Beware Twitter Users: Your Tweets Help the Government Predict the Future

Twitter-cuffs-shacklesBy Joshua Krause

When it comes to whatever social media platform we use on a regular basis, most of us take it for granted that these websites are spying on us in some capacity. Granted, many social media users don’t know or don’t care, but everyone else at least implicitly agrees that in exchange for using these website for free, their posts will be data mined for information that can be used to target them with ads.

However, the personal information and opinions that we put out on social media doesn’t just provide commercial opportunities for advertisers. It’s a veritable goldmine for governments as well. Everything that people used to keep to themselves in previous generations, is now willingly shouted into the Internet abyss for all to hear. Social media users often feel free to share their most controversial, subversive, and inflammatory thoughts on a platform that could reach millions of people. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it, but it’s the world we live in today.

Governments of course, love this. People say things on the Internet, that in years past would require a warrant to discover. Law enforcement would have to get permission from a judge to tap someone’s phone, or search their house for diaries and letters that would give them a damning insight into that person’s psychology and intentions. Now we just give it away for free.

Obviously, this makes it very easy for the government to identify individual threats. Somebody can talk about overthrowing the government on social media, and either they’ll be reported or some NSA algorithm will pick them up, and add their comments to a threat matrix. But social media has the potential to give the government so much more. It can also give them an insight into the collective desires of the masses.

A new study was recently conducted by Arizona State University, Texas A&M, and Yahoo, which discovered that with the right algorithm, you can predict with 70% accuracy, the probability that any given Twitter user is going post something that is part of a protest. They could use this information to predict a protest movement in the real world, as well as how big it will eventually become.

The researchers collected 2,686 posts related to the Nigerian general election that took place between February and April of last year, an election that was marred by political violence in the form of the Boko Haram insurgency and that was beset by accusations of voting irregularities. So what predicts when someone begins protesting on Twitter? It’s not your personal history so much as your Twitter history of interacting with people who are part of that movement.

“The interaction we study is how users mention each other,” researchers Suhas Ranganath and Fred Morstatter wrote to Defense One in an email. “In the model, the probability of the future post expressing protest increases if: 1) The post mentioning the user is related to the protest. 2) The author of the post mentioning the user is interested in the protest. We dynamically learn [or teach] the model by testing how each of the previous status messages of the given user are affected by the recent posts mentioning him. We then use the model to predict the likelihood of the user expressing protest in his next post.”

Their accuracy threshold of 70 percent is because what might seem completely unpredictable is in fact part of a pattern, albeit one that’s incredibly complex. The researchers employed Brownian motion theory to design the formula, a theory that usually is employed to track the movement of particles, as well as model stock market fluctuations and other highly complicated systems. “Brownian Motion for fluid particles models change in the direction of the particle movement  on collision with other particles. We take each ‘particle’ as a social media user. We relate collision with other particles, other users mentioning him, and the change in direction to change of the user’s inclination to express protest in his next post. We then use the models of Brownian motion to relate the two quantities. We mainly employ this to model the dynamic change in user behavior resulting from interactions over time,” Suhas told Defense One.

I might add that it wasn’t just some university or a private company that decided to fund this study. The Office of Naval Research chipped in as well, so clearly the government is interested in this sort of thing.

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For them, social media is a powerful tool. The deeply personal opinions that you might shout into the Internet, gives the government the power of prognostication. And as computer technology advances, they will be able to do better than 70%. They’ll be able to look at the information you post on social media, compare that to what everyone else is saying, and they’ll be able to predict wars, protests, and revolutions long before they occur. And that’s an incredibly dangerous power for any government to have.

Also Read:

Social Media Surveillance Expands as IBM Taps Twitter

Twitter Opens Entire Database to MIT – How Will It Be Used?

Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .

  • BlackJack77

    It isn’t just twitter users- its ALL computer users and smart phone users too. All of your data is being sucked up and placed in places like Bluffdale, UT (NSA Utah Data Center) to be data mined against your interests.Needless to say, you are paying for it all. the Utah Data Center is costing $2 Billion and it is one of many.

  • Chuck Findlay

    Computers keep records, it’s what they do. I don’t think there is any kind of delete button that actually deletes on-line info.


    Back in the 1990’s I took a picture of my then 7-year old son holding an AK-47 at my friends gun shop (I worked there) My son use that picture for his avatar in his teen years. But he deleted it from all accounts when he started looking for a job, that was 10-years ago. He tells me that it still turns up occasionally. Where is it being stored? Who knows, but it’s on the net someplace and it seems forever tied to him. Little did we know…

    Moral of the story, on-line info, action, pictures and comments are there for ever so watch what you do!

  • Milly Vanilly

    Just my thoughts but…..computers are programmed to find patterns & follow logical outcomes…so remember on several sci-fi shows ( Star Trek comes to mind as one) that ILLOGICAL actions & statements caused the computer to break down ?
    That’s OVER simplification but I’m sure most of you get the idea. Post Nonsensical posts & tweets on occasion to MUCK up the algorithms.

    • Chuck Findlay

      Star Trek was good entertainment, not reality.

      When you enter wrong information a computer ignores it, asks for more information or probably 20 other things. But what it doesn’t do (like in Star Trek) is to burn up with smoke.

      Computers today are data recording machines that keep data FOREVER and look for patterns.

      Ever look at something on Amazon or U-Tube? Notice how it shows patterns of what you looked at previously? Now imagine the NSA looking at your patterns. This is what we face, not a computer that will burn up if you try to stump it with false data. In fact putting in false data may set off alarms.

      • Milly Vanilly

        YES, I did not imply the computer would burn up. I am questioning whether incorrect or opposite data would cause the algorithm to take a side track & come to different conclusions & eventually MORPH the ACTUAL results had the original data been 100 % correct.
        Example, you look at something OTHER than what you you are really interested in on U-Tube or Amazon & the program INCLUDES that incorrect data into your file. Now when you log back in, the program recognizes FALSE input & includes it in its ANALYSIS of you ( which would be wrong). The new algorithms are programmed to ADD their own ‘assumptions; based on logical thinking- which is originally programmed by a logically thinking ( hopefully) human.

        The idea of this is NOT for your or our benefit but to MESS UP the algorithm so it eventually stores & feeds itself on JUNK data causing incorrect conclusions.
        SORRY for the long winded explanation.
        OH CRAP….Now I’ve been flagged

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