Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Twitris: Taking Crisis Mapping to the Next Level

BY Rebecca Chao | Monday, June 24 2013

Twitris – the techy marriage of “Twitter” and “Tetris” – is a platform that aims to help civil society win the “game” of big data, creating layers and layers of analysis that provides a holistic picture of an event. The idea for Twitris was born out of the chaos of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on January 26, 2008 when Amit Sheth and his team of PhD students at the Kno.e.sis center noted that social media users played a key role in feeding information to the media.

Kno.e.sis stands for the Ohio Center of Excellence in Knowledge-enabled Computing at Wright State University in Dayton and Sheth is the founder and director of the center where he oversees the Twitris project.

The platform uses algorithm-based technology to aggregate existing information on Twitter, Wikipedia, and news sites in order to provide a fuller picture of events, disaster scenarios, as well as political movements and campaigns. The Kno.e.sis team works closely with social scientists in order to understand behavior and what types of information would be useful to aggregate. They also work with civil society groups, like humanitarian organizations, to understand how this information can be effectively applied during a disaster to speed up aid delivery.

Crisis Mapping v. Twitris

Crisis Mapping emerged as early as 2004 after the massive Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami devastated Aceh, Indonesia. It was also used in 2010 during the Haiti Earthquake. Patrick Meier, one of the key figures that coordinated the Haiti mapping project, used social media and crowdsourcing to display information on food distribution, sanitation, displacement and security. It was used again in 2011 to map the Japan Earthquake and even the progression of the Gaza-Israel War in 2012.

The key difference between Twitris and crisis mapping is that it provides the context and background to understand what is happening across social media and therefore, allows for a deeper analysis of online data. Hemant Purohit, a PhD candidate at Kno.e.sis and one of the Twitris developers, describes the platform's three key components as “people, content, and network analysis.”

In other words, to gain a comprehensive understanding of an event, Twitris first mines social media for relevant live tweets. It then provides background information from sources like Wikipedia and news sites. Lastly, it analyzes interactions on social media to understand existing networks or a lack thereof.

“These three sets of information presented together give you a complete picture,” says Purohit. In a way, Twitris behaves like a more comprehensive version of a magic eight ball that provides critical answers during a crisis: What if there is an informal resource center that has been set up ten blocks away from a disaster victim who needs food and fresh water - how would the two connect? What if a humanitarian aid worker lands in Uttarakhand, India and needs to better understand the region to help those on the ground?

While the platform is still being refined, this human informed, algorithm-based technology has now been applied to a number of events.

Disaster Response

Sudden surges in social media activity often follow large events and disasters, most recently after a series of Tornadoes slammed Oklahoma. “You have all these people talking and some post very important information,” explains Purohit. “How do we mine these users? How do we represent these users in a meaningful way?”

Using an algorithm, based on the number of retweets, mentions and replies, the Kno.e.sis team used Twitris to find the top 100 most influential and well connected users of social media and list them on the site with their profile information. The top 100 often consist of professionals working across a variety of sectors: academia, media, humanitarian work, politics and medicine, for example. Twitris allows users to look at communication patterns among these “influencers,” allowing a humanitarian aid worker, for example, to quickly activate the help of this network and speed up emergency response during a crisis.

Twitris also enables social media users to interact more effectively with each other through a matching program, allowing one person in need to find resources being offered by another. However, the Kno.e.sis team is still working on creating a more effective matching program and to track the number of successful matches made so far.

ABOVE: Twitris helped match tweets calling out for donations to the Oklahoma disaster to those requesting donations. (image: http://twitris.knoesis.org/)

Twitris also allows users to see what is trending on social media, a useful tool for journalists to nab their next headline. It can also help disaster victims find aid. Purohit gleaned a number of help line numbers during the Oklahoma tornadoes by looking at the trending tweets. He then posted this information at the top of the Twitris site page for easy access.

Trending topics can also point out answers to key questions. For example, why did northeast India suffer so severely from the recent floods? One of the trending topics noted: the monsoons came earlier than normal this year and the administration simply wasn’t prepared for it.

Finally, Twitris provides real time monitoring of tweets as they come in second by second. Flags appear on a map, showing the location of the tweets.

The Kno.e.sis team is hoping to work more closely with emergency responders in utilizing Twitris. They are currently working with Google Crisis Response on the floods in India and are also conducting a study with the National Center for Medical Readiness, one of the organizations that trains the air force. By the end of the year, Twitris hopes to understand how the air force’s command control can use social media.

Political Movements and Campaigns

By analyzing social media, Twitris can provide a simple visualization of Occupy Wall Street's (OWS) performance, city by city. For example, Twitris revealed an interesting facet of the OWS movement in L.A. versus Chicago: While OWS L.A. organized and networked successfully, OWS Chicago did so on a much lesser extent.

ABOVE: OWS L.A. v. OWS Chicago networks (image: http://twitris.knoesis.org/)

Another method of organizing data, which Twitris is still developing, allows users to ask simple questions. For example, Twitris wanted to gauge how OWS might be viewed in light of past movements and asked how many historical figures were mentioned during OWS protests. Rosa Parks was mentioned 639 times and Howard Zinn, an American civil rights historian, 415 times. This type of human interaction generates even greater insights, Purohit notes.

During the 2012 presidential elections, Twitris tracked the way “influencers” responded to electoral events, creating a map of positive, negative, and neutral reactions to each electoral debate or event.

ABOVE: The top 100 influential social media users and how their interactions play out over the course of the 2012 presidential election. (image: http://twitris.knoesis.org/)

Finally, the “popular perceptions across geography” tool provides a map of sentiments and opinions across regions as specific as a city or a state. “It is extremely important for something like U.S. elections to know what are the red and blue states saying,” explains Purohit.

Verifying the Data

One gaping issue in handling public data is verifying its authenticity.

Twitris addresses this issue by applying aggregation techniques in order to find trusted information. Think of it as ox-weighing at the 1906 county fair. As the anecdote goes, over 800 attendees were asked to guess the weight of an ox. While no one person guessed correctly, the average response was quite accurate - within one pound of the weight of the ox.

Images and videos also help to verify facts and figures. Patrick Meier, who is now the Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute, is creating a tool called Verily that will determine whether images have been altered. It has not yet been incorporated into Twitris.

“But because information spreads so fast, if something is wrong with the videos or photos, people can immediately verify,” says Purohit. “I have seen some tweets pointing out the original source of a photo. I have seen people use a Google image search to verify photos.”

In the overwhelming world of big data, Twitris may prove a powerful tool in getting civil society to understand social media and open data in a meaningful way.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.

GO

wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

More