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The ongoing transition of a major part of human social life online has led to the appearance of a new type of cultural authority: diffuse and largely self-organized identity groups centered around particular social topics and virtual interests. This online human world interacts in complex ways with offline human behavior at both the individual and collective level – and sometimes in ways that are extremely harmful (e.g. rejection of established scientific authorities on vaccines and the emergence of self-appointed alternatives online).

This project will leverage our recent work on online behaviors at scale, to build a new understanding of how these new authorities develop and function, how they contribute to cultural polarizations, and how their efforts and effects can be influenced. We will study the emergence of self-organized groups within and across social media platforms surrounding extremism, hate and vaccine hesitancy. We will look at how their structure and composition define who listens to who and how new social identify groups appear.

We will complement this with new mathematical models of behavior, attitudes, and beliefs in online social interactions. These models will be used to understand how the formation and functioning of new new cultural authorities can be promoted or disrupted by policy makers or platform administrators with the goal of achieving greater societal well-being.

The collapse of trust in traditional social and cultural authorities is one of our biggest civilizational problems. This project will develop tools for understanding, predicting, and influencing the emergence of novel cultural authorities and their effects on human beliefs and behavior.

Our outputs will include research papers, popular articles, talks, and policy recommendations.

The outcomes will include increased trust in evidence-based science and policy-making and decrease in the efficacy of online misinformation and the influence of malicious groups.