Social media platforms such as Twitter may be divisive, but its significance cannot be overlooked. Cyber intelligence and analytics specialist, Snode, believes the potential applications for social media are yet to be fully realised. "As a source of intelligence, Twitter is a valuable source of intelligence and it should be utilised by business and law enforcement. It is an open-source data-rich platform and needs to be leveraged in the best way possible," notes CIO and co-founder of Snode, Nithen Naidoo.
Using the recent #FeesMustFall protests as a case study to showcase the enriched capabilities of cyber intelligence, Snode was able to apply its analytical tools to delve deeper into the anatomy of the Tweets, and even discover that outside influencers were making an impact.
The university fee protests are a hot topic of conversation in South Africa. The dialogue is been most prevalent on Twitter, where numerous messages have been exchanged under the guise of creating a discourse around the cost of tertiary education. Interestingly though, Snode's analysts have unearthed some other key insights not obvious to most people.
To gain a deeper understanding of the underlying forces driving the #FeesMustFall protests, Snode analysts have fused various social media conversations to identify emerging trends associated with, and patterns of behaviour fuelling, this massive campaign.
The most telling finding is that many of the tweets did not originate from the same location that the message was referencing. In particular, the majority of tweets mentioning the University of Witwatersrand were found to have been sent from Pretoria, nearly 65 kilometres away.
In fact, Snode detected an anomaly in which tweets from South Africa's capital with the #FeesMustFall hashtag referenced Wits 14 times more than they did in their own city's university protest. Accompanying this anomaly was the fact that only 3% of #FeesMustFall tweets came from users linked to the @WitsUniversity handle, as opposed to a staggering total of 94% from politically affiliated Twitter accounts.
According to Naidoo, it can be inferred that there was another agenda being played out, and the #FeesMustFall protests are being abused by some social media users to draw attention to other topics, ultimately misrepresenting the true aim of students.
While the potential for social media to be misused by a small percentage of users, Snode says that victims of crime and law enforcement have the ability to fight back. The company's real time processing for example, can dissect a myriad of information contained within a Tweet, including a Twitter user’s (real) name, origin of the Tweet (longitude and latitude), device type (iPhone or Android), and place of residence (e.g. city or hometown).
"If users share an image on Twitter for example, the metadata contained within that photo can offer us a wide ranging array of insights," says Naidoo. "There are a host of AI applications available, such as Russia's FindFace, which allows users to scan a digital image of someone and then discover their online profile. There are therefore a number of tools on hand to benefit law enforcement as much as they do criminals," he continued.
In the right hands, this kind of machine assisted analytics can empower social media platforms such as Twitter to help make data-driven decisions, notes Naidoo. In the US, a number of American agencies are already using deep analysis within Twitter to track down dissidents, according to Saudi scientist Hala Al-Dosari in a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.
"South Africa needs to use available technology correctly, especially when it comes to tackling issues like crime within the country. With regard to socially relevant topics such as the student protests, having cyber intelligence at work can assist in gleaning vital insight. At Snode, we believe having such knowledge can not only help us understand the climate better, but also assist law enforcement and government services to predict and respond to critical events more efficiently," concludes Naidoo.