Sidharth Chhabra left India in 2011 to become a doctoral student at UMSI, but he maintains strong ties to his native country through his research in social media analysis.
The role that social media plays in everyday life is all-encompassing, from individuals and organizations to government and crime. After the London public transport bombings in July, 2005, one of the extremists admitted he was motivated to organize the attacks by hate crime videos posted on YouTube. Sidharth studies how YouTube videos may promote extremist activities. His project also involved finding information on extremists based on the content of hate posts. “We built an algorithm to find all the hate videos on the web,” Sidharth says.
After coming to UMSI, Sidharth started Delhi Michigan Research Group with the help of undergraduate researchers and computer programmers (aka hackers) at his former university, the University of Delhi. He serves as the group’s mentor, overseeing projects such as social media’s impact in developing countries and comparing government Facebook pages of the police and water departments.
“We looked at how we could find out if one Facebook page was better than the other one,” he says. “How are they interacting with people on social media?” In “Action Will Be Taken: Delhi Traffic Police @ FB,” Sidharth’s social networking study focused on issues Delhi police faced — since many complaints filed online were based on Facebook reports — and how things could be improved. “I saw they had thousands of people reporting their crimes but no auditing,” Sidharth says.
Sidharth came to UMSI to experience the diversity of working with individuals studying various disciplines. “There are people from all kinds of fields – economics, social science, humanities and computer science,” he says. His recent research focuses on developing new online communities and how they recruit and engage people via different mechanisms and design choices. “We analyze what design choices determine successful online communities.”
Under the guidance of his advisor, Professor Paul Resnick, Sidharth is working on a field experiment using ManyAngles, a free Google Chrome app which recommends news stories organized in clusters based on previously read articles. The goal is to broaden a reader’s exposure to more diverse resources and perspectives. He has co-authored a conference paper based on previous research on the subject with Resnick, “NewsCube Replication: Experience Report,” which was presented at the RepliCHI Workshop in 2013.
Sidharth obtained a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Delhi. He recently started graduate student teaching and really enjoys it, so much so that he plans to become a college professor after graduation in late 2016.