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Nov. 29, 2022

NSF grant supports combating information threats in local communities

Kjerstin Thorson, ComArtSci professor and Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, has received a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation to study volunteer moderators of social media groups in local communities. The project is designed to help local community groups combat information threats that emerge around political issues. The grant is a collaboration with Kelley Cotter (Pennsylvania State University) and Nicholas Proferes (Arizona State University).

In their research, the team has found that American communities have become reliant on social media platforms (such as Facebook, Reddit and Next Door) for information in order to connect with neighbors and organizations of their community and to monitor local problems.

“As local news media have declined, digital platforms like Facebook and NextDoor have quickly become sources of local information for many people – in some communities, online groups are one of the last remaining places to find out what is happening locally,” said Thorson.

However, the group spaces on these platforms often face threats of disinformation, incivility and trolling – especially when political topics are discussed. Individuals who monitor these sites are primarily volunteers. According to Thorson, in order to effectively sort through the information circulating on these social platforms and assess their credibility, moderators must understand how to respond to complex human behavior.

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By: Casey Halas

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