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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Awardee:NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
Doing Business As Name:Northeastern University
PD/PI:
  • David M Lazer
  • (617) 329-1010
  • d.lazer@neu.edu
Co-PD(s)/co-PI(s):
  • David R Choffnes
  • Christopher Wilson
Award Date:09/20/2021
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 15,717,700
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 4,953,269
  • FY 2021=$4,953,269
Start Date:10/01/2021
End Date:09/30/2026
Transaction Type: Cooperative Agreements
Agency:NSF
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.075
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Mid-scale RI-1 (M1:IP): Observatory for Online Human and Platform Behavior
Federal Award ID Number:2131929
DUNS ID:001423631
Parent DUNS ID:001423631
Program:Mid-scale RI - Track 1
Program Officer:
  • Joseph Whitmeyer
  • (703) 292-7808
  • jwhitmey@nsf.gov

Awardee Location

Street:360 HUNTINGTON AVE
City:BOSTON
State:MA
ZIP:02115-5005
County:Boston
Country:US
Awardee Cong. District:07

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Northeastern University
Street:360 Huntington Ave. 1010-177
City:Boston
State:MA
ZIP:02115-5005
County:Boston
Country:US
Cong. District:07

Abstract at Time of Award

The core objective of this project is the construction of a secure, privacy-protecting, ethically robust, scientifically valid online behavioral research observatory. This observatory captures the online behavior of a large sample of volunteers as well as details of the algorithmically driven decisions of the major platforms of the Internet. The observatory enables a wide range of research concerning the Internet, including examination of the state of the information ecosystem, analysis of damaging online behavior of a variety of types, and generally studies of manifold aspects of the online world. This infrastructure fills a gap by providing researchers with high-quality data on human and platform behavior at a scale and granularity that will allow transformational investigation of this new and all-pervasive phenomenon. This project (1) collects data on the online behavior of a large number of volunteers, on the order of tens of thousands of individuals, whose consent is carefully ascertained; (2) records the tracking of those individuals by third parties; (3) captures the algorithmic curation of content by third parties (e.g., what is prioritized in newsfeeds and search engines); and (4) provides analytic access to a wide set of academic researchers within a secure, privacy-preserving framework. There are two samples of volunteers. The first is smaller and higher quality, carefully balanced in terms of demography and geography. The second is larger and open to a wider array of volunteers but therefore potentially less balanced and therefore treated with methods to reweight the entire sample to be more representative. Through the observatory, both volunteer behavior and platform behavior are collected using desktops, laptops and mobile devices. The observatory involves a layered system of governance involving a wide array of researchers, both to refine protocols in terms of research ethics and security and to define the priorities for the data collected. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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