June 8, 2023
Dr. Ihsan Ayyub Qazi (SCI '10) currently works as an associate professor of computer science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). At LUMS, located in Lahore, Pakistan, Qazi also serves as a senior research fellow with the Mahbub ul Haq Research Center, where his work primarily focuses on digital development, countering misinformation, cloud computing, and online privacy.
“One of the major strands of my research for the last five years has been on developing effective strategies for countering misinformation,” said Qazi. “Misinformation refers to verifiably false claims, which often get rapidly disseminated through online platforms like social media. The speed and scale with which misinformation can spread online is unprecedented in human history. Consequently, fake news has emerged as a global challenge, because combined with the speed and scale afforded by digital platforms, it can have a profound impact on individuals and society ranging from political polarization, to election interference, to even violence.”
During his career, Qazi has won the Meta/Facebook Foundational Integrity Research Awards three times.
In 2019, Qazi, along with his colleague Dr. Ayesha Ali, were first granted the Meta/Facebook award for their research on developing interventions for countering misinformation among low literacy populations. These interventions, or treatments, featured a sole informational video and an informational video paired with feedback in order to help participants learn effective strategies for identifying potentially false claims and misinformation.
“The second intervention had a statistically significant effect… providing feedback really made sure that [participants] were able to apply what they were learning using the informational video we showed them,” said Qazi about the results of the randomized control trial.
In addition to recent publication in the Volume 163 of the Journal of Development Economics, Qazi’s research findings helped inform government action during the COVID-19 pandemic: “We shared evidence on behavioral interventions with them, and then using that evidence, they launched campaigns that involved sending SMS messages and ringtones in which people were informed about COVID preventive behaviors and misinformation.”
After receiving the second Meta/Facebook Research Award in 2020 for his work on countering deepfake misinformation, Qazi was recently announced as a recipient of the award for a third time in 2022.
“In our third Meta/Facebook Research Award, we proposed to design a game-based digital media literacy intervention,” said Qazi about his research. “In this game… people are going to be introduced to different digital media literacy interventions.”
Qazi’s professional accolades don’t stop there; he is also the recipient of a Google Faculty Research Award for his work which sought to “tackle challenges in the affordability realm” of digital development and accessibility.
In his research, Qazi points to two areas of affordability that impact access to the internet: smartphone ownership and mobile broadband costs.
“As part of the Google Faculty Research Award, we have developed methods and algorithms to actually make low-cost entry-level smartphones more performant… Once you make them more performant, you improve user experience. If the performance is not good, people are not going to use it, which means you stand to exclude a lot of people who are at the lower end of the income levels,” explained Qazi.
After conducting analysis on all countries in the world for which the data was available, Qazi’s research revealed that “96 countries do not meet the affordability target” set by the United Nations Broadband Commission of mobile broadband prices relative to income levels.
In response to this inadequacy, Qazi and his team “recently developed a new Web framework that can substantially reduce the mobile data costs for individuals… If you want to increase access to websites, one way of actually doing that is to have low-complexity versions of the websites—lighter websites that serve the same content—and that’s what we have done.”
Along with innovative and award-winning research, Qazi has also made a powerful impact closer to home. After completing his PhD program in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010, Qazi returned to Pakistan, where he spearheaded efforts to implement undergraduate research opportunities at LUMS.
“I helped start an undergraduate research program at my university which has now been formalized at the university level,” said Qazi. “Now, undergraduates can pair up with faculty, and get funding for carrying out a research project. ”
To prepare for this contribution, Qazi referred to his experience at Pitt: “I really found a lot of support from the faculty [at Pitt]. That was really enriching because… in Pakistan, we don’t have the same ecosystem of research that we have in North America. I was cognizant of the fact that if I had to encourage that kind of ecosystem, I must have the training where you can navigate the challenges, uncertainties, and occasional failures [of a PhD program and research] for the larger purpose of doing useful work that can benefit society.”
Moving forward, Qazi has hopes of having “evidence based educational interventions made into curriculum so that children and high school students can be taught how to be responsible digital citizens.”
To learn about more of Qazi’s successes, read about the Sheth International Young Alumni Award.