Twitter Hashtags Predicted Rising Egyptian Tensions

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Hal Hodson over at The New Scientist reports that rising tensions in Egypt were predicted by analyzing Twitter feeds.  Ingmar Weber at the Qatar Computing Research Institute had created the Political Polarization Index to measure the level of tension on Twitter.  Looking at Egyptian tweets between March 2012 and June 2013, a value of 0 to 1 was assigned to each user depending on whether they supported Islamist or secular prominent figures. They found that polarization on Twitter predicted the latest tensions, and violence occurred when hashtag polarity was high.

If governments realise that society is drifting apart, they might think of positive countermeasures,” says Weber. In Egypt, the tension online and offline entered a “red zone” during the row over the country’s new constitution in November and December 2012, he says. That could have indicated to the Morsi government that it should reconsider its actions, especially as tension didn’t really drop again, even if the streets were quiet at the time. Weber says they might improve the system by keeping track of whether individuals have used polarising hashtags before, as a measure of whether discontent is on the rise. “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,” he says.

More than 800 people have been killed in Egypt since president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown on July 3rd.

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