Facebook Award Funds Research into Online Spread of Right-Wing Extremism
November 03, 2019
Noelle Toumey Reetz
Public Relations Specialist / TCV Initiative
College of Arts & Sciences
ATLANTA– Social media giant Facebook has awarded a one year, $90,000 research grant to an Assistant Professor of Communication at Georgia State University to study how extremism spreads on social media.
Dr. Dror Walter is heading the research project Exploring the Internationalization of Extreme Right Public Spheres together with Dr. Yannick Veilleux-Lepage. “We are trying to understand better the extent of international conversation between different far-right groups, the change over time, and in which contexts is internationalization more pronounced,” says Walter.
The competitive policy research award is in support of Facebook’s mission to review its content policies, and address bullying and harassment online. The site is a tool for millions of people to connect around the world, but users also utilize the platform to share extremist viewpoints and dangerous content.
The research is unique because of the methodology. It brings together computer-science, social and political science and communication theory. The team will use interviews, unsupervised machine learning, natural language processing, and network analysis to track the spread of right-wing extremist messaging.
As the Principal Investigator, Walter will work with a team of multi-disciplinary researchers from Georgia State as well as collaborating with experts internationally.
Dr. Yannick Veilleux-Lepage is a Co-Investigator on the project. He works as an Assistant Professor with the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this project is the collaboration between the Department of Communication at Georgia State University which is developing innovative computational methods, and the Institution of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University, a European powerhouse in terrorism and security research,” says Veilleux-Lepage. Previously, Veilleux-Lepage worked as a Research Coordinator for the Georgia State College of Arts & Science’s Transcultural Conflict and Violent Extremism initiative (TCV).
Two of the Doctoral Research Assistants on the project are currently pursuing Ph.D. degrees in Communication Studies at Georgia State. Meredith Pruden teaches journalism courses and Ayse Lokmanoglu is a Presidential Fellow in the TCV initiative.
“I think this research project was chosen because as we are seeing with the increase of attacks and use of similar tools by extremists or radicalized individuals, internationalization is a crucial variable to test and see how it operates within the grander schema of the extremist environment,” Lokmanoglu says. “We are witnessing how language, borders and even ideologies are no longer becoming an obstacle and tools and violence is being adopted at an increasing rate. I think this project by making internationalization a variable to be tested is important and pioneering.”
Carissa Hope Goodwin will be working as an External Consultant. Goodwin is pursuing a graduate degree at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Previously, she worked as a Research Assistant with the TCV working on Department of Defense Minerva grant research.
This award is just one of just 11 international research projects to be accepted for the Facebook project. The winners will present their findings to Facebook and an international audience at a number of conferences once the research is complete.
In a press release, Facebook says ‘Research on how to fairly enforce one set of policies across geographical, cultural, and linguistic boundaries will help us do a better job of identifying and taking action on harmful content in various contexts.”
“We hope these insights will aid in the development of proactive steps for delinking and delegitimizing violent groups online,” says Dr. Walter.