemy Kolchinsky, Alexander J. Gates and Luis M. Rocha, and the poster “Information Theoretic Structures of the French Revolution” by Alexander Barron, Simon DeDeo and Rebecca Spang won additional awards.
Finally, our former postdoctoral scientist Bruno Gonçalves (now tenured faculty member at Aix-Marseille Université) received a Junior Scientist Award from the Complex Systems Society for his contributions to the study of human social behavior from large-scale online attention and behavioral data. This is the second Junior Scientist Award for CNetS (the first was won by Filippo Radicchi).
Congratulations to the CNetS team!