Ekdale, Havens, Nithyanand receive $1 million+ federal grant to study radicalization in social media

Interdisciplinary research will study the role of social media algorithms that use personal data
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

 Brian Ekdale, Timothy Havens, Rishab Nithnayand, University of Iowa
From top: Ekdale,
Havens, Nithyanand

Brian Ekdale, associate professor in the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is leading a unique research project that examines how and why some individuals adopt extreme political and cultural views through their use of social media, and what researchers, technological companies, and policymakers can do to identify, predict, and prevent that behavior.

The research is funded with more than $1 million from the Minerva Research Initiative, a social science research program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The program focuses on U.S. national security policy, with a goal of understanding the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.

Co-Principal Investigators of the research project, "Algorithmic Personalization and Online Radicalization: A Mixed Methods Approach," include UI faculty members Professor Timothy Havens of the Departments of Communication Studies and African American Studies, and Rishab Nithyanand, assistant professor of computer science. Andrew High of Pennsylvania State University, who formerly was on the UI communication studies faculty, and Raven Maragh-Lloyd of Gonzaga University, who earned her PhD in communication studies at Iowa in 2018, are also co-PIs.

The project will use qualitative, quantitative, and computational research methodologies to investigate the psychological attributes that make one vulnerable to radicalization, how users respond to personalization and radical content, and algorithmic personalization for particular communities online. The investigators will then use those data to develop techniques for predicting communities likely to adopt extremist ideologies.

The research project developed out of an Obermann Center Working Group on Algorithms and Social Media, which brings together scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and STEM sciences to explore the functioning and implications of large data generated by social networking applications.


The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.