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MIT Sloan School appoints Sinan Aral to lead the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

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Aral is an expert in the area of social networks, social media, and digital strategy

Cambridge, Mass., March 4, 2020—The MIT Sloan School of Management today named Professor as the new director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE). Aral, one of the youngest tenured faculty members in the history of the Sloan School, holds joint appointments in the IT and marketing groups as the David Austin Professor of Management.

Aral is known for his groundbreaking research in the area of social networks and social media. His recent paper on “The Spread of True and False News Online,” published on the cover of Science, was the second most influential paper of 2018 and was one of the most cited publications of 2018 and 2019. His much-anticipated book, “The Hype Machine,” about how social media disrupts our elections, our economy, and our lives, will be published by Random House in September.

“Sinan is a brilliant scholar and a gifted educator, and I am delighted that he has agreed to lead the IDE,” said David Schmittlein, Dean of MIT Sloan. “Sinan has deep support from his faculty colleagues, students, and staff, and we are fortunate to have his energy and insight. With Sinan, the IDE is in good hands.”

For the past five years, Aral has led the IDE’s research in social analytics and large-scale experimentation. He has also organized MIT’s Conference on Digital Experimentation (CODE). The annual symposium brings together leading researchers and data scientists conducting randomized trials in varied digital environments.

“Sinan is a superstar in his field who has played a pivotal role in widening the IDE’s perspective,” says David L. Verrill, Executive Director of the IDE. “He has a vibrant vision for the IDE’s role in a rapidly changing world and he is well positioned to move our initiative forward.”

Under Aral’s leadership, the IDE will continue to broaden its focus in several key areas: social networks, including the effects of bias, privacy and antitrust regulation, human behavior, and social influence; AI and the future of work; online digital experimentation; labor economics and market design; and networked ecosystems and platforms.

The IDE will also expand its research on the role of fake news and social media on economies, societies, and elections. In addition, it will investigate strategies to create a “market for truth” that supports accuracy in news and advertising.

“It is a tremendous honor to assume leadership of the IDE at this important time,” says Aral. “I grew up as a PhD student here and I've known the IDE’s executive staff for nearly two decades. I am eager to enlarge IDE’s Sloan footprint and sharpen its intellectual focus. There are exciting times ahead.”

Aral will assume his new position on July 1. He succeeds Erik Brynjolfsson, the co-founder of the IDE and its predecessor, the Center for Digital Business, who is joining the Stanford faculty. Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist, will continue to serve as the co-director of the initiative.

Aral’s research has won numerous awards including the Microsoft Faculty Fellowship, the PopTech Science Fellowship, an NSF CAREER Award, and a Fulbright Scholarship. In 2014, he was named one of the “World’s Top 40 Business School Professors Under 40” by Businessweek; and in 2018, he became the youngest ever recipient of the Herbert Simon Award of Rajk László College in Budapest, Hungary. He is also a regular commentator on CNN, MSBNC and Bloomberg’s Yahoo Finance.

Aral is a graduate of Northwestern University. He holds master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Harvard University, and he received his PhD from MIT.