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Seton Hall University

Mining Social Media Misinformation: Seton Hall Senior Michael Manners’ Research Parses Online Engagement Data

A photo of Diplomacy Senior Michael Manners

School of Diplomacy Senior Michael Manners.

Last summer, current senior Michael Manners, a Diplomacy and Economics double major, was one of two undergraduate Seton Hall students who took part in a 9-week residential research experience hosted by Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) and sponsored by the National Science Foundation(NSF).

The program gave students experience in learning textual analysis, coding in Python, and conducting a social science research project using data provided by professors. It also fostered opportunities for professional development and mentoring by iSchool faculty. 

Over the course of the nine weeks, Michael worked closely with Kelvin King, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Digital Misinformation at Syracuse University’s iSchool, to develop a data-driven research project inspired by his own interest in propaganda and misinformation. Michael was attracted to the media coverage and online discussion regarding the fallout of the Oceangate submersible, however, after hearing about a current event that better aligned with his research interests that was consuming online discussions, he pivoted.

Manners’ project, called "Information Diffusion on Reddit: A Study of the Wagner Insurrection," analyzed information spread in relation to the abortive insurrection and coup led by the mercenary Wagner Group against the Russian state at the end of June 2023. He scraped, cleaned, and analyzed approximately 10,000 posts and comments from Reddit and YouTube. Using this data, Michael aimed to discover which characteristics and qualities led to higher levels of engagement with posts. 

The results of Manners’ study indicated a "statistically significant positive relationship between the total number of words, clout, lexical density, and the use of numbers on the amount of engagement (comment and score) …[and a] statistically significant negative relationship between time and engagement."

Mr. Manners, who has been accepted to Syracuse’s data science graduate program, said the research experience was invaluable. Beyond learning hard data skills with practical applications in future research and employment, he praised the opportunity to network both with experienced faculty at Syracuse as well as driven and like-minded peers, and now friends, from across the country and across disciplines including psychology, sociology, criminology, public health, and multimedia studies.

In thinking about his experience, Manners also praised Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs that offer hands-on learning, like the Syracuse summer program he participated in. Michael was introduced to REU programs through his professor, Joseph Huddleston, Ph.D., of the School of Diplomacy.

"It’s great that Professor Huddleston connects his students to awesome opportunities," Manners told Seton Hall writer, Jenna Leis, in March 2023, in advance of his time at Syracuse. He encouraged students to seek out REU programs during their time at Seton Hall and recommends those applying for internal and external fellowships and internships to "just apply to everything that you can apply to if its piques your interest… because if there's any interest it means that maybe it's for you, even if it's not necessarily your major or your field of study."

Assistant Professor Huddleston, who last year said he "mainly coached" Manners and another participating Seton Hall Student, Jasmine De Leon, on "what to emphasize in their applications and how to discuss their interests in the interview process," spoke highly of Manners’ initiative. "Michael really helped himself by competing for and attending Syracuse’s summer program," said Huddleston. "He learned new skills, made new contacts, and secured himself a position in a great graduate program. Diplomacy is so proud. It also shows how opportunities like this can be the beginning of prosperous careers." 

Categories: Research, Science and Technology