Twitter: A Scientific Treasure Trove

Image: Jeffery Turner/flickr

The internet and the web have changed the way we do business, learn, communicate, live and even think – a development apparent to many people. What is not so well known is that the internet has also started to change the scientific landscape in various – arguably profound – respects.

Rather than outline all these changes, I’m going to elaborate on one specific issue — one which really stands out, since it provides us with the chance to undertake completely novel scientific activity: “big data”. The term “big data” refers to very large sets – containing gigabytes of data and beyond – which can be accumulated from all over the internet, be it via online news, forum discussions, Youtube comments, product reviews, blog posts or social media traffic.

A very interesting aspect of this kind of data is that it is social data, produced by humans using the web as their medium of communication. It is the intrinsic accessibility and openness of the web that is essential in this respect: These qualities not only allow others to read, comment, reply or share what you write, post or upload – they also allow researchers to take a deeper look at what is actually ‘going on’. Often referred to as “Computational Social Science”, it is a newly emerging field with the possibility of substantially increasing and altering our understanding of how societies work.

Protecting Privacy in a Surveillance Society

1984 CD
1984, a George Orwell novel - and Van Halen CD, photo: aresauburn/flickr

While new technologies have enhanced user freedoms, they have also created opportunities for dramatic invasions of privacy – including by governments against their own citizens. How can governments better balance national security needs against citizens’ right to privacy?

This ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Peter Buxbaum about crafting sensible public policy on electronic surveillance and data mining.
  • A Podcast interview with Bruce Schneier suggests that technology is neither a magic bullet that can stop terrorism nor a catalyst for invading privacy.
  • Security Watch articles about the impact of electronic surveillance in Turkey, the US, Belarus and more.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including a recent Center for European Policy Studies paper on the human rights implications of global technology transfers.
  • Links to relevant websites, such as last week’s Economist article on “Privacy and the Internet.”
  • Our IR Directory, featuring the human rights group, Privacy International.