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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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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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Seeing like a machine: big data and the challenges of measuring Africa’s informal economies

The mobile phone has created new channels of information about African informal economies and workers. In an era where so much of the apparatus for measuring Africa’s economies has been weakened, this kind of data reaps enormous potential for governments and private companies. Dr Laura Mann (OII) discusses the implications of big (and open) data on the research environment — as Africa becomes ‘more usable’ and ‘more legible’, she asks: for whom, by whom, and for what purpose is this data being used?

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The scramble for Africa’s data

Africa is fast becoming a source of ‘big data’, however there are big holes in the governance of the technology. The OII’s Linnet Taylor asks what can incentivise African countries’ citizens and policymakers to address privacy in parallel with (rather than after) the collection of massive amounts of personal data, how to devise privacy framework models for groups with restricted access to technology, and how such a system can be participatory enough to be relevant to the needs of particular countries and populations.

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Uncovering the structure of online child exploitation networks

As the problem of child pornography online continues to grow, it has become imperative that law enforcement resources be allocated in the most efficient manner. Martin Bouchard of Simon Fraser University discusses the web-crawling tool he designed (with colleagues Bryce Westlake and Richard Frank) to automate the process of searching for child pornography websites, and to identify the ‘key players’ that should be prioritized by law enforcement agencies seeking to disrupt child exploitation networks.

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