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Twitter Hashtags Predict Rising Tension in Egypt

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Supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi

Researchers have developed a means of using Twitter to measure the rise and fall of political tension in Egypt.

Credit: The Chronicle

Qatar Computing Research Institute scientist Ingmar Weber and colleagues have developed the Political Polarization Index, which uses Twitter to measure political tension in Egypt.

The team assigned scores to Egyptian tweets between March 2012 and June 2013 based on whether users had retweeted Islamist or secular prominent figures. The team then calculated the polarity of popular hashtags by averaging their use among all Egyptian tweeters, factoring in the religious beliefs of each user. The team could then view the political disparity between the two main groups, and noted that rising political polarization on Twitter preceded actual violence.

"Quite strikingly, all outbreaks of violence happened during periods where the hashtag polarity was comparatively high," the researchers say.

They believe early warnings provided by social networks might help governments avoid conflict. "If governments realize that society is drifting apart, they might think of positive countermeasures," Weber says.

He notes the program could be improved by tracking whether people have previously used polarizing hashtags. "If 100 users use an anti-Morsi hashtag, it might matter whether they are just 'the regular suspects' or are users who have not been politically active in the past but have now decided to express their frustration."

From New Scientist
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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