Website for NSF Award 1619458

III: Small: Robustness in Social Network Analysis: Models, Inference, and Algorithms

Acknowledgment: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1619458

Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Award Number: 1619458

Duration: 09/2016-08/2020

Award Title: III: Small: Robustness in Social Network Analysis: Models, Inference, and Algorithms


Project PIs


Research Goals and Products

Project Goals

Social networks - online and offline - play a large role in people's daily lives. In return, they implicitly contain a large amount of information about individuals and their traits and preferences. The burgeoning field of "Social Network Analysis" focuses on extracting useful insights from such social network data. Implemented or envisioned applications range from learning about the nature and driving forces behind human interactions, to targeted product or activity recommendations and even homeland security. Contrary to other networks, such as transportation or computer networks, massive uncertainty and noise are practically always associated with social network data: data pertaining to individuals are often not observable, or are observed incorrectly. The primary goal of this project is to understand the risks and implications of such noisy data, and to design network analysis algorithms that are significantly more robust to noise and missing data. Given the importance that mathematical models play in social networks analysis, a closely related thread of the project is to analyze the fit between typical social network models and real-world data, in particular regarding high-level connectivity properties. Specifically, three connected research thrusts are being explored:

  1. How well do standard random graph models fit real-world social network data, in particular with regard to expansion and spectral properties? Since the answer likely is "poorly,"" how well do modifications based on requiring local or global structure remedy this problem?
  2. What is the impact of missing observations of diffusion or activation processes on the inferred social networks when learning from some contagious behavior? How can this impact be mitigated by algorithms that take the possibility of missing data into account?
  3. If social network data are observed with significant (and possibly non-random) noise, under what conditions can stability of an algorithmic output be ensured? How "obvious" does the right answer have to be to not get obscured by noise in the data? Can "obvious" answers be found more efficiently?

The proposed research has the potential to impact the way in which social network inference and optimization are addressed. The PIs are committed to a suite of activities, among them inclusion of undergraduate students in the proposed research and outreach to local high school students, for broader impacts.

Publications and Manuscripts


Publicly Usable Outcome

Our work has resulted in a publicly accessible Dashboard on Covid-19 misinformation campaigns.

Last modified: November 06, 2020