New research facility to uncover how internet algorithms and AI shape our world

New research facility to uncover how internet algorithms and AI shape our world

A major new research facility will open the ‘black box’ of digital platforms and their algorithms so we can better understand how people are using search engines, social media, messaging systems, and other digital services.

The Australian Internet Observatory (AIO) announced today and supported by the Federal Government is an initiative of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and Society (ADM+S) led by RMIT University. 

The AIO will harness new ways of collecting and analysing digital social data to support cutting-edge research into pressing issues such as misinformation, the kinds of ads Australians see when they use online platforms, and the lack of regulatory oversight in areas such as gambling, alcohol, or unhealthy foods. 

AIO Program Lead and Director of the ADM+S Centre, RMIT Distinguished Professor Julian Thomas, said digital platforms play a critical role in Australia’s economy and society, yet our capacities to collect and analyse data from digital platforms and observe their activities is very limited. 

“Over the past decade, there’s been a dramatic transformation in how Australians use digital platforms, how they interact with the automated systems and the digital economy, and how they communicate with machines and each other,” he said.  

“Every day, we are now using more platforms, more intensively, for a wider range of activities. But as researchers we’ve had very little visibility of how digital platforms work.”

The AIO comprises a range of new tools which give researchers visibility for the first time, over how people use critical services every day such as search engines, social media, video on demand services, generative AI chatbots, and other digital services.

“We realised there was a real need for new research infrastructure when we were developing some of our projects in the ADM+S Centre,” Thomas said.

“We knew that there were few reliable or accurate tools for gathering that kind of information, and that better tools would be useful for many researchers.” 

A laptop with the words "Australian Internet Observatory. Groundbreaking new research infrastructure for platform observability. A focus area of the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) HASS and Indigenous Research Data Commons, enabled by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Logos from partners also frame the image. Credit: ADM+S Centre

The AIO is a four-year national research infrastructure project supported by the Australian Research Data Commons that will create an interconnected ecosystem of people, data and tools to support impactful solutions. 

It will enable researchers to explore topics such as the distribution of misinformation, the patterns of everyday engagement with business, culture and science, flows of communication in emergencies and humanitarian crises, and the dynamics of political conflict and consensus.

The facility will be developed and led by RMIT University in partnership with QUT, The University of Queensland, University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology and Deakin University. 

The AIO is supported by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), enabled by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Infrastructure Strategy as part of the Humanities and Social Science (HASS) and Indigenous Research Data Commons. 

Jenny Fewster, Director, ARDC HASS and Indigenous Research Data Commons said the Australian Internet Observatory was building on a strong foundation of digital research infrastructure to establish a national, joined-up ecosystem that will enable exciting research. 

“It is a vital new part of the suite of research-accelerating national infrastructure within the HASS and Indigenous Research Data Commons,” she said. 


Story by: Kathy Nickels, Amanda Lawrence and Shu Shu Zheng

17 June 2024


17 June 2024


  • Research
  • DSC Research
  • Media & Communication
  • DSC
  • AI

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.