Can Twitter provide an early warning function for the next pandemic?

With factors such as air travel act as a catalyst in the spread of new and novel viruses, the need to improve global population monitoring and enhance surveillance of infectious diseases is more pressing than ever. Patty Kostkova (UCL) discusses how the real-time streams of user data generated on social networks like Twitter can be used for monitoring the health of large populations, providing a potential early warning function for pandemics, detecting flu spikes weeks before official surveillance systems. Watch Patty talk on this subject at the OII.

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Who represents the Arab world online?

There are obvious gaps in access to the Internet, particularly the participation gap between those who have their say, and those whose voices are pushed to the sidelines. OII Research Fellow Mark Graham, PI of a project examining representation of the Arab world online discusses how despite the rapid increase in Internet access, there are indications that people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remain largely absent from websites and services that represent the region to the larger world.

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Responsible research agendas for public policy in the era of big data

The availability of big datasets offers great potential to shape and influence policy outcomes, as well as the means by which policy-making is undertaken. But it remains unclear how government might make best use of this rich source of information, or with what practical and ethical implications. Victoria Nash (OII) discusses a recent OII workshop that explored how policy-makers, analysts and researchers should respond to the threats and promises offered by big data to public policy making and government services.

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Is China shaping the Internet in Africa?

There are concerns that, just as Western countries have tried to promote their models of news media in Africa, China will try to export its own. However, no studies to date have proved this to be the case. Iginio Gagliardone (University of Oxford) discusses the themes of his paper “Partner, prototype or persuader? China’s renewed media engagement with Ghana”, which proposes a framework to understand Chinese engagement in the African mediasphere in terms of its original contributions, not simply as a negative of the impression left by the West.

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Harnessing ‘generative friction’: can conflict actually improve quality in open systems?

Is conflict always bad? Or can conflict in open systems actually be productive, leading to innovative solutions to the problems encountered? In her paper “The role of conflict in determining consensus on quality in Wikipedia articles”, Kim Osman (QUT) finds that differences of opinion in Wikipedia actually spur the improvement of articles and that conflict, in contrast to earlier findings, can play a positive role in encyclopedic quality. Kim discusses her findings and what they mean for the design and governance of open, online systems.

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Uncovering the patterns and practice of censorship in Chinese news sites

China keeps sliding down the Press Freedom Index — now languishing in 174th place out of 179. While Internet censorship has attracted much attention from scholars and institutes, including IP blocking, keywords filtering and deletion in social media, censorial practices in news websites have never been comprehensively described or quantified. In their paper, “Unmasking News in Cyberspace: Examining Censorship Patterns of News Portal Sites in China” Sonya Y. Song (with Fei Shen, Mike Z. Yao, and Steven S. Wildman) present the first empirical study to systematically examine news deletion on major news portals in China.

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Predicting elections on Twitter: a different way of thinking about the data

Recently, there has been a lot of interest in the potential of social media as a means to understand public opinion. Social media monitoring, which in theory can extract information from tweets and Facebook posts and quantify positive and negative public reactions to people, policies and events has an obvious utility for politicians seeking office. Nick Anstead (LSE) co-author with Mike Jensen (University of Canberra) of a paper “Psephological investigations: Tweets, votes, and unknown unknowns in the republican nomination process” published in Policy and Internet discusses how useful these techniques are for predicting election results, and how they might be reimagined in the future.

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