Changing the World with Social Data (Part 1)

Twitter #DataGrants Winners (Part 1)

Twitter #DataGrants offer academics access to social data with the intention to change the world. At today’s panel, three researchers spoke on how they plan to use Twitter data to answer big questions around health, disaster response, and sentiment analysis and the best ways for the social data industry to work with academia at large to encourage new ideas, collaboration, and how to train the next generation of scientists to effectively use social data.

John Brownsten of Boston Children’s Hospital / Harvard Medical school plans to use Twitter Data to track foodborne illness, which generally goes unreported due to its fleeting presence. Tomas Holderness of the University of Wollongong will use Twitter data to track and test disaster response and decision making during annual flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia, so that future flood damage can be mitigated in real time. Finally, Mehrdad Yazdani of UCSD is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to track and predict sentiment analysis via selfies and other images.

One theme that persisted through this panel was the need for joint effort between the social data industry and academia. The researchers were primarily interested in the sharing of information and resources between both groups and how the creativity and novelty of academia can bring big gains to the social data industry as whole. Currently, researchers are facing two main challenges in dealing with social data: Firstly, the storage and infrastructure of such large data sets can be challenging for academics working with limited budget and limited expertise in dealing with big data. Secondly, it would be helpful for the industry to help clearly communicate, standardize, and define things such as compliance, privacy, and data protection, so that academics aren’t unknowingly using data incorrectly.

Overall, the tone for the use of social data in academic and policy-making capacities was optimistic. The researchers pointed out that the social data stream is reflective of a person’s life as whole, not necessarily just of, for example, their medical history. The whole-picture approach to someone’s life can provide clearer data for academics to test their hypotheses, and use their findings to effect real world policy change and promote and protect public health.

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