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Monday, June 14th, 2021

Battelle, Ohio State and Northwestern collaborate to tackle COVID-19 infodemic in real time

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A new collaborative effort between Battelle, a science and technology research and development firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio; the Ohio State University; and Northwestern University hopes to combat the “infodemic” of false and misleading information online surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most efforts, the researchers said, have been unsuccessful in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 misinformation because they work retroactively to correct false narratives and after they have already spread online.

Sponsored by a $1 million grant from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the collaboration hopes to address the problem by assessing the risk of COVID-19 misinformation in near real-time.

Using investigators from diverse backgrounds, such as Cyber Trust and Analytics, Mathematics, Social Networks, Communication, and Public Policy, the team will employ multiple approaches to stop the spread of misinformation.

The approach uses programs that can identify misinformation across multiple languages.

“These tools track the potential of new misinformation spreading through influential groups to the general public and eliminates the need to exhaustively catalog the millions of tweets, posts, and likes generated every day,” Katie Liszewski, a cybersecurity engineer, said. “The approach will enable decision-makers and spokespeople to quickly craft public service announcements to counter dangerous misinformation without causing information fatigue.”

The development of the approach began with the onset of COVID-19 in the United States. Initially, the collaboration was funded internally by both Battelle and the Ohio State Office of Research. The project will be funded by IARPA, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which invests in high-risk, high-payoff research programs that address some of the most difficult challenges facing the intelligence community.

“In a rapidly changing, high-volume social media landscape, our goal is to identify misleading or false content that is on the brink of becoming widespread and that would pose outsized risk to public health if it did become widely disseminated,” said Sam Malloy, Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy in Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. “This is a critical step in prioritizing mitigation efforts and can facilitate a more targeted approach to combating the ‘infodemic.'”