Instagram Joins Trend of Social Media Surveillance

instagram_surveillanceBy Joe Wright

A whole host of reasons are being given to justify the increased surveillance and data mining of social media: terrorism, suicide prevention, precrime detection of violence and other illegal acts … and now teenage alcohol abuse.

Pattern recognition is at the heart of data mining for both public organizations and private companies. The Feds tried to get Congress to sign on to required reporting of “suspicious activity” in social media with the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2016, but that provision was ultimately rejected. However, the voluntary two-way data stream inherently provided by social media is proving to be irresistible for monitoring “bad behavior.”

A number of university press releases have revealed what type of research is ongoing, always to counter some perceived threat to society at large.

After news of Ebola began terrorizing the planet, Virginia University announced a program called ChatterGrabber which was developed to detect public health risks. However, it was apparently designed to do much more than that, and only used the dread of contracting Ebola as the ultimate way to get people sympathetic to the idea:

ChatterGrabber has also been used to monitor tickborne diseases, such as Lyme disease, public sentiment involving vaccines, and gun violence and terrorism, serving as an early warning system for public health officials through suspicious tweets or conversations. (emphasis added) [Source]

MIT followed suit shortly thereafter by announcing that Twitter would permit access to all of its tweets beginning in 2006 in a search for how “social movements” take place. Reddit was also mentioned as slated for the same.

But it was Facebook that caused the most outrage thus far with its “Truthy” experiment that went directly into harvesting political data to manipulate the spread of information in a mass psychological experiment on its users.

With that backdrop, any seemingly benign protective measure that uses the same technology mentioned above must be called into question.

The University of Rochester’s full press release is posted below, emphasis added.


Instagram could offer a novel way of monitoring the drinking habits of teenagers.

Using photos and text from Instagram, a team of researchers from the University of Rochester has shown that this data can not only expose patterns of underage drinking more cheaply and faster than conventional surveys, but also find new patterns, such as what alcohol brands or types are favored by different demographic groups. The researchers say they hope exposing these patterns could help develop effective intervention.

Instagram is very popular among teenagers and it offers large amounts of information about this target population in the form of photos and text. As Jiebo Luo, professor of computer science at the University of Rochester, and his colleagues describe in a new paper, underage drinkers “are willing to share their alcohol consumption experience” in social media. Studying the social media behavior of this group allows the researchers to observe it passively in an “undisturbed state.”

They are presenting their work this week at the 2015 IEEE International Conference on Big Data in Santa Clara, California.

An example of the disadvantages of traditional methods for monitoring underage alcohol consumption is that teenagers might not be honest when they respond to an administered survey about alcohol use, e.g., the “Monitoring the Future” survey by the federal government. Also, those that choose to respond to such a survey might not be a representative sample and the sample size might be too small to draw conclusions.

Instagram does not offer a way of selecting users by age, but the research team was able to select users that fit the profile they were looking for by applying computer vision techniques. Luo and his team have been pioneering techniques that teach computers to extract information from images on the Internet (some examples are found here and here), something that is much more complex than just extracting information from text. They were able to use computers to analyze the profile faces of Instagram users to get sufficiently accurate guesses for their age, gender, and race.

Having selected a group of underage users to study, the researchers monitored drinking related activities via their Instagram photos by analyzing the social media tags associated with these photos using a constructed Internet slang dictionary and also any alcohol brands the users follow.

In their study, the researchers found that underage alcohol consumption, like with adults, happens more on weekends and holidays and at the end of the day. There also wasn’t a strong bias toward one gender for alcohol consumption – it matched the gender ratio of Instagram users.

The researchers did find that different alcohol brands are followed in varying degrees by teenagers, and that different genders follow different brands. The researchers highlight that this could point out brands that are attracting younger audiences in social media, information that could be useful to people working with underage drinkers.

“There are several ways we can go about doing that,” said Luo. “We can keep government agencies or schools better informed and help them design interventions. We could also use social media to incorporate targeted intervention and to measure the effect of any intervention. And perhaps other things we haven’t thought about.”

