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A PhD Student's Journey from the Army to Academia

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Randy Rosin
PhD student Randy Rosin wants to follow the trail of disinformation shared on social media in the 2016 election cycle all the way to the voting booth.

As a 32-year Army veteran and recipient of 35 medals, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and two Bronze Stars, Randolph Rosin is familiar with hard work and dedication.

Rosin’s background in strategic communication and information power helped him serve as the Senior Defense Official in Yemen, coordinate Department of Defense activities against Al-Qaida, and plan the information operations campaign that helped accelerate the downfall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes in 2001 and 2003.

After retiring from the military, he received an offer from the National Intelligence University (NIU) to teach courses on cyber threat intelligence and information warfare and has been teaching there for two years. This was one of the reasons that led Rosin to pursue his PhD in Communication at American University School of Communication (AU SOC).

The PhD program at SOC discusses how technology plays into communication, and his background in psychological operations, information warfare, and communication directly relate to what he is learning. He has also joined the Internet Governance Lab and has worked alongside Professor Laura DeNardis.

His dissertation topic is the current concern about disinformation and the influence of other nations on the U.S. public sphere, public opinion, and elections. There has already been a lot of the research done on the influence of the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but he wants to take that research further.

Most of the research that has been done has used social media to study the volume of disinformation that was directed at specific swing districts. Many institutes looked at Twitter feeds and saw that there was a surge of anti-Clinton and pro-Trump content in certain swing districts. They concluded that there was a correlation between the volume of content and how those districts voted; however, Rosin found a gap in their research. No one has gone the last mile to survey and interview people to understand the degree to which the social media content influenced their decision – and he wants to do just that.

“As a former operator in the business I want to ask the big question: what was the measure of effectiveness? I want to see if there is a direct correlation between the behavior that is observed of the target audience and the material that was released,” said Rosin about his research.

To continue his research, he wants to go to a swing district where the previous studies stopped and interview people to make an inference about the degree to which the targeted messaging actually influenced the way people voted.