While politicians continue to argue whether outsiders impacted the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a computer scientist at Washington University in St. Louis plans to develop a computational model that would determine how a malicious party could impact election outcomes by influencing which issues are most often in the public discussion.

"Malicious parties can use various kinds of tricks to make people think about certain issues and not others," said Yevgeniy Vorobeychik, associate professor of computer science & engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering. He recently received a three-year, $368,178 grant from the National Science Foundation for the work. "If you talk about some issues and never about other issues, people are going to focus on the issues that are talked about, as opposed to other things that may be equally or more important to them."

Vorobeychik said this work also would look into how to mitigate such influences. He plans to use simulations to build computational foundations for reasoning about these problems.

"I want to look at what sort of things make a difference, for example, if there are information sources that can be trusted and to what extent that helps," he said. "Are there things we can do that improve reliance on trusted information sources?"

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 165 full-time faculty, 1,420 undergraduate students, 1,614 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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