Research Collaboration on Influence Operations Between Industry and Academia: A Way Forward
Research on influence operations requires effective collaboration across industry and academia. Social media platforms are on the front lines of combating influence operations and possess a wealth of unique data and insights. Academics have rigorous training in research methods and relevant theories, and their independence lends credibility to their findings. The skills and knowledge of both groups are critical to answering important questions about influence operations and ultimately finding more effective ways to counter them.
Despite shared interest in studying and addressing influence operations, existing institutions do not provide the proper structures and incentives for cross-sector collaboration. Friction between industry and academia has stymied collaboration on a range of important questions such as how influence operations spread, what effects they have, and what impact potential interventions could have. Present arrangements for research collaboration remain ad hoc, small-scale, and nonstandard across platforms and academic institutions.
Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) provide a compelling model for multi-stakeholder collaboration among those working to counter influence operations. Federally funded research institutions—such as the RAND Corporation, the Institute for Defense Analyses, or the MITRE Corporation—have hosted successful cross-sector collaboration between the federal government and academic institutions for more than seventy years. Academic and industry researchers should seek funding and create an analogous institution so the influence operations research community can further collaborative research on shared interests that cannot be addressed with existing models. Drawing from such models, industry would be a primary funder, but governments and philanthropic donors could also contribute to encourage independence and balance.