The researchers acknowledge, however, that research like this could also be used by brands to target their products to those users most likely to follow them.

Luo explained that an important next step is to check the results of their approach with surveys, to ensure their methodology is robust before applying it to extract even more information from Instagram. They hope to collaborate with people working on addressing other youth problems, such as tobacco, drugs, teen pregnancy, stress or depression.

“This new method could be a useful complement to more traditional methods of measuring youth drinking,” said Elizabeth Handley, clinical psychologist and research associate at the University’s Mount Hope Family Center. “It could provide important new insights into the contexts of youth drinking and be a valuable tool for evaluating the effectiveness of school or community-based preventive interventions.”

Luo’s coauthors on the paper are Ran Pang, Agustin Baretto, and Professor Henry Kautz, all from the University of Rochester.

Source


The repeated use of the term “intervention” is what should sound alarms the loudest; not only are they collecting data, but they intend to take action based upon what they find. Yes, we are largely dealing with minors who have not been granted the complete rights of adults, but this same language has been used in predictive mental health algorithms designed to do the exact same things for all ages. And, as we should have learned by now, loose definitions and loose interpretations have led to repeated abuses in a world that seemingly has gone full paranoid about all potential threats.

Do you feel that this technology is a legitimate solution for this specific issue, or is it destined to take us one more step down the slippery slope?

Image Credit

Joe Wright’s articles can be found on ActivistPost.com

  • Jr1776

    Lame website you have to approve every little thing you suck you pc lovers

    • James Andrews

      What the anti-gun rights crowd refuses to see and understand, is that regardless of any background checks, it is about impossible to enforce many of these laws, and the black market always grows, not weakens, when any laws get too restrictive.

      • Chessmaster

        Once they manage to outlaw guns then only Law Abiding Citizens won’t have them.
        Then just like in the Prohibition Era, they will be a Black Market for them, making a gun cost more to buy but not doing much else other than making Law Abiding Citizens defenseless against those who have guns.
        Makes perfect Liberal sense don’t you think?

        • James Andrews

          Sure, but we’ll get them via the underground anyway!

          • Bud

            Except not everyone who needs will be able to afford them.

          • James Andrews

            All the more reason to never allow them to confiscate any in the first place. Support your national and state level gun rights groups. even if you don’t care for the NRA, there are other good organizations fighting on the same front for us.

          • Bud

            I’m a member of the NRA.

        • Angelo Jamaica

          You sound like a looser chess master who says they will ever get the chance to outlaw guns. An outlaw never gives up his guns. He fights for his right.

          • Chessmaster

            I have no idea where you think you’re coming from with your comment and why is it you feel you must begin your comment with an insult when you don’t know anything about me.
            Perhaps you should read my comment again in order to catch it’s meaning.
            I said Law Abiding Citizens will give up their guns and many of them will if it was to become a law and I also stated that those outside the law will still have their guns..
            Certainly not all of them will, it is the Libertard’s dream to make the Citizen’s defenseless.

      • Silver Bullet

        Yes and just as has been said many times before, “If laws will keep guns off the street, we should make cocaine, marijuana and heroin illegal”
        DUH!

      • MDKTT20

        The Government federal, State, and Local have no authority to make any law or restriction against the Citizen owning a Gun, unless that person is mentally Ill, then they should already be in an institution for the ill, under supervision. The Constitution and the 2nd Amendment gives us the right to own a Gun or many Guns. It is the same for religion, the Government has no authority to restrict any citizen from having a Belief and praying anywhere they choose. or making any law or rule that restrict that right. Public or private. Have you been watching the TV channel called AHC on Cable ? They have been running pictures after Pictures of how Hitler Took over Germany, step by step, until they took away all Guns except the Government Military. and then started to kill off all who were against them. and it shows how one becomes a “Dictator” in a few easy steps, It reminded me of “Obama” and the way he has been doing since he took office back in 2009, the people were surely deceived by him right from the beginning .

