Kiran Garimella

Postdoctoral Hammer Fellow, IDSS

Kiran Garimella, the first IDSS postdoctoral fellow to receive a Hammer Fellowship, pioneers research into the spread of rumors and misinformation on closed platforms such as WhatsApp, a popular encrypted messaging service with millions of users worldwide. Kiran aims to develop technical solutions to such problems by building tools that can collect and analyze massive social media datasets.

In July 2020, he published his findings on misinformation on WhatsApp in the form of image sharing, the first of its kind. Kiran collected and quantified images shared in politically-oriented WhatsApp groups in India prior to the country’s 2019 national elections. He found that 13% of these images contain misinformation and, based on these findings, developed machine learning models to predict whether an image is misinformation.

Kiran has joined Covid Survey, an initiative that aims to provide insight in people’s baseline beliefs, behaviors, and norms about Covid-19. In collaboration with Facebook, Covid Survey fielded a global survey on these topics and made the results available via interactive dashboards. Policy and communication responses to Covid-19, the Covid Survey team argues, can benefit from better understanding of these aggregates. Kiran helps with the core survey design and performs data analyses.

Before joining MIT, he was a postdoc at EPFL, Switzerland. His research focused on using digital data for social good, including areas like polarization, misinformation, and human migration. His work on studying and mitigating polarization on social media won the best student paper awards at WSDM 2017 and WebScience 2017. Kiran received his PhD at Aalto University, Finland, and Masters & Bachelors from IIIT Hyderabad, India. Prior to his PhD, he worked as a Research Engineer at Yahoo Research, Barcelona, and QCRI, Doha.

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