The National Science Foundation is spending roughly half a million dollars to combat “online trolling.”
A joint project by Northwestern and Northeastern universities is examining how to create “trolling-free environments” on the Internet. The researchers define online trolls as those who try to influence public opinion by boosting “misleading” and “inauthentic comments.”
“Today, almost every browsing click that users make is collected by numerous trackers associated with a variety of online services (e.g., advertising networks, online social networks, e-commerce platforms),” a grant for the project states. “Users have often expressed concern about the lack of privacy and control over their personal data. Nonetheless, despite a substantial effort to expose and control this prevalent behavior, the reality is that users keep accepting updated online privacy policies, which in turn grant the gathering of more personal data.”
“This project explores re-using this extensive tracking infrastructure for the benefits of both the users themselves and web services, with a goal of preventing online trolling (scenarios in which various groups deploy tactics to influence public opinion on the Internet, by leaving biased, false, misleading, and inauthentic comments, and then artificially amplifying their ratings),” the grant said. “The project aims to show how the tracking infrastructure can be re-used as a user ‘fingerprint,’ allowing a lightweight and privacy-preserving form of identification for third-party web sites.”
The leading researchers on the project, Northwestern University’s Aleksandar Kuzmanovic and Northeastern University’s Alan Mislove, told the Washington Free Beacon that their work could help combat “troll armies” used by Russia and China.