Hexbyte Glen Cove Malicious content exploits pathways between platforms to thrive online, subvert moderation thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Malicious content exploits pathways between platforms to thrive online, subvert moderation

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Malicious COVID-19 content (e.g. anti-Asian hate) exploits pathways between social media platforms to spread online. Credit: Neil Johnson/GW

Malicious COVID-19 online content—including racist content, disinformation and misinformation—thrives and spreads online by bypassing the moderation efforts of individual social media platforms, according to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports. By mapping online hate clusters across six major social media platforms, researchers at the George Washington University show how malicious content exploits pathways between platforms, highlighting the need for social media companies to rethink and adjust their content moderation policies.

Led by Neil Johnson, a professor of physics at GW, the research team set out to understand how and why malicious content thrives so well online despite significant moderation efforts, and how it can be stopped. The team used a combination of machine learning and network data science to investigate how online hate communities sharpened COVID-19 as a weapon and used current events to draw in new followers.

“Until now, slowing the spread of malicious content online has been like playing a game of whack-a-mole, because a map of the online hate multiverse did not exist,” Johnson, who is also a researcher at the GW Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics, said. “You cannot win a battle if you don’t have a map of the battlefield. In our study, we laid out a first-of-its-kind map of this battlefield. Whether you’re looking at traditional hate topics, such as anti-Semitism or anti-Asian racism surrounding COVID-19, the battlefield map is the same. And it is this map of links within and between platforms that is the missing piece in understanding how we can slow or stop the spread of online hate content.”

The researchers began by mapping how hate clusters interconnect to spread their narratives across social media platforms. Focusing on six platforms—Facebook, VKontakte, Instagram, Gab, Telegram and 4Chan—the team started with a given hate cluster and looked outward to find a second cluster that was strongly connected to the original. They found the strongest connections were VKontakte into Telegram (40.83% of cross-platform connections), Telegram into 4Chan (11.09%), and Gab into 4Chan (10.90%).

The researchers then turned their attention to identifying malicious content related to COVID-19. They found that the coherence of COVID-19 discussion increased rapidly in the early phases of the pandemic, with hate clusters forming narratives and cohering around COVID-19 topics and misinformation. To subvert moderation efforts by social media platforms, groups sending hate messages used several adaptation strategies in order to regroup on other platforms and/or reenter a , the researchers found. For example, clusters frequently change their names to avoid detection by moderators’ algorithms, such as vaccine to va$$ine. Similarly, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ clusters simply add strings of 1’s or A’s before their name.

“Because the number of independent social media platforms is growing, these hate-generating clusters are very likely to strengthen and expand their interconnections via new links, and will likely exploit new platforms which lie beyond the reach of the U.S. and other Western nations’ jurisdictions.” Johnson said. “The chances of getting all social media platforms globally to work together to solve this are very slim. However, our identifies strategies that platforms can use as a group to effectively slow or block online hate content.”

Based on their findings, the team suggests several ways for social platforms to slow the spread of malicious content:

  • Artificially lengthen the pathways that malicious content needs to take between clusters, increasing the chances of its detection by moderators and delaying the spread of time-sensitive material such as weaponized COVID-19 misinformation and violent content.
  • Control the size of an online hate cluster’s support base by placing a cap on the size of clusters.
  • Introduce non-malicious, mainstream content in order to effectively dilute a ‘s focus.

“Our study demonstrates a similarity between the spread of online hate and the spread of a virus,” Yonatan Lupu, an associate professor of political science at GW and co-author on the paper, said. “Individual have had difficulty controlling the spread of online hate, which mirrors the difficulty individual countries around the world have had in stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Going forward, Johnson and his team are already using their map and its mathematical modeling to analyze other forms of malicious content—including the weaponization of COVID-19 vaccines in which certain countries are attempting to manipulate mainstream sentiment for nationalistic gains. They are also examining the extent to which single actors, including foreign governments, may play a more influential or controlling role in this space than others.



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Hexbyte Glen Cove Specific bacteria in the gut prompt mother mice to neglect their pups thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Specific bacteria in the gut prompt mother mice to neglect their pups

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, pictured here, is a common gut bacteria in both humans and animals. There are many different strains, some of which cause disease. Credit: fusebulb/Shutterstock.com

As scientists learn more about the microorganisms that colonize the body—collectively called the microbiota—one area of intense interest is the effect that these microbes can have on the brain. A new study led by Salk Institute scientists has identified a strain of E. coli bacteria that, when living in the guts of female mice, causes them to neglect their offspring.

The findings, published January 29, 2021, in the journal Science Advances, show a direct link between a particular microbe and maternal behavior. Although the research was done in mice, it adds to the growing body of science demonstrating that microbes in the gut are important for brain health and can affect development and behavior.

“To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that the intestinal microbiota is important for promoting healthy maternal behavior and bonding between mom and offspring in an ,” says Professor Janelle Ayres, Laboratory Head of Salk’s Molecular and Systems Physiology Laboratory and senior author of the paper. “It adds to the ever-growing evidence that there’s a gut-brain connection, and that microbes are important for regulating the behavior of the host that they’re inhabiting.”

The ways in which the microbiota can impact mental health and neurological disorders is a growing area of research. The makeup of the gut microbiota in people has been linked to depression, anxiety, autism and other conditions. But it has been difficult to study how individual strains of bacteria exert their influence on , a connection often called the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

In her lab, Ayres uses mice to study how body systems and the brain interact with each other to promote health. This includes focusing on how body processes are regulated by microbes and the ways in which microbes affect growth and behavior. In the current experiments, she and her team were investigating groups of mice that each had a single strain of E. coli in their gut. Mice with one particular strain of E. coli, called O16:H48 MG1655, mothered offspring that had stunted growth. Further examination revealed that the mice were smaller because they were malnourished.

“We found that the pups’ behavior was normal, and the milk made by the mothers was of normal, healthy composition and was being produced in normal amounts,” Ayres says. “We eventually figured out that being colonized with this particular bacteria led to poor maternal behavior. The mice were neglecting their pups.”

Additional experiments revealed that the could be rescued from stunted growth, either by giving them a called IGF-1 or handing them off to foster mouse mothers that could take care of them properly. This confirmed that the cause of stunted growth was coming from the mothers’ behavior rather than something in the pups themselves.

“Our study provides an unprecedented understanding of how the can disrupt and how this can negatively impact development of an offspring,” says first author Yujung Michelle Lee, a former graduate student in Ayres’ lab and now a postdoctoral fellow at Genentech. “It is very interesting to me that establishment of a healthy mother-infant relationship is driven by factors beyond hormones, and that the microorganisms residing in our bodies play a significant role in it.”

Ayres and her team plan to study how these microbes provoke changes in mouse behavior. Early findings suggest the bacteria might be affecting levels of serotonin, the hormone associated with feelings of happiness and well-being, but more work is needed.

“It’s very hard to study these relationships in humans, because the human microbiota contains hundreds of different species of microorganisms,” says Ayres, who holds the Helen McLoraine Developmental Chair. “But once we understand more about the mechanisms in animal models, we may be able translate our findings to humans to determine whether the and their effects might be the same.”

The O16:H48 MG1655 strain has been found in human guts and was previously believed to have no positive or negative effects.



More information:
Microbiota control of maternal behavior regulates early postnatal growth of offspring, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6563 , advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/5/eabe6563

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Specific bacteria in the gut prompt mother mice to neglect their pups (2021, January 29)
retrieved 31 January 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-01-specific-bacteria-gut-prompt-mother.html

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