David A. Broniatowski, Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, serves as the Associate Director of the GW Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics (IDDP). IDDP’s mission is to help the public, journalists, and policymakers understand digital media’s influence on public dialogue and opinion, and to develop sound solutions to disinformation and other ills that arise in these spaces. Professor Broniatowski brings his experience as an interdisciplinary systems engineer to bear in his role at IDDP, helping to coordinate research and promote collaboration between the many different academic disciplines working on problems related to IDDP’s mission. These disciplines include, but are not limited to, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, systems engineering, political science, public health, anthropology, experimental psychology, and data science. Beyond the academic mission of IDDP, this work has an inherently practical bent: in the heart of the nation’s capital, IDDP brings together top researchers from across academic disciplines, works side-by-side with and informs journalists from leading media outlets, advises and helps agenda set with policymakers in the U.S. and Europe, and engages with a variety of organizations that have significant societal influence and reach.
This work is of vital importance in an age when media manipulation, fake accounts, and malicious social media activities are undermining fundamental aspects of societal cohesion and democratic ideals. Abuse, harassment, hate speech, and disinformation abound, with foreign and domestic actors alike taking advantage of key features of digital platforms to target vulnerable and marginalized members of society. For example, misinformation about COVID and other health conditions is widely spread online, and has led to suppressed vaccine uptake rates, prolonging the COVID pandemic and facilitating the spread of new viral variants. Professor Broniatowski’s research focuses especially on how malicious actors take advantage of the architecture of social media platforms to advance several different agendas, including carrying out geopolitically-, economically-, and ideologically driven aims. Additionally, he studies how social media platform architectures facilitate or hinder the ability of platform designers to control or otherwise moderate misinformation spread. This research has direct design implications for major social media companies as they continue to struggle with how to manage these online harms in the face of rapid societal change.