Automatic detection of influential actors in disinformation networks
January 7, 2021
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., Vol. 118, No. 4, January 2021, e2011216118.
The weaponization of digital communications and social media to conduct disinformation campaigns at immense scale, speed, and reach presents new challenges to identify and counter hostile influence operations (IO). This paper presents an end-to-end framework to automate detection of disinformation narratives, networks, and influential actors. The framework integrates natural language processing, machine learning, graph analytics, and a novel network causal inference approach to quantify the impact of individual actors in spreading IO narratives. We demonstrate its capability on real-world hostile IO campaigns with Twitter datasets collected during the 2017 French presidential elections, and known IO accounts disclosed by Twitter. Our system detects IO accounts with 96% precision, 79% recall, and 96% area-under-the-PR-curve, maps out salient network communities, and discovers high-impact accounts that escape the lens of traditional impact statistics based on activity counts and network centrality. Results are corroborated with independent sources of known IO accounts from U.S. Congressional reports, investigative journalism, and IO datasets provided by Twitter.