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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

  • Drew B Margolin
  • Natalya N Bazarova
  • Vanessa K Bohns
  • Rene F Kizilcec
  • Dominic DiFranzo
Award Date:06/17/2021
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 1,197,740
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 1,197,740
  • FY 2021=$1,197,740
Start Date:09/01/2021
End Date:08/31/2025
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.070
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:HCC: Medium: Deterring objectionable behavior and fostering emergent norms in social media conversations
Federal Award ID Number:2106476
DUNS ID:872612445
Parent DUNS ID:002254837
Program:HCC-Human-Centered Computing
Program Officer:
  • William Bainbridge
  • (703) 292-8930

Awardee Location

Street:373 Pine Tree Road
Awardee Cong. District:23

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Cornell University
Street:373 Pine Tree Road
Cong. District:23

Abstract at Time of Award

This work seeks to develop a theoretical model for understanding the emergence and maintenance of norms to deter objectionable behavior in self-organized social media spaces where rules are not set by any authority. Objectionable speech, such as misinformation, hate speech, and harassment, is prevalent in these online environments, which raises the question how individuals can foster norms to discourage objectionable speech. Yet while researchers note the influence of social norms within social media and online communities, existing theoretical work on the mechanisms through which such norms emerge focuses on norms promoting cooperation as opposed to norms that deter unwanted contributions. This project will benefit public discourse in online spaces, as well as research and educational outcomes, by: (1) Developing interventions that help citizens become effective objectors to the misinformation, hate speech and harassment they are likely to encounter on social media; (2) Developing a novel research tool for bridging individual and collective experimentation; (3) Providing and disseminating theoretical models of how individual and collective audiences respond to objections to problematic content in different domains, and (4) Raising awareness of the potential for objections, even if well-intentioned, to backfire in particular audience conditions. The result of this research will be a theoretical advancement in the understanding of emergent norms for the deterrence of unwanted behaviors as well as an internally and externally validated multi-level model recommending concrete strategies to be deployed in the real world. This research seeks to achieve these goals through a multi-level, multi-method inquiry. It will test the impact of different ways of objecting to misinformation, hate speech, and harassment under different collective conditions in the audience and different social media affordances. The project proceeds in four research phases: real world observation, individual-level experimentation, agent-based simulation, and collective-level experimentation. These are followed by a field implementation phase. In the observation phase, it will obtain real-world objections to offensive speech from social media and map these into a theoretical space. In the individual-level experimentation phase, it will use a novel simulated social media environment to test whether effects observed in the observational phase have causal influence at the individual level. The agent-based simulation phase will use the individual-level mechanisms to build simulations of interactions between objectors and audience members at scale. In the collective experimentation phase, the research will test whether the collective dynamics of interaction among real people match those produced by the agent-based simulation. Finally, in the field implementation phase, the evidence-based strategies derived from the research will build scalable online learning modules to train social media users on how to be effective objectors when encountering a discursive offense in social media. 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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