Kent State researchers study viral messages

Gabrielle Woodard

Imagine there is an earthquake in Kent. As normal college students, the first place a student goes to for more information is Twitter. But amongst all the tweets, the student is unable to find information from Kent State telling students what to do.

Researchers from Kent State, in conjunction with researchers from the University of Arkansas and San Diego State University, have received a one million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to study why things go viral on social media, along with human behavior during a disaster.

“We want to make sure that the public can received the most important alert messages from the official agencies as quick as possible,” said Xinyue Ye, assistant professor of geography and the director of Kent State’s Computational Social Science Lab.

Students are helping with the research by collecting public messages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from all over the world. They track how the message got started, how fast it traveled and how long it lasted. 

“This research is really interesting and worth the funding,” said Amber Sitz, a junior psychology major.

Researchers are studying different network structures and whether those structures impact the speed and distribution of messages on social media.

“We hope to find how the real networks and simulated network are different and learn from our simulations how we can understand (and) promote the diffusion of social media messages,” said Jay Lee, a researcher and professor in the geography department.

Disasters like the wildfires in Southern California are being studied to learn about human activities and concerns. Once these patterns are understood they can be applied to promotional messages such as sales, government and political messages.

“We hope through this project and the volunteer platform we can encourage these young people to play a more active and important role in our society,” Ye said.

Gabrielle Woodard is the arts and sciences reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].