  • scott

    has nothing to do with anything good for americans.only more spying and treason by the liberal communist scum

    • MDKTT20

      Yes it is , and its time to impeach him . Lets see if we can find those with the Guts to do so.

    • Angelo Jamaica

      Yes it is treason, along with anyone that aided him in his treasonous act.
      Which takes us back to fast and furious and the Benghazi delivery of weapons to terrorists.
      So if your representative will not act on that matter then what makes them?
      Accessories to the fact and actions of the act.

  • James Andrews

    I don’t use this crap anyway; it’s for yuppies and kids. yes, pretty much any communication today is potentially being spied on. Time to go back to simply writing letters and mailing them!

    • Walter Harvey

      Says the guy using it…….are you related to Hilary?

      • James Andrews

        I’ve never used Instagram, or most of the other crap. There are some sites that will only allow you to post via Facebook, but that’s all I ever use. Doesn’t mean I like everything about the format.

        • James Andrews

          And I can’t stand Killary; she should be in a Federal Pen already!

        • Kubrickian

          And you know farcebook bought instagram awhile back when they found out teens were leaving it in droves in favor of instagram, right?

      • Walter Harvey

        I understand

    • DanielAllison

      They read your letters also. They can hear your voice from more than a block away.

      • James Andrews

        I seriously doubt they’re reading every piece of mail out there. Now you’re being paranoid. They do have technology to “listen in” from a block away or so, but I don’t worry about that much. I am overall, a good citizen.

        • DanielAllison

          I don’t doubt that you are a good citizen, in your opinion, but what about their opinion? They have been reading the mail for over a century now, but it is still labor intensive.

          • James Andrews

            You are correct about being labor intensive. I am not worried too much, though I against many of the tenets in the so called “Patriot Act”, and all of the illegal, Constitution violating spying on us that is going on. If they truly suspect someone of being a dangerous terrorist, etc., then they simply need to get, and should obtain a warrant to do so.

          • DanielAllison

            We seem to be in agreement about most, if not all, things. As far as a warrant, they do not need one to get your electronic data. They can just ask Microsoft for it and it will be given to them. There is nothing we can do about it as we entered into a contract with Microsoft surrendering our rights in the service agreements. It has already been to court and is settled. How ever as far as a letter is concerned I am cautious about what I write down, just as I sometimes leave out what I may really think in a post. From your posts I would gather that you are one of the ones that realize we no longer have a two party system, but only one party that plays a game of charade with us. If we had two parties we would not have Obama for president and McCain would not have been a candidate.

          • James Andrews

            Good post DanielAllison; I concur. It’s sad that our nation is on so many bad roads right now, and heading in some dangerous directions though. I have little faith in 95% of politicians, but what scares me more than anything, is the fact that much of our current voting populace seem to know nothing about history, or simple economics; their voting record is showing me how dumbed down many millions of voters have become. I don’t have any kids, and Am in my mid-fifties, but I have 3 nephews, and I am scared for their futures down the road. We cannot continue on the paths we are on now, as a nation. If we do so, it’s only a matter of time before the entire machine just collapses, especially with the massive debt piled upon us, by the thieves residing and working in Washington. Have a good night……

  • Bud

    And yet only the “smart” people use all those various types of social media.

    • James Andrews

      Funny…..

      • Bud

        Just ask them.

  • AK Cowboy

    Old news 🙁

  • Silver Bullet

    I think its good they are watching everyone. Maybe they will learn something. Primarily, dont think anyone can go toe to toe with 80 Million Armed American Patriot….anyone who tries would lose and just create a big mess. Keep in mind China only has 2 million armed troops and they are the largest. An invasion would be hopeless. They can however take us down by foreclosure of personal assets. THAT is who our people need to be worried about, not American Citizens.

  • MDKTT20

    so what ? get an ear full . I care less.

    • Jr1776

      Idiot

      • MDKTT20

        You sound like a Liberal who has no answer , so you end with name calling . smart.

