Twitter is investing $10m in MIT partnership to make sense of social data with a new Lab for Social Machines

Lynsey Barber
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Twitter and MIT will analyse social data (Source: MIT)

Twitter is investing $10m in a partnership with US university MIT, renowned for its tech credentials, to make sense of the huge amount of social data shared by people across the world.

The Lab for Social Machines (LSM) will focus on “the development of new technologies to make sense of semantic and social patterns across the broad span of public mass media, social media, data streams, and digital content.”

Researchers will identify patterns and explore interactions on sites such as Twitter and Reddit to develop tools and apps to create “new forms of public communication and social interaction” for journalists, policy experts and researchers.

In addition to funding, Twitter will also give researchers full access to its real-time, public tweet stream as well as archives.

Twitter chief Dick Costolo said of the partnership:

"With this investment, Twitter is seizing the opportunity to go deeper into research to understand the role Twitter and other platforms play in the way people communicate, the effect that rapid and fluid communication can have and apply those findings to complex societal issues.”

Deb Roy, an associate professor at MIT’s Media Lab who will lead the LSM, and will serve as Twitter’s chief media scientist said:

“The Laboratory for Social Machines will experiment in areas of public communication and social organization where humans and machines collaborate on problems that can’t be solved manually or through automation alone. Social feedback loops based on analysis of public media and data can be an effective catalyst for increasing accountability and transparency creating mutual visibility among institutions and individuals."

In a blog post about the partnership, Twitter's head of business development Mark Gillis explained:

"The Laboratory for Social Machines anticipates using Twitter data to investigate the rapidly changing and intersecting worlds of news, government and collective action. The hope is that their research team will be able to understand how movements are started by better understanding how information spreads on Twitter.

The spread of news, information as well as mis-information online has been a particular point of fascination for many researchers. Global events such as the Arab Spring and more recently protests in Hong Kong and how they are communicated online can shed light on how complex ideas and information spread.

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