The School of Information Studies (iSchool) has selected Associate Professor Lu Xiao as this year’s Katchmar-Wilhelm Endowed Professor.

Lu Xiao

Associate Professor Lu Xiao

The professorship lasts for a three year period and is designed to support an associate professor in achieving their career goals, enhancing their own and the school’s reputation, and ultimately achieving promotion to full professor. This position was established in 2016 and was made possible from a portion of the bequest of Mrs. Estelle Wilhelm ‘38 ‘39 that the iSchool received in 2013.

Xiao’s research focuses on three broad areas: collaborative and social computing, digital humanities, and community informatics. During this professorship, she will focus on research that pertains to understanding and better supporting communication in the social media environment.

“Social media design is mainly focused on two aspects: how to support users in sharing information and expressing opinions, and how to facilitate the spread of that information,” said Xiao. “On the other hand, we see more and more complex interactions such as intentional persuasion and debate. My research focus is on how we can augment this environment so that when we engage with this type of user we can detect problems in the communication or identify opportunities for positive communication.”

Xiao will focus on three major research projects to help learn about persuasion techniques behind misinformation and explore interventions to fight against misinformation in the social media environment. The first is a study on persuasion awareness design which seeks to identify how conversations are impacted when users know the types of persuasion techniques being used to influence them. The second is a media literacy experiment, partnered with a team in Qatar, to determine the effectiveness of artificial intelligence-based propaganda identification to help train people detect propaganda techniques used in online news media. She also collaborates with Assistant Professor Sara Burke in the investigation of social-psychological interventions in combating disinformation.

“I am also working on several outreach opportunities to reach out to the general public about how we communicate online effectively and in a civilized manner, and help people realize the severity of the problem of misinformation,” said Xiao, identifying that one of these opportunities would be educating local high school students, as the next generation affected by these issues, through interactive plays.

Xiao has started her research activities this semester and will continue throughout the professorship period.

“A lot of communication and social interactions are happening in a way that is becoming more and more complex, and while there are positive aspects to this, we also see a lot of negative things coming out of this space,” said Xiao. “I think for researchers and designers of these communication spaces it is important for us to investigate how to address these problems and come up with a more intelligent design.”

“I think the iSchool is a great place for conducting multidisciplinary research,” said Xiao, citing that the support from the professorship for already tenured professors is a very thoughtful way to support mid-career research opportunities. “I really want to express my appreciation for being given this award, my gratitude to former dean Jeff Stanton for establishing it, and to current dean Raj Dewan and the research team for continuing this award.”