“While hard work and dedication are obvious markers of most successful graduate researchers, Hussam stands out also because of his willingness to learn from other disciplines. He routinely stays up-to-date on computer science, statistics, journalism, psychology, and communication science literature in an effort to understand his research more holistically… His work is generating real world impact and will be laying important foundations for years to come.” – Rishab Nithyanand, Assistant Professor, Computer Science
• Hometown: Lahore, Pakistan
• Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. Rishab Nithyanand
• What is your degree program and expected graduate date? PhD in Computer Science, Expected date: May 2024
• Please describe your research: In my research, I try to understand the impact of social media on our beliefs, actions and ideologies. Looking more closely at how social media can manipulate user beliefs and make them more extreme in their opinions. The ultimate goal is to develop an understanding of social media’s impact and then use it to come up with ways to make social media a healthier place.
• In simple terms, why does this research matter? Over the past few years, we have seen how social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Youtube have been able to impact our beliefs and polarize the population. Many recent incidents and movements such as the anti-vaxx movement, political conspiracies, and the Capitol Riots can be traced back to social media. By observing how misinformation, echo chambers, and the design of social media influence these problematic behaviours we might be able to reevaluate how platforms are governed and inform laws and legislations around social media platforms.
• How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I was working on my research projects as soon as I joined the university.
• How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? My research work requires interdisciplinary collaborations. By providing a platform to interact with experts in different disciplines and collaborate with them on projects UIowa has enabled me to think about my projects and their implications in a much bigger scope.
• What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I would like to continue working in academia. After my graduation, my goals are to become a professor and continue my research.
• Does your research have connections to or implications for COVID-19? Please explain. Over the past couple of years, we saw social media play an important role in spreading awareness regarding COVID-19. However, in this time, social media also facilitated the 1) spread of misinformation on this topic, 2) distrust in organizations and science, and 3) polarization of individuals and their political beliefs. My current projects seek to understand the impact social media had on the beliefs regarding COVID-19, its vaccines and mandates. In one of my current projects, I am measuring the direct impact of misinformation regarding COVID-19 and vaccines found on Facebook on the lives of Facebook users and how Facebook failed to mitigate this impact. In another project, we are looking at which type of social media enabled the most polarization on the topics of vaccines and mandates.
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