Twitter: How Social Media Intersects With Influence, Jihad, Gangs, Drugs

By Michael Martinez and Lori Cameron
Published 10/13/2017
Share this on:

Twitter may amount to nothing more than 280 characters, but the social media channel inspires serious research that goes thousands of words deeper to address the biggest issues of our day: extremism, jihad, gangs, misinformation, and, of course, how to become the next famous influencer.

Those topics are just some of the subjects that Computer Society researchers have tackled in recent years when writing about new media and its titan called Twitter.

If you have ever wondered how social media intersects with such serious matters in our lives, here are recent peer-reviewed studies into the micro-blogging platform. They are culled from the Computer Society Digital Library (Abstracts of the research are free, but access to full-length version requires a log-in.) You may never read a tweet the same way again.

Hunt for influence maximization algorithm

Temporal influence model for Twitter influence maximization
A graphical representation of the temporal influence model for Twitter influence maximization, the next big thing for social media.

Let’s go to the obvious and easy stuff, first.

Simply put, it’s what everyone wants on social media: Influence.

After all, that’s why we post.

So what’s among the next big things for Twitter?

It’s “influence maximization.”

This is where all the parties interested in making money on social media — the influencers, the marketers, the big corporations seeking to sell you a product — are trying to devise the ideal model for getting the biggest bang for their buck.

In short, Big Business is trying to identify what fixed number of influencers — let’s say 10 or fewer — can sway the biggest numbers of audiences on Twitter.

It’s good business if you can find that sweet spot, under budget, for a product promotion.

Current models for measuring social media influence totally ignore the long-term influence effects of dynamic interactions, so researchers are developing a better model that includes that interaction data for better results. (login may be required for full text)

They call it a “temporal influence model,” and they contend it’s the first of its kind.

The algorithm is designed to predict future opinions of social media users, especially those users with a high diversity of opinions.

“To the best of our knowledge, our work is the first to model interpersonal influence as the continuous impact of opinion behaviors using real-world social media data,” say authors Chengyao Chen and Wenjie Li of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Dehong Gao of Alibaba Group, and Yuexian Hou of Tianjin University.

Read Twitter influence maximization research here

Hunting against jihad

Data sets for jihadist tweets Twitter
These are the data sets used for the experiments to detect jihadist messages on Twitter. Click to enlarge.

Researchers in Sweden, Austria, and London have devised a machine learning approach to automatically detect messages released by jihadist groups like ISIS on Twitter.

The effort is designed to help human analysts who now must plow through assorted Twitter feeds for such violence-inciting content. Once found, those Twitter accounts are suspects.

“Even though our results are preliminary and more tests needs to be carried out we believe that results indicate that an automated approach to aid analysts in their work with detecting radical content on social media is a promising way forward. It should be noted that an automatic approach to detect radical content should only be used as a support tool for human analysts in their work,” say authors Michael Ashcroft of Uppsala University in Sweden, Ali Fisher of VORTEX at the University of Vienna, Lisa Kaati of Uppsala University, Enghin Omer of Uppsala University, and Nico Prucha of King’s College in London.

All their experiments were carried out on Weka, which is a suite of machine learning software written in Java.

Read Detecting Jihadist Messages on Twitter research here

At an intersection with street gangs

gang member profiles on Twitter
Wright State University researchers studied this sample of gang member profiles on Twitter.

Yes, even thugs in the ‘hood use Twitter, intimidating rivals or bystanders, representin’ with hostile imagery.

The challenge for law enforcement and algorithm engineers is to find gangs’ profiles among the hundreds of millions of users on Twitter.

Researchers at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, outlined a process “to curate one of the largest sets of verifiable gang member profiles that have ever been studied.”

Their search involved the study of profane language (specified within the research) and established differences in the language, YouTube links, and even emojis that gang members use compared to the rest of the Twitter population.

“Despite the challenges in developing such automated systems, mainly due to difficulties in finding online gang member profiles for developing training datasets, we proposed an approach that uses features extracted from textual descriptions, emojis, images and videos shared on Twitter (textual features extracted from images, and videos),” the authors wrote.

Read  “Finding street gang members on Twitter” research here

Illicit drug use, too

illegal drugs on Twitter
The the average number of drug mentions per day on Twitter as a function of the day of the week for Summer 2013 and Winter 2014, respectively.

Illicit opioid and heroine abuse are among the epidemics of our day, and Twitter provides insight into the attitudes and behaviors of the sellers and buyers of illegal drugs.

“We find that prescription drugs, such as sleeping pills, Xanax, and Adderall, are the top drugs needed in Twitter,” researchers said in a 2016 study.

“Significantly more users are trying to sell illegal hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, rather than buy or claim need for these drugs. Finally, the Twitter chatter related to specific drugs is directly impacted by high-visibility media events involving such substances,” researchers Iris Seaman and Christophe Giraud-Carrier of Brigham Young University said.

Read Prevalence and Attitudes about Illicit and Prescription Drugs on Twitter research here

Read more about Twitter in Computer Society articles and research:

(login may be required for full text)


Michael Martinez


About Michael Martinez

Michael Martinez, the editor of the Computer Society’s Computer.Org website and its social media, has covered technology as well as global events while on the staff at CNN, Tribune Co. (based at the Los Angeles Times), and the Washington Post. He welcomes email feedback, and you can also follow him on LinkedIn.



About Lori Cameron

Lori Cameron is a Senior Writer for the IEEE Computer Society and currently writes regular features for Computer magazine, Computing Edge, and the Computing Now and Magazine Roundup websites. Contact her at Follow her on LinkedIn.