Categories
Internet

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.

Categories
Business and Finance

Bitcoin, Ripples, and Reality

Many people don't value a currency operating outside the traditional financial system. Photo: Zach Copley/flickr
Back in July 2011 we blogged about Bitcoin, the world’s first digitalized, crypto-currency. At the time, many thought Bitcoin a flash in the pan, attracting attention simply because it was still relatively new and exciting – but imagined interest would soon wear off. After three years however, Bitcoin doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Our last post touched upon Bitcoin’s use for undertaking illicit activities and the lack of institutional involvement. I’m going to revisit these themes and also discuss Ripple – the next currency you’ve never heard of.

Due to the increased anonymity associated with transactions undertaken using Bitcoin, there has been a fear that illegal acts are being made a lot easier, and a lot safer to conduct. A recent article for PCPro claimed that Bitcoin “is now the currency of choice for the discerning cybercriminal.” This image problem has not been helped by articles associating bitcoins with Silk Road, an online ‘underground’ marketplace (accessible only via Tor) where all kinds of illicit goods may be purchased – weaponry, forgeries and drugs – and where the digital currency is the only accepted method of payment. This undoubtedly sullies Bitcoin’s reputation, and to a disproportionate degree: The Internet itself has facilitated commerce, and necessarily the crime which accompanies any marketplace. But security agencies can be just as resourceful as criminals, developing network analysis techniques based on statistical methodologies to detect suspicious transaction flows. Rather than a destructive force, the appearance of Bitcoin and its use for ‘bad’ as well as ‘good’ is simply another reiteration of the cat-and-mouse game played out every day between criminals and the law.

Categories
Social Media Technology

The New Passive Activism?

Revolution at the click of a mouse? Photo: Brian Leadingham/flickr

  “Dear incredible Avaazers,
Just a few hours ago, our community reached 10 million people!”

Last week’s announcement by Avaaz, an online pressure group, speaks volumes for the continued enthusiasm for a form of political action that requires little more than a couple of mouse clicks. Once you’ve registered on a site like Avaaz, all you need to do to support a cause is enter your email address and click a button – or two, if you want to advertise your deed on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Categories
Security Technology Internet

Would You Download a Weapon?

AR-15 lower receiver and ‘print file’. Images: Wikimedia Commons, Thingiverse

 

3-D printing, while unknown to most of the public, has been around for quite a while. Its industrial applications range from rapid prototyping and archaeological reconstructions to medical uses in implant technology and custom-fitted hearing aids. Now, the technology is becoming affordable for the average consumer: while an industrial-strength 3-D printer that can use materials like bronze-infused steel, or even titanium, still costs more than $10,000, desktop machines for printing hard plastics are being sold in kits available for little over $1000.

Categories
Security Internet Religion

Islamic Fundamentalist Recruitment Online

 

An internet cafe in Taipei. Photo: Jared Tarbell/flickr

The idea that Islamic extremists use the internet for terrorist purposes is not exactly a revelation – terrorists have been coordinating attacks and spreading propaganda via email since the 1990s. Nevertheless, recent reports from the White House, as well as the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, suggest that the internet is being used more and more as a platform for extremist recruitment. With the rise of ‘Web 2.0’, or user-generated web content, extremists are now able to reach and interact with audiences of all ages, genders, backgrounds across geographic boundaries. Consequently, there has been a sharp increase in the number of ‘non-affiliated cells’ willing to carry out potentially fatal attacks.

  The internet is now the most important method of spreading jihad and Islam.
  -Imam Samudra, orchestrator of the 2003 Bali Bombings

This audio-visual slideshow looks at the methods currently being used by Islamic extremists to radicalize individuals online and equip them for violence._

   
  For more information, please click here  

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The internet can be a powerful weapon for spreading extremist messages. With the exponential growth of global internet connectivity, it is now more important than ever that NGOs, think tanks, and governments work together to generate effective strategies to counter the use of the internet for these purposes. As noted at the conference of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) on the Use of the Internet to Counter the Appeal of Extremist Violence in Riyadh earlier this year, for every harmful message on a particular internet medium, there should also be a counter-narrative on the same medium which provides a sound alternative to radicalized ideologies. Terrorist recruitment on the internet should not be a problem that is dealt with reactively– it needs to be defused before the real damage is felt.


For a much more detailed analysis on these topics, please read:

 

  • The United Nations CTITF Working Group on Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes – website