Media advisory: KU expert can discuss how misinformation in social networks may lead to another Jan. 6 event

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Contact: Jon Niccum, KU News Service, 785-864-7633, [email protected]
KU expert can discuss how misinformation in social networks may lead to another Jan. 6 event

LAWRENCE – As the 2022 midterm elections draw near, University of Kansas expert Tarun Sabarwal is available to discuss how misinformation contagions in social networks might affect the Nov. 8 election.

“Spreading misinformation for personal gain is not new,” said Sabarwal, professor of economics. “The difference with social media is the speed at which an election-denying conspiracy spreads, the scale of its effect and the relative lack of accountability for content. Social media communication is a catalyst in the chain reaction of information transmission, and their business incentives that reward metrics, such as growth and engagement, facilitate greater proliferation.”

His research article titled “Control and spread of contagion in networks” finds links between how misinformation and disease spread, postulating a single model to study both cases. The new model and associated algorithms can be used to understand potential consequences of policies designed to control or spread contagion among a network of connected people.

To the extent that speed, scale and lack of factual information are causing problems, he suggested practical ways to combat this.

“For example, fact-checking before information can be shared globally and/or legal consequences for spreading misinformation can slow down the spread of misinformation. Clamping down on the proliferation of fake accounts, trolls and accounts designed mainly to proliferate misinformation would help as well,” he said.

Without such intervention, is another Jan. 6-type event inevitable?

“We are already observing situations with misinformation-driven violence and questioning elections that appear to be run smoothly,” he said. “Conspiracy theories spiraling into vitriol on social media make the situation more volatile. From here, it can be a small incendiary step to a physical assault on a branch of government. The incentives are already in place. Let’s hope our systems withstand the test.”

Sabarwal received his doctorate in economics and master’s degree in mathematics from the University of California-Berkeley. He is the founder of the Center for Analytical Research in Economics and is an expert on interdependent decision-making and its collective effects.

To schedule an interview with Sabarwal, contact KU News Service public affairs officer Jon Niccum at 785-864-7633 or [email protected]

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