New research scholarships from the Irish Research Council and Google Ireland addressing online content safety

Posted: 14 December, 2021

Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation, Robert Troy, T.D. today announced details of the first awardees under an inaugural Irish Research Council (IRC) and Google Ireland Scholarship in online content safety. Part of the IRC’s Enterprise Partnership Scheme, the inaugural postgraduate research scholarships will focus on combatting cyber-bullying in teens and new software for tackling the spread of misinformation online.

Welcoming the awards, Minister Troy said: “The way we live and work has changed. Over the past two years we have seen the shift to online accelerate almost overnight and with it a growing reliance on remote working and remote learning. While there are many benefits in this, there are risks and challenges. The spread of misinformation online has highlighted a greater need for more robust solutions to online content safety. The world is now online and information spreads faster than any other point in history. We must ensure that with such rapid growth, the internet remains a safe and reliable resource for all. I am delighted to announce the new partnership between the Irish Research Council and Google Ireland and look forward to following the progress of these cutting-edge research scholarships.”

Successful Awardees

Postgraduate students awarded the Google Scholarship to undertake this research include Cian O’Mahony from University College Cork and Kanishk Verma from Dublin City University. They will both work under the mentorship of Dr Rebecca Umbach, User Researcher at Google Trust and Safety.

Awardee Cian O’Mahony’s project addresses the rapidly growing influence of conspiracy theories as a form of transgressive online behaviour. Cian’s approach to this issue aims to equip internet users with the skills necessary to evaluate conspiracy theories through a specially designed online browser game, thereby reducing susceptibility to misinformation. The game design will be informed by a series of experiments to develop effective methods of improving and measuring critical thinking about conspiracy theories.

For Kanishk, the scholarship will enable him to bridge the gap between two disciplines – social science and artificial intelligence. His interdisciplinary project combines computational expertise with social engagement and analysis to develop a systematic classification of teenager roles and behavioural patterns in cyberbullying. The design of a machine intelligent system to tackle abusive online behaviour will be informed by data and feedback gathered from youth focus-groups, working with the ADAPT Research Centre and the National Anti-Bullying Centre in DCU’s Institute of Education.

Commenting on today’s announcement Ryan Meade, Government Affairs and Public Policy Manager, Google Ireland said: “We are very excited to see such strong research projects emerging from the first candidates to be awarded the Google Scholarship in Online Content Safety.

“Our partnership with the Irish Research Council builds on the opening of our first Google Safety Engineering Centre (GSEC) for Content Responsibility in Dublin earlier this year. Our European headquarters in Ireland is an important hub for the work we do to protect people from harmful content and make our products safer for everyone. We want to ensure we’re playing a part in stimulating cutting-edge research on these topics.”

Peter Brown, Director of the IRC, said: “The IRC’s partnership with Google Ireland offers a new opportunity to promote high quality postgraduate research in an area which is of great importance to everyone who uses the internet. Google Ireland are funding excellent PhD candidates to conduct doctoral research and develop expertise in this important topic. This is an exciting initiative which enables academic researchers to collaborate with the Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC) Dublin on online content responsibility.”

The Google Ireland strand joins the IRC’s Enterprise Partnership Scheme (EPS) as it enters its seventeenth year. EPS provides postgraduate or postdoctoral candidates, hosted by a research performing institution, the opportunity to collaborate with an enterprise or employer on a research project of mutual interest.

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