Diffusion Source Identification on Networks with Statistical Confidence

Quinlan Dawkins, Tianxi Li, Haifeng Xu

[ Abstract ] [ Livestream: Visit Applications 2 ] [ Paper ]

Diffusion source identification on networks is a problem of fundamental importance in a broad class of applications, including controlling the spreading of rumors on social media, identifying a computer virus over cyber networks, or identifying the disease center during epidemiology. Though this problem has received significant recent attention, most known approaches are well-studied in only very restrictive settings and lack theoretical guarantees for more realistic networks. We introduce a statistical framework for the study of this problem and develop a confidence set inference approach inspired by hypothesis testing. Our method efficiently produces a small subset of nodes, which provably covers the source node with any pre-specified confidence level without restrictive assumptions on network structures. To our knowledge, this is the first diffusion source identification method with a practically useful theoretical guarantee on general networks. We demonstrate our approach via extensive synthetic experiments on well-known random network models, a large data set of real-world networks as well as a mobility network between cities concerning the COVID-19 spreading in January 2020.

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