WVU doctoral candidate wins Facebook Emerging Scholar Fellowship

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WVU
Claudia Flores-Saviaga, a doctoral candidate at West Virginia University, has won a 2019 Facebook Emerging Scholar Fellowship.

Claudia Flores-Saviaga, a doctoral candidate at West Virginia University, has won a 2019 Facebook Emerging Scholar Fellowship.

The highly competitive fellowship is given to outstanding Ph.D. students from across the world who are engaged in innovative computer science research. The award is designed to support the best and brightest students in the technology sector to conduct research that will impact both academia and industry.

Flores-Saviaga will work with Facebook Research for two years to help them improve their technological interventions to limit the spread of false information on the platform.

“My previous research has focused on uncovering how bad actors produce collective action on online platforms,” Flores-Saviaga said. “This time I will focus on understanding how citizens coordinate, perceive and influence one another to share, debunk and stop the spreading of fake news across multiple social media platforms.”

Flores-Saviaga will focus on investigating how citizens produce collective action to stop misinformation campaigns in different contexts and across popular social media sites. She is also interested in investigating what the most effective techniques or strategies are for stopping influence or manipulative campaigns, giving Facebook a more holistic understanding to fight actors producing fake news and propaganda messages.

Working alongside Saiph Savage, J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow and assistant professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering in WVU’s Human Computer Interaction Laboratory, Flores-Saviaga started her exploration of online spaces by analyzing how political trolls were organizing during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. She uncovered different collective action strategies that political trolls adopted to mobilize people for the presidential campaign.

She also developed novel probabilistic graphical models to uncover how the most active political trolls drove people to action. Her research gained interest from The Associated Press, Newsweek and Salon, among others.

“I then began to analyze how the Latino community was targeted on social media during the past midterm election as part of a collaboration with the Institute for the Future,” Flores-Saviaga said. “This research caught the attention of and has received funding support from different think tanks in the U.S. such as the Atlantic Council and the National Democratic Institute.”

Through this collaboration with Facebook Flores-Saviaga hopes to share her work and network with the broader Facebook Research community and work on the technology challenges the platform is addressing.

“The fellowship is wonderful recognition for Claudia’s experiences working with presidencies in Latin America and in collaborating with centers that conduct policy studies and strategic analyses of political, economic and security issues throughout the world,” Savage said. “This will help Facebook in its mission to create better online experiences for people and help foster the democratic societies we all desire.”

More than 900 students from the world’s top universities applied for the fellowship with proposals that addressed specific social computing challenges. Winners receive two years of tuition and fees paid, a stipend of $37,000 each year, and up to $5,000 in conference travel support.