Professor Raven Maragh-Lloyd Part of Grant Studying Radicalization in Social Media

Raven Maragh-Lloyd, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies (GU photo)

August 07, 2020
Gonzaga News Service

SPOKANE, Wash. — Raven Maragh-Lloyd, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies at Gonzaga University, is part of a unique research project that examines how and why some people adopt extreme political and cultural views through their use of social media, and what researchers, technological companies, and policymakers can do to identify, predict, and prevent that behavior.

The research, led by Brian Ekdale, associate professor in the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is funded with more than $1 million from the Minerva Research Initiative, a social science research program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The program focuses on U.S. national security policy, with a goal of understanding the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the United States.

Maragh-Lloyd, who earned her Ph.D. in communication studies at Iowa in 2018, is a co-principal investigator of the research project, “Algorithmic Personalization and Online Radicalization: A Mixed Methods Approach.” UI faculty members Timothy Havens of the departments of communication studies and African American studies, and Rishab Nithyanand, computer science, are also co-PIs as is Andrew High of Pennsylvania State University, formerly on the UI communication studies faculty.

The project will use qualitative, quantitative, and computational research methodologies to investigate the psychological attributes that make one vulnerable to radicalization, how users respond to personalization and radical content, and algorithmic personalization for particular online communities online. The investigators will then use those data to develop techniques for predicting communities likely to adopt extremist ideologies.

Algorithmic personalization refers to how the content that we receive online is driven by code that continuously learns and adapts to our behavior.

Maragh-Lloyd, who came to Gonzaga in fall of 2018, served as a teaching assistant at UI where she was asked to join the research group in 2015 as a graduate student.

“It’s been many years of weekly meetings where we worked out our interest in race and algorithms, read many, many papers on the subject and began designing some research projects around particular questions,” Maragh-Lloyd said. “This study is particularly relevant because we consume so many messages online and these messages are driven by algorithms. The information that some people receive as connected to their actions is at the heart of this project.”

Previous research has shown that algorithmic personalization is higher for populations with extreme ideological beliefs, and there is increasing anecdotal evidence that individuals who feel disenfranchised are particularly vulnerable to becoming radicalized by extremist content on social media.

“Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop a study like ours to identify the incidence and impact of algorithmic personalization among vulnerable and fringe populations,” Maragh-Lloyd added.

The research project developed out of the Working Group on Algorithms and Social Media at the UI’s Obermann Center, which brings together scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and STEM sciences to explore the functioning and implications of large data generated by social networking applications.

Media: For more information, please contact Raven Maragh-Lloyd at maraghlloyd@gonzaga.edu.