Dr. Scott Helfstein presented at the Political Networks Conference in Ann Arbor, MI. The research was titled “From Adoption to Beliefs: Paradigms of Influence in Networked Environments,” which addressed the information flows and sources of influence in strategic communication. A brief summary of the research is provided below:
Strategic messaging is crucial in the current fight against extremism, especially in active counterinsurgency campaigns. Historically, the strategy underlying information campaigns draws from US experience in mass media and marketing theory. Rather than employing strategies conducive to success in technologically connected media oriented societies, the US needs to develop strategies for information operations in tribal cultures based on connections rather than mass media and communications technology. Understanding how existing social or political network structures can help convey legitimacy and maximize message saturation is a first step. The question motivating this research is simple: what is the best strategy to facilitate message transmission and resonance when relying on existing legitimate social structures? This project offers a computational model integrating networked social structure with Bayesian style learning to test optimal messaging strategy such as which part of the network to target for optimal saturation and how disagreeable the message can be while still achieving resonance. For example, is it better to target well-connected central leaders with a disagreeable message or to target a peripheral actor more predisposed to the content? Can messages targeting the periphery gain legitimacy by moving around central actors, or is legitimacy tied to connectedness?