Campus News

Visiting Afghan media to learn how falsehoods spread via social media

Illustration of live report concept, live news, hands of journalists with microphones and tape recorders.

By CORY NEALON

Published August 6, 2018

Members of Afghanistan’s news media will visit UB engineer Jun Zhuang’s lab on Tuesday to learn how misinformation spreads on social media platforms during disasters.

The visit, part of a broader U.S. Department of State effort to introduce Afghan journalists and public relations professionals to how the United States’ press operates, will focus largely on Twitter research led by Zhuang, associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

With funding from the National Science Foundation and other sources, Zhuang has examined the behavior of Twitter users during the Boston marathon bombing, Hurricane Sandy and recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and other emergencies. His research suggests that most active Twitter users are likely to spread false news during a crisis and that they’re not likely to correct the inaccurate information once they find it’s not true.

Government agencies, the news media and other organizations can reduce the spread of misinformation through timely, coordinated and widespread debunking efforts, Zhuang says.

Tuesday’s visit, which includes officials from some of Afghanistan’s largest media companies, as well as spokespersons for government agencies, will offer Zhuang and his students a chance to share their work face-to-face with some of the Middle East nation’s most prominent news media officials.

“It’s our pleasure host the delegation from Afghanistan,” says Zhuang. “We’re looking forward to sharing our work with them, as well as picking up any insights from their professional experience.”

The visit is being led locally by the International Institute of Buffalo, which hosts international delegations through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. In addition to Buffalo, the delegation will visit Portland, Oregon, and Tampa, Florida.

The purpose of the trip is for the Afghan delegation to examine the U.S. experience with a free and independent press, experience the traditional and expanding roles and operations of government public affairs offices, and other matters.

Since the turn of the century, press restrictions in Afghanistan have loosened. However, members of the media are subject to violent attacks from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, according to Reporters Without Borders. The country is ranked 118th on the group’s World Press Freedom Index.

The United States is ranked 45th on the same list.