Optimal Control of Information Epidemics in Homogeneously And Heterogeneously Mixed Populations
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Social networks play an important role in disseminating a piece of information in a population. Companies advertising a newly launched product, movie promotion, political campaigns, social awareness campaigns by governments, charity campaigns by NGOs and crowd funding campaigns by entrepreneurs are a few examples where an entity is interested in disseminating a piece of information in a target population, possibly under resource constraints. In this thesis we model information diffusion in a population using various epidemic models and study optimal campaigning strategies to maximize the reach of information. In the different problems considered in this thesis, information epidemics are modeled as the Susceptible-Infected, Susceptible-Infected-Susceptible, Susceptible-Infected-Recovered and Maki Thompson epidemic processes; however, we modify the models to incorporate the intervention made by the campaigner to enhance information propagation. Direct recruitment of individuals as spreaders and providing word-of-mouth incentives to the spreaders are considered as two intervention strategies (controls) to enhance the speed of information propagation. These controls can be implemented by placing advertisements in the mass media, announcing referral/cash back rewards for introducing friends to a product or service being advertised etc. In the different problems considered in this thesis, social contacts are modeled with varying levels of complexity---population is homogeneously mixed or follows heterogeneous mixing. The solutions to the problems which consider homogeneous mixing of individuals identify the most important periods in the campaign duration which should be allocated more resources to maximize the reach of the message, depending on the system parameters of the epidemic model (e.g., epidemics with high and low virulence). When a heterogeneous model is considered, apart from this, the solution identifies the important classes of individuals which should be allocated more resources depending upon the network considered (e.g. Erdos-Renyi, scale-free) and model parameters. These classes may be carved out based on various centrality measures in the network. If multiple strategies are available for campaigning, the solution also identifies the relative importance of the strategies depending on the network type. We study variants of the optimal campaigning problem where we optimize different objective functions. For some of the formulated problems, we discuss the existence and uniqueness of the solution. Sometimes our formulations call for novel techniques to prove the existence of a solution.
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