  • Jr1776

    I had a bowel movement, I thought you Communists should know

    • isnamthere

      When you’re done with it, let us know how it tasted.

  • 83footsailor

    FACEBOOK – TWITTER – and others – are just an open page for everyone to read . ////////////////////////////
    DON’T use any of them . /////////////////////////////////////

  • dennis cheever

    Obama is going to have to keep Guantanamo open so his SECRET POLICE, DHS, will have a place to put all of his political prisoners that the DOJ will find for him. Hail Dictator Obama, no that is Heil Obama.

  • Julia

    Good, I hope they read what i think of this administration!

  • Col C

    This is absolutely a violation of the right to privacy, guaranteed in the Constitution. Parents are the only ones who have any reason at all, to spy on their kids, because they are ultimately responsible for what their kids do. This is just another slide on the slippery slope of becoming a police state.

  • Walter Flatt

    QUESTIONS THE NEWS MEDIA NEED TO FIND OUT ABOUT.

    IS TRUMP THE MOST QUALIFIED PERSON TO RUN THIS COUNTRY? I THINK SO.

    IS OBAMA PLANNING AN INVASION WITH HIS MUSLIM COMRADS NEXT
    YEAR TO STAY IN POWER?

    ARE THERE 35 MUSLIM TRANING CAMPS HERE IN THE USA & ONE
    8 MILES OVER IN MEXICO?

    WHY DID OUR GOVERNMENT TRY AND BUY UP ALL AMMUNITION WITH
    OUR TAX MONEY?

    WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF AN INVASION HAPPENS? WOULD THERE BE A NEW PRESIDENT?

    WHY IS OUR GOVERNMENT TRYING TO TAKE OUR GUNS? WOULD IT NOT BE BETTER IF EVERY PERSON HAD A
    GUN IF THERE WAS AN INVASION.

    WHY IS OUR GOVERNMEN TO BRINGING IN 250 THOUSAND YOUNG
    MUSLIMS?

    WHY DID OUR GOVERNMENT STOP THE PLANE & TANK SHIPMENTS
    WHEN EGYPTS ARMY KICKED THE RADICAL MULIMS OUT OF CONTROL LAST YEAR? BETTER YET, WHY WERE THEY GOING TO SHIP THEM.

    WHY DID OUR GOVERNMENT GIVE 5 TOP TERRIOST FOR ONE TRAITOR?

    DID YOU BELIEVE OBAMA WHEN HE SAID ON NATION WIDE TV THAT HE
    WAS A MUSLIM?

    DO YOU BELIEVE OBAMA TO BE BLACK? HIS MOTHER WAS WHITE, HIS DAD A NORTH AFRICA
    ARAB.

    DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THIS GOVERNMENT HAS FORCED ISRAEL TO
    NUKE IRAN?

    WHY HAS BLACKS TURNED AGAINST THE PARTY THAT FREED
    THEM. LINCOLN WAS A REPUBLICAN.

    WHAT IS THE TRUE REASON RUSSIA IS GATHERING A ARMY THERE,
    COULD IT BE TO TRY AND STOP ISRAEL.

    DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE DEMOCRAT PARTY STARTED THE KKK? THEY DID.

    COULD YOU TAKE 50 ARMED MEN AND TAKE OVER A UNARMED MILITARY
    BASE, IF YOU WAS PREPAIRED TO KILL EVERY ONE THAT BASE AS MUSLIMS DO. I BELIEVE SO.

    I ASK YOU TO ANALYZE THESE QUESTIONS AND MAKE UP YOUR MIND
    ON WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO PROTECT OUR COUNTRY AND PREVENT A UNBELIVABLE BLOOD
    BATH IF ALL OF THE ABOVE IS RIGHT, EXCPT THE FIRST QUESTION ABOUT TRUMP.

  • DanielAllison

    The rise of the Thought Police is at hand. Soon you will be arrested before you commit a crime. How do you defend yourself from that accusation?

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