New publication: Social sensing of floods in the UK

“Social sensing” is a form of crowd-sourcing that involves systematic analysis of digital communications to detect real-world events. Here we consider the use of social sensing for observing natural hazards. In particular, we present a case study that uses data from a popular social media platform (Twitter) to detect and locate flood events in the UK. In order to improve data quality we apply a number of filters (timezone, simple text filters and a naive Bayes ‘relevance’ filter) to the data. We then use place names in the user profile and message text to infer the location of the tweets. These two steps remove most of the irrelevant tweets and yield orders of magnitude more located tweets than we have by relying on geo-tagged data. We demonstrate that high resolution social sensing of floods is feasible and we can produce high-quality historical and real-time maps of floods using Twitter.

Floodiness grid, 64 × 64, over England and Wales on 5/12/2015 using (r, α, T) = (1.0, 0.15, 0.1).
Using tweets collected in 1 hour windows. White indicates no tweets. Colour bar units are floodiness relative to daily max. Top left: 10am-11am. Top Right: 1pm-2pm. Bottom Left: 4pm-5pm. Bottom Right: 9pm-10pm.

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New publication: Dynamic social media affiliations among UK politicians

Inter-personal affiliations and coalitions are an important part of politicians’ behaviour, but are often difficult to observe. Since an increasing amount of political communication now occurs online, data from online interactions may offer a new toolkit to study ties between politicians; however, the methods by which robust insights can be derived from online data require further development, especially around the dynamics of political social networks. We develop a novel method for tracking the evolution of community structures, referred to as ‘multiplex community affiliation clustering’ (MCAC), and use it to study the online social networks of Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in the United Kingdom. Social interaction networks are derived from social media (Twitter) communication over an eventful 17-month period spanning the UK General Election in 2015 and the UK Referendum on membership of the European Union in 2016. We find that the social network structure linking MPs and MEPs evolves over time, with distinct communities forming and re-forming, driven by party affiliations and political events. Without including any information about time in our model, we nevertheless find that the evolving social network structure shows multiple persistent and recurring states of affiliation between politicians, which align with content states derived from topic analysis of tweet text. These findings show that the dominant state of partisan segregation can be challenged by major political events, ideology, and intra-party tension that transcend party affiliations.

Political retweet communities
An example network based on retweet interactions (see Methods) over the 7-day period from 2016-05-30 to 2016-06-06. Nodes represent MPs/MEPs and node properties indicate party affiliation (colour), stated position on UK membership of the EU (closed – remain, open – leave), and their status as an MP (circle) or MEP (triangle).

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