valuable eyewitness accounts and raw data on human behavior, and a habitat for trolls

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(THE TALK) What do a cybersecurity researcher developing an alert-generating system to detect security threats and vulnerabilities, a wildfire observer tracking wildfire spread, and health professionals trying to predict inclusion in health insurance exchanges have in common?

They all rely on Twitter’s analysis of data.

Twitter is a microblogging service, meaning it’s designed to share posts with short text segments and embedded audio and video clips. The ease with which people can share information with millions of others worldwide on Twitter has made it very popular for real-time conversations. Whether it’s people tweeting about their favorite sports teams, or organizations and public figures using Twitter to reach mass audiences, Twitter has been part of the collective record for over a decade.

The Twitter archives provide instant and complete access to every public tweet, which has positioned Twitter as both an archive of collective human behavior and a service for notarization and fact-checking on a global scale. As a researcher studying social media, I believe these features are very valuable for academics, policymakers, and anyone who uses aggregated data to gain insights into human behavior.

The proliferation of scams and brand impersonators, the bleeding of advertisers, and the disorder within the company are putting the future of the platform in question. If Twitter went under, the loss would resonate around the world.

analysis of human behavior

With its vast body of tweets, Twitter has provided new ways to quantify public discourse and new tools to map aggregated perceptions, providing insight into human behavior at scale. Such digital traces, or records of human activity, enable researchers in fields ranging from the social sciences to public health to analyze a wide range of phenomena.

From open source intelligence to citizen science, Twitter has not only been a digital public space, but has also enabled researchers to infer attitudes that are difficult to detect using traditional field research methods. For example, people’s willingness to pay for measures and services to combat climate change has traditionally been measured through subjective well-being surveys. Sentiment data from Twitter provides researchers and policymakers with another tool to assess these attitudes in order to take more meaningful action on climate change.

Public health researchers have found a link between tweeting about HIV and HIV incidence and have been able to measure mood at the neighborhood level to gauge the overall health of people in those neighborhoods.

place and time

Geotagging data from Twitter helps in a variety of areas such as urban land use and disaster resilience. Being able to identify the locations for a series of tweets allows researchers to correlate information in the tweets with times and places — for example, correlating tweets and zip codes to identify hotspots of vaccine hesitancy.

Twitter is invaluable in the field of open source intelligence (OSINT), especially for prosecuting war crimes. OSINT uses crowdsourcing to identify the locations of photos and videos. In Ukraine, human rights investigators have focused on using Twitter and TikTok to search for evidence of human rights abuses.

Open-source intelligence has also been instrumental in breaking through the fog of war. For example, OSINT analysts were quick to provide evidence that the missile that exploded in Przewodow, Poland, near the Ukrainian border on November 15, 2022, was likely an S-300 anti-aircraft missile and unlikely a Russian-launched ballistic or cruise missile.

Notarization and Verification

Although misinformation has been circulated far and wide on Twitter, the platform also serves as a global verification mechanism. First, a large number of people use Twitter and other social media platforms. With crowdsourcing on a large scale, social media is taking on the role of an authoritative information provider, reducing the uncertainty people face when searching for new information. The platforms fulfill a certification role that some scholars call “public relevance algorithms” because they have replaced dedicated business or technical expertise to determine what people need to know.

Another way was the official authentication. Prior to the Elon Musk acquisition, Twitter’s verification method put a blue tick on public figures on their profiles, which served as a shortcut to determine if a tweet’s source was who it said it was.

While there are issues such as fake news, misinformation, and hate speech, the ability to verify eligibility coupled with the large number of people using the platform in real-time has made Twitter a credible information provider and fact-checker.

The digital public space

Twitter’s dual role in promoting real-time communication and conveying authoritative information is of critical interest to academics, journalists and government agencies. For example, during the pandemic, many health officials turned to Twitter to encourage behaviors that reduce the risk of infection.

During disasters and emergencies, Twitter has been a great place to crowdsource eyewitness data. For example, during Hurricane Harvey, researchers found that users most often responded and interacted with tweets from verified Twitter accounts, and particularly from government organizations. Official Twitter accounts helped spread information quickly during a water pollution crisis in West Virginia. Twitter data has also helped with hurricane evacuation.

Twitter is also an important way for people with disabilities to participate in public discourse.

The real value of Twitter was as a way for people to connect in real time and as an archive of collective behavior. In recognition of this, international organizations, government agencies and local governments have invested significant resources in using and relying on Twitter. Senator Edward Markey has described Twitter as “essential” to American society. Should Twitter collapse, there is no clear replacement in sight.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: Behavior-also-as-habitat-for-trolls-194601.

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