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May 2nd – Speaker Program Features Prof. P. Takis Mataxas

“Misinformation, Social Media and Democracy”


First Parish Church presents P. Takis Metaxas, Professor and Chair ofProf. P. Takis Mataxas Computer Science at Wellesley College on Sunday, May 2, 4:00 pm, in a virtual presentation on Zoom. During this talk, he will address the effect of social media on society – “How the Web is changing the way we think, decide and act as individuals and members of social communities.”

Prof. Mataxas is also a research scholar at the Center for Research on Computation and Society at Harvard University (USA), and the Center for Technology and Global Affairs at Oxford University (UK). His research on the propagation of misinformation online and the un-predictability of electoral results by social media has been extensively covered in the news and honored with several NSF grants and four “best paper” awards.

Takis’ interest in the power of mathematics to discover “the truth” goes back several decades. His first paper on the topic entitled “Of course it’s true, I saw it on the Internet” was published in 2003, followed by a 2005 paper entitled “Web Spam, Propaganda and Trust”, the first Computer Science paper that was raising the issue of propaganda on the Web and pointing to the dangerous effects of manipulating search engine results. In the 2010 paper entitled “From Obscurity to Prominence in Minutes: Political Speech and Real-Time Search” they documented the first effort to use Social Media and bots to influence elections in the US. While this work received the Best Paper Award at WebScience 2010 and an NSF grant to develop “TwitterTrails”, a tool for measuring rumor propagation on Twitter, lawmakers did not pay much attention. Unfortunately, the disinformation and propagandistic techniques Takis and his team discovered and warned in “The fake news spreading plague: Was it preventable?” have been used successfully ever since. His current approach to solving the problem is described in a book chapter entitled “Technology, Propaganda, and the Limits of Human Intellect” published by MIT Press.

Zoom login information will be on this page on the weekend
of May 1-2, 2021.

Professor Metaxas’ appearance is made possible by a grant from the
Carol McMullen and Sean Rush Guest Speaker Fund at First Parish.