A National Cloud for Conducting Disinformation Research at Scale

Authors: Saiph Savage & Cristina Martínez Pinto

Co-authors: Shannon Biega, Luz Elena González, Claudia Flores-Saviaga


Online disinformation continues to evolve and threaten national security, federal elections, public health, and other critical U.S. sectors. Yet the federal government lacks access to data and computational power needed to study disinformation at scale. Those with the greatest capacity to study disinformation at scale are large technology companies (e.g., Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), which biases much research and limits federal capacity to address disinformation.

To address this problem, we propose that the Department of Defense (DOD) fund a one-year pilot of a National Cloud for Disinformation Research (NCDR). The NCDR would securely house disinformation data and provide computational power needed for the federal government and its partners to study disinformation. The NCDR should be managed by a governance team led by Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) already serving the DOD. The FFRDC Governance Team will manage (i) which stakeholders can access the Cloud, (ii) coordinate sharing of data and computational resources among stakeholders, and (iii) motivate participation from diverse stakeholders (including industry; academia; federal, state, and local government, and non-governmental organizations).

A National Cloud for Disinformation Research will help the Biden-Harris administration fulfill its campaign promise to reposition the United States as a leader of the democratic world. The NCDR will benefit the federal government by providing access to data and computational resources needed to combat the threats and harms of disinformation. Our nation needs a National Cloud for Disinformation Research to foresee future disinformation attacks and safeguard our democracy in turbulent times.

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About the Authors

Dr. Saiph Savage is an Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, the director of the Civic Innovation Lab, and a fellow at the Center for Democracy & Technology. She was named one of the 35 Innovators under 35 by the MIT Technology Review. Saiph has helped federal governments adopt human-centered design principles and artificial-intelligence capabilities. Her work has been covered by the BBC and The New York Times. Saiph holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

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Cristina Martínez Pinto is a Senior Research Scientist at Dr. Saiph Savage’s Civic Innovation Lab. She is also the Founder and CEO of the PIT Policy Lab, working at the intersection of Public Interest Technology and agile policymaking. She has worked as a Digital Transformation Consultant at the World Bank, led C Minds’ AI for Good Lab, and co-founded Mexico's National AI Coalition IA2030Mx. Cristina holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University and a B.A. in International Relations from the Tec de Monterrey. She is a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Shapers community.

Shannon Biega is a junior at West Virginia University, majoring in Computer Science and Spanish with an Area of Emphasis in Cybersecurity. She works with Dr. Saiph Savage as an undergraduate research assistant. Shannon has been specializing in cybersecurity, disinformation, and techno-authoritarianism. She is also a strong advocate for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and is passionate about using her knowledge and experience to help others reach their full potential, especially rural women and Latinas.

Claudia Flores-Saviaga is a Fellow at Facebook Research and Ph.D. student at Northeastern University. She hold a master’s degree in Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University. Claudia’s research involves the areas of artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing, and social computing. She is interested in understanding how “bad actors” organize misinformation and propaganda messages, and how other citizens organize to debunk manipulative messaging campaigns. She is applying this knowledge to design intelligent systems that can fight disinformation at scale. She started her exploration of online spaces analyzing how political trolls were organizing during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Her research has been covered by the Associated Press, Newsweek, BuzzFeed, El País, and Slate.

Luz Elena Gonzalez is a visiting junior researcher at Dr. Saiph Savage’s Civic Innovation Lab and also works at the PIT Policy Lab. Luz Elena specializes in International Development Cooperation with a focus on technology policy. She is interested in the intersection of data science and public policy, as well as in advancing ethical technology design to create more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient cities. She has worked as a consultant and project manager in the public sector. She has a B.A in International Relations from the Tec de Monterrey.