The socio-political uprisings of the Arab Spring have revealed and highlighted the newer forms of activism and protest; reaching out to online social mediums to be heard, spread news, and collaborate. Tracking social media in the Arab Spring has laid the groundwork for interpreting conversations through Twitter and various online mediums.
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Social network analysis can be applied to many types of exchanges, both online and offline. Recently, I have begun analyzing data snapshots of conversation surrounding areas of conflict and crisis.
The above image is my recreation of a portion of data captured by Professor André Pannison at the Computer Science Department of the University of Turin, Italy. I have added several features to the data; re-positioning individual nodes and adding color variance for network influence and importance. The image is a network map of Twitter re-tweets surrounding the hashtag #Jan25, the date in 2011 associated with the beginning of anti-government protests in Egypt. The data was collected on February 11 after the resignation of the country’s then president Hosni Mubarak.
There are many reasons as to why this type of analysis and illustration are important, not only to Egypt, but to Middle East and global conflict zones in general. We have the ability to portray the conversational patterns surrounding conflicts, protests, revolutions, talks of violence and peace. Social network analysis through social mediums allows for the collection of data surrounding a topic or keyword, allowing for the mapping of communication and the exchange of content. This type of informational technology map is not an all-encompassing solution, but an additional layer to the analysis of the global communicative web. Each individual node represents an individual who took to Twitter to voice their concern and/or support for Egypt. The following is a representation of evidence, a cyber-anthropological illustration of what occurred in Cairo’s now iconic Tahrir Square on February 11.
This analysis is a data snapshot surrounding the hashtag #MiddleEast on April 5. At this time, discussions varied from Egyptian conflict, impact of Iran sanctions, food security and Bahrain opposition. Key hubs and network influencers have been enlarged and vary in color as to their importance within the conversation pattern. With these maps we are able to interpret what types of conversations are occurring and which individuals or groups are controlling these exchanges. This is not a competition, but an area for interpretation in the flows of online conversation.
The applications of this can be either positive or negative. Government organizations and various agencies are now able to harness data to seek out individuals and groups that are disseminating certain messages; and, act upon this information accordingly.
Analysis of conversations within Twitter and other social mediums are both beneficial and concerning. Those collecting the data can determine how to put it to use – for enhancing the dialogue, or silencing it.
Bennett Resnik is a consultant on social capital and networks. He is an expert in networking strategy and social capital retention. Bennett advises his clients on how to locate and access social capital within their present networks and create a framework for future network strategy. He interprets exchanges in conversation, content, resources, and business transactions.