Neo4j Awards Technology Grant to Syracuse University for Mapping Misinformation Trends in 2024 U.S. Elections with Knowledge Graphs

Released today, first IDJC ElectionGraph report reveals the biggest spenders on social media political ads, their affiliations and patterns in their content

SAN MATEO, Calif., May 7, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Neo4j®, the world’s leading graph database and analytics company, today announced a $250,000 research grant and licensed use of its software to Syracuse University’s Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship (IDJC). The grant supports the university’s yearlong research initiative to identify and map misinformation campaigns and their sources with the potential to mislead voters’ decisions in the U.S. 2024 elections.

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The announcement comes with the launch of IDJC ElectionGraph which identifies the origins of misinformation campaigns within social media ad spending, focusing on Facebook and Instagram initially, given their broad reach of more than half of the U.S. voting population. The project uses Neo4j’s graph database and analytics enabling researchers to connect, traverse and analyze large volumes of connected datasets faster and more easily than any other technology.

The research project is led by Professor Jennifer Stromer-Galley, senior associate dean at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and a nationally recognized expert in political campaigns and misinformation. She is conducting the research in collaboration with the IDJC’s Kramer Director Margaret Talev, a professor of practice at the Newhouse School of Public Communications and journalist specializing in American politics, elections and the White House; and IDJC research director Johanna Dunaway, a political science professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and expert in political communication, partisan polarization and mass media.

IDJC will release periodic reports of its research findings and insights to the public throughout the year, along with an interactive dashboard that will assist journalists in investigating misinformation campaigns impacting the U.S. elections.

IDJC ElectionGraph: Initial Findings
The first report in the series was released today, titled “IDJC ElectionGraph: How Social Media Ads Mentioning Biden or Trump Shape 2024’s Election Information Landscape.” It analyzes paid advertisements on Facebook and Instagram between September 1, 2023 to February 29, 2024 mentioning Presidential candidates Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

  • Conservative-leaning groups are the top ad spenders: Liberty Defender Group, the highest spender at over $1.3 million, is not linked to any political organization but their ads indicate a pro-Trump alignment. The second highest spender at more than $1 million is AFP Action or Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization that endorsed Nikki Haley.

More than 24,000 ad buys were made by over 1,800 groups, totaling an estimated $15.3 million. The organizations that ran ads varied from well-known entities like political action committees, political party groups, or other candidates to obscure actors with less clear connections and agendas.

  • Pro-Biden ads use the “President” honorific to address him and not Trump, and vice versa: The ads showed how specific groups used the title of “President” differently for the opponents. Groups that said “President Biden” and “Donald Trump” tended to favor Biden — and groups that said “President Trump” and “Joe Biden” tended to favor Trump.
  • Attack ads targeting Biden surpass those that attack Trump: While Biden outspent Trump by about 7-to-1 on ads on Facebook and Instagram,more ‘attack’ ads mention Biden (47%) as compared with ‘attack’ ads that mention Trump (37%). Deeper analysis, enabled by Neo4j, also revealed the top 10 groups with ad campaigns most  critical of  Biden, such as AFP Action, Judicial Watch, America First Legal, and We Deserve Better, outweighed the groups supporting him, such as Biden-Harris HQ, Senate Democrats or the Democratic Governors’ Association. Research also tracked groups most critical of Trump.

How knowledge graphs support investigative journalism
A knowledge graph is an insight layer of interconnected data enriched with semantics, context, and meaning for accurate, transparent, and explainable results and decision-making. Neo4j knowledge graphs connect information from multiple data sources, enabling investigative journalists to identify and analyze hidden patterns in these datasets and uncover complex webs of connections. Results enable investigative reporters to surface unusual, significant, and influential actors, networks, and behavior patterns in ways that are not possible with any other technology.

The International Consortium of Journalists (ICIJ) in 2015 used Neo4j to uncover one of the biggest ever global corruption scandals with the Panama Papers, winning ICIJ the Pulitzer Prize. Subsequent investigations included the 2017 Paradise Papers and the 2021 Pandora Papers, among others. NBC used Neo4j to uncover Russian interference in the 2016 election; and computational journalists used Neo4j knowledge graphs to support fact-based reporting in the 2020 election.

In the 2024 elections, IDJC will seek insights that can address questions such as who are the most influential actor networks spreading information across which platforms; what themes are circulating; who are the originators vs. spreaders; what misinformation may be propagated in swing states, how and to what effect; and to what extent is AI-generated misinformation present; among other questions.

Supporting Quotes

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Senior Associate Dean and Professor, Syracuse University School of Information Studies
“Revealing details about ads and messaging on social media is vital to provide the public with transparency and support accountability. Failure to do so can make voters more vulnerable to manipulation. Neo4j’s graph technology is enabling us to draw connections and unearth relationships within the complex web of election-related messaging on social media. It has been instrumental in quickly revealing much richer insights that would have been harder or almost impossible to do otherwise.”

Margaret Talev, Kramer Director, Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship (IDJC), Syracuse University
“IDJC ElectionGraph findings give us a glimpse at the firehose of information and misinformation coming at voters from groups with a jumble of motives, ties, and trustworthiness ahead of the 2024 elections. Neo4j’s graph algorithms help reveal hidden connections and interactions in a complicated network, identifying the sources of these messages.”  

Jim Webber, Chief Scientist, Neo4j
“The challenge faced by digital researchers and computational journalists in unearthing the consequences of AI-driven misinformation on democracy is enormous. Graph technology is an essential enabler to those seeking to uncover hidden patterns and networks of those looking to manipulate democratic populations. We at Neo4j are proud to support Syracuse University’s mission to help journalists and citizens separate fact from fake news so that the voting public can make informed decisions as they go to the polls.”

Syracuse University’s IDJC ElectionGraph and its findings are independent and proprietary to Syracuse University and the IDJC.

Visit https://idjc.syracuse.edu/2024-election-graph-project/ to read the full report and learn more about IDJC’s ElectionGraph.

About Neo4j
Neo4j, the Graph Database & Analytics leader, helps organizations find hidden relationships and patterns across billions of data connections deeply, easily, and quickly. Customers leverage the structure of their connected data to reveal new ways of solving their most pressing business problems, from fraud detection, customer 360, knowledge graphs, supply chain, personalization, IoT, network management, and more – even as their data grows. Neo4j’s full graph stack delivers powerful native graph storage with native vector search capability, data science, advanced analytics, and visualization, with enterprise-grade security controls, scalable architecture, and ACID compliance. Neo4j’s dynamic open-source community brings together over 250,000 developers, data scientists, and architects across hundreds of Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and NGOs. Visit neo4j.com.

About Syracuse University’s Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship
The IDJC engages in nonpartisan research, teaching and public dialogue to strengthen trust in news media, governance and society. It is a joint University initiative of the Newhouse School of Public Communications and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Neo4j Contact:
Pragya Goel
Neo4j@ruderfinn.com

Syracuse University Contact:
Keith Kobland
kkobland@syr.edu 

 

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