Daniel Romero receives Air Force research grant to investigate ties between social media and large-scale events

With each passing year the world is becoming an increasingly interconnected place, helped along to a great extent by the ever-expanding reach of social media. Unsurprisingly, the way people interact with each other has changed along with the world they inhabit, and in today’s digitized environment, social media and online social networks have come to play a profound but as-of-yet little understood role in large scale, fast changing situations like natural disasters, financial crises, or political movements and revolutions. 

One of the people who is seeking to expand our understanding of how social media platforms behave in disruptive environments such as these is UMSI assistant professor Daniel Romero, who in September — out of a competitive pool of over 290 project proposals — was one of 31 scientists and engineers selected to receive a grant through the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Research Program. The program is targeted towards researchers at U.S. research institutions who received their PhD or an equivalent degree within the last seven years, and in particular looks for those who show an “exceptional ability or promise” for conducting research that is of interest to the military. 

In his project, “Assessing the Impact of Exogenous Shocks on User Behavior and Information Diffusion in Social Media,” Romero seeks to measure and compare user behavior, network structure, and properties of the content shared on social media before, during, and after a set of external unexpected shocks, in particular financial market changes, surprising election outcomes, and natural disasters. Additionally, he hopes to identify the long-term effects of such shocks on social media and the typical phases of community shock recovery, as well as to predict future exogenous shocks from changes in user behavior and network structure. Much of this will be accomplished by modelling the dynamics of information diffusion by characterizing how changes in network structure, user behavior, and content impact it. 

“I think this award is a very important step in continuing the theme of my work on understanding how social systems react to unexpected events or shocks,” Romero says. “I have been studying this question in different settings including organizations and, along with Ceren Budak  and Lionel Robert, collaborative crowdsourcing systems such as Wikipedia and GitHub as part of another NSF-funded project. This award allows me to expand the scope of these questions to social media and investigate new types of events such as natural disasters and political instability.”

As a recipient of the YIP program, Romero will receive $450,000 for his project over the course of three years.

Posted October 29, 2018.