MITRE employee giving demonstration in MITRE HIPE Lab

What’s All the HIPE? At MITRE, It’s Building Community Resilience

MITRE’s HIPE Demonstration Lab is ready to take on new challenges in addressing mis- and disinformation online. It uses a novel combination of artificial intelligence, social science, and the human element.

Entire generations have never known life without the internet—particularly the ability to find out just about anything with just a couple of clicks. But today’s users increasingly need to be hyper vigilant in sorting fact from the opinions, half-truths, and outright falsehoods that jam the information superhighway.

A new MITRE endeavor, the HIPE Demonstration Lab, explores how online trends affect decisions people make about their health. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) and analysis to uncover those insights and can help people make better decisions based on information from reputable sources.

The lab in MITRE’s McLean headquarters is an environment for showcasing the HIPE framework, with room to grow as new applications and use cases emerge. Originally, it was to be an experimental program for future health events. It became a real-time exercise, however, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Now, with lessons learned from that unprecedented global health emergency, the HIPE Lab is gearing up for new challenges.

Since the dawn of time, we’ve had misinformation in one capacity or another. But the internet and social media opened up a whole new Wild West for it to grow and fester.

Denise Scannell, chief social and behavioral scientist and a HIPE Lab founder

HIPE Dreams

The HIPE Lab had its start in 2017 in response to unexplained public behavior around disease prevention. Healthcare agencies and providers noticed, for example, increasing numbers of individuals following bad online advice for slowing or preventing cancer—often making themselves sicker in the process.

“Since the dawn of time, we’ve had misinformation in one capacity or another,” Denise Scannell, MITRE’s chief social and behavioral scientist and a HIPE Lab founder, explains. “But the internet and social media opened up a whole new Wild West for this type of information to grow and fester.”

There’s so much bad information online that it falls into two categories: inadvertent misinformation and deliberate disinformation. While MITRE has examined the spread of both types of “false facts” for decades, the HIPE team wanted to tackle a targeted problem.

Because it’s a subject close to everyone—but involves complicated scientific knowledge—many people can’t critically process online information surrounding health. By combining the power of social listening with health communication science, the team surmised, the HIPE framework had the potential to bring about positive change at a very personal level.

Group of people standing in a circle while everyone is using their smartphone


Providing insights to promote information that supports people's well-being and critical decision-making.

AI + the Human Touch

The first step to getting HIPE off the ground was examining what makes mis- and disinformation messaging so persuasive. The resulting AI persuasion algorithm is at the core of the virtual lab dashboard. It uses qualitative and quantitative data to inform the HIPE™ framework.

However, assessing human behavior requires human input—the “social” in social science. HIPE uses machine learning and customized search strategies with expert analysis to pinpoint social media trends that lead to poor decisions about health and safety. Analysts must identify the trends before effectively introducing messaging and other interventions to quell the spread of falsehoods, whether mis- or disinformation.

“It’s not just social listening,” says Elizabeth Ryan, a health communication science principal. “The HIPE Lab blends real health communication science with a theoretical base in persuasion theory, which sets us apart from similar models.”

A key part of the HIPE framework involves identifying information literacy levels across geographic and population bases, both nationally and locally. It’s crucial to examine how and why social norms, values, beliefs, and availability of health services impact the choices individuals make regarding their health—and the best methods of delivering better information.

“We partner with community groups on the ground to make sure the response strategies we develop are appropriate,” Ryan explains. Depending on the community, trusted information sources may include healthcare providers, religious leaders, and community representatives who are invested in strengthening messaging to the benefit of all residents.

COVID-19 Delivers a Pilot Plot Twist

By late 2019, the HIPE framework was in place for the pilot program.

“We were all set to look at cancer online information,” Scannell recalls. Then came COVID-19.

The pandemic immediately shifted the conversation. A revised pilot zeroed in on three communities—in Maryland, Florida, and California—to analyze responses to online messages about the novel coronavirus. Quite early in the pandemic, for example, HIPE accurately detected mis- and disinformation regarding the use of the drug ivermectin for treating COVID-19. The findings allowed for mitigation strategies to be put in place in these areas.

While the virus lent itself to plenty of dissenting opinions about COVID-19 prevention and treatment, over the next few years the HIPE team focused on online behavior leading to vaccine hesitancy.

The results were encouraging. The HIPE Lab’s evidence-based recommendations about vaccine delivery, efficacy, and safety led to interventions credited with driving vaccination rates up to 20 percent higher than in the neighboring communities of the pilot program’s target areas.

Promoting a Healthy Online Ecosystem

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is far from the end of the HIPE Lab’s story.

On February 22, 2024, the ceremony opening the HIPE Demonstration Lab ushered in a new era of opportunities to explore online trends and make the kinds of recommendations that will help improve well-being in multiple arenas.

“We would never want to pigeonhole ourselves into health alone,” says health communication specialist Brandon Walling. “We’re dedicated to thinking about the information environment holistically and exploring other applications.”

Linda Desens, health communication science group leader and a HIPE Lab founder, agrees. “In the online ecosystem, everything is connected,” she says. To that end, MITRE is exploring how the HIPE framework can expand into other topics subject to online information, including climate, gun violence, veterans’ affairs, and even international quandaries.

“We’re safer when we are able to make really good decisions and interact effectively in our environment,” Scannell says. “Well-being is safety, which fits right into MITRE’s mission of solving problems for a safer world.”

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