Someone recently looked into whether Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) can help unmask time travelers, and now, someone else is considering whether the micro-blogging site can tell the future regarding certain types of things. According to the MIT Technology Review, some people claim they were able to make predictions about certain things by looking at what people are tweeting.

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Groups claim to predict the future using Twitter

This latest claim comes from Nathan Kallus at MIT Cambridge, who said he has figured out how to forecast crowd behavior using tweets. He analyzed the comments made on Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) in relation to the 2013 uprising in Egypt and said the violence could have been easily predicted in the days before because of those comments.

It’s certainly possible that social media may provide a window into the intents of people. Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) especially has a leg up in this respect because it is a more open and public platform. People tend to tweet what they’re thinking about and intending to do, and the more people who are tweeting about a topic, the more people are talking about it.

Analyzing mentions of future events

Kallus said he can mine tweets for talk about future events and analyze the trends linked with those events. He notes that the “gathering of crowds into a single action” can usually be seen in trends which appear in advance.

A Cambridge company named Recorded Future actually already provides this sort of analysis. It scans 300,000 web sources in seven languages around the globe and extracts any mentions of future events so that analysts can look at them later. Kallus used this data to retroactively predict some major protests, including the one in Egypt. In other words, he was able to follow the clues backwards and say that there were indications that those protests were going to happen.

How Kallus uses Twitter to make predictions

Kallus calls a major protest one which receives more coverage from mainstream media than usual. He looks at the coverage to see when major protests occur and then examines posts on Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) which were put up before the protests. In his test regarding the uprising in Egypt, he was able to see indications that there would be major protests on the anniversary of President Morsi’s rule. There were, indeed, protests, and the indications from Twitter also suggested that they would last for weeks after that anniversary, which they did.

He believes that this same methodology could be used to predict future events, although at this point the problem is being able to pick up on evidence before a major event happens. However, he did not address the issue of false positives, which would basically be events which received numerous tweets but did not result in major protests.

Another problem is whether tweets are really trustworthy and whether they truly represent the view of the entire population rather than just younger people who tend to tweet a lot. And then there is the issue of discerning nuances in people’s tweets. After all, hind sight is 20 / 20, but it’s much more difficult to make a leap about what’s going to happen based on what people are talking about.

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