Syracuse University’s Institute for Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship (IDJC) has been awarded a $250,000 research grant from Neo4j and use of the company’s graph database technology as part of an initiative to identify misinformation trends in the U.S. presidential election and other top 2024 contests. 

Jennifer Stromer-Galley, senior associate dean and professor at the School of Information Studies and a nationally recognized expert in political campaigns and misinformation, will lead a team of researchers across the University and work with the Washington-based IDJC to illuminate hidden trends and actors spreading and influencing inaccurate information targeting U.S. voters through social media.

“Millions of Americans’ voting decisions are shaped by what they see on social media or hear from friends basing their own information on non-news sources,” said Margaret Talev, Kramer Director of the IDJC and a professor of practice at the Newhouse School of Public Communications. 

“These areas are ripe for misinformation and disinformation campaigns from domestic and foreign actors,” Talev added. “Neo4j’s technology can allow us to see commonalities and hidden connections in a way that can shed light on these practices and help the public make fact-based decisions.” 

The Neo4j award represents the first competitive grant for IDJC, a joint University initiative of the Newhouse School and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. 

Hear Stromer-Galley talk campaign misinformation on iSchool podcast

The research team’s efforts focus on dissecting misinformation themes, pinpointing origins of messages and tracing misinformation by collecting and algorithmically classifying ads run on Facebook and Instagram as well as social media posts on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter. The project will also gather input from journalists and the public about the 2024 presidential election, and races for U.S. Senate and key congressional districts. 

“One of the things we want to know is how the information environment and misinformation might be making people doubt the electoral process and whether it’s working properly,” said Johanna Dunaway, research director for IDJC and a political science professor at the Maxwell School.  

“Misinformation could not just affect whether voters turn out in the current election, but whether they turn out in future elections,” Dunaway said.  

Stromer-Galley’s previous work on the Illuminating project cataloged social media ad campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. The Neo4j award is intended to collect similar data and to enhance the visual display for user interactions.  

“I don’t think these kinds of opportunities would be possible without the institute to coalesce and bring together a set of scholars from across the university who all share a common passion and concern about the health and state of our democracy and journalism,” Stromer-Galley said.