USC intelligence experts join Protagonist in DARPA INCAS project to spot enemy propaganda in social media

Aug. 3, 2021
INCAS seeks to uncover computational techniques that help intelligence analysts detect and make sense of enemy propaganda campaigns on social media.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers needed a company to help military intelligence experts make sense of enemy propaganda campaigns on social media and other online multimedia content. They found a solution from intelligence experts at University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced a $5.4 million contract to USC in July for the Influence Campaign Awareness and Sensemaking (INCAS) project.

USC joins Protagonist Technology LLC in San Francisco on the INCAS project. Protagonist won a $5.4 million contract last month for the DARPA INCAS project.

INCAS seeks to uncover computational techniques and tools that help intelligence analysts detect and make sense of geopolitical online influence campaigns on social media and in other multimedia online content. Additional contracts may be awarded.

Related: DARPA computer simulations target social media to root-out enemy disinformation and propaganda

The U.S. is engaged with its adversaries in an asymmetric and continual war of weaponized influence narratives, DARPA researchers pont out. Adversaries exploit misinformation and true information on blogs, tweets, and other online multimedia content.

INCAS seeks to develop computer tools to enable analysts to make sense of vast, noisy, and adaptive information to identify adversary influence campaigns.

Today, the ability to detect and make sense of geopolitical influence campaigns largely is a manual and ad hoc process. Analysts use social listening tools to formulate complex keyword queries; track trending keywords, hashtags, and topics; and read hundreds to thousands of documents to identify influence themes.

Related: Kitware to develop new algorithms to help detect and defeat disinformation from falsified media reports

New or low-and-slow campaigns are difficult to detect early. Today's tools make it difficult to connect messages over time and across several platforms to track and assess evolving campaigns. Analysts must sift manually through many messages.

Marketing tools for analyzing audience demographics, interests, and personality, for example, lack explanatory and predictive power for deeper issues of geopolitical influence.

Instead, INCAS seeks to develop tools with automated influence detection to detect implicit and explicit indicators of geopolitical influence in multilingual online messaging. USC Technology experts will develop tools that dynamically segment the responding population and identify psychographic attributes such as world views, morals, and sacred values.

Related: Researchers take aim at new technologies to detect and defeat disinformation based on media manipulation

INCAS primarily will use publicly available data sources including multilingual, multi-platform social media, online news sources, and online reference data.

INCAS has five technical areas: influence indicator detection; population response characterization; influence campaign modeling; data and testbed development; and program evaluation.

For more information contact USC online at, or DARPA at

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John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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