Tweets can be used to predict crimes, research says

By on April 21, 2014, 10:38 AM
twitter, crime, social media

Your tweets say a lot about you, and you might be surprised by some of the things they reveal. Researchers at the University of Virginia claim that tweets can even help predict certain types of crime, according to an AFP report.

The research, which was published last month in the scientific journal Decision Support Systems, says that geo-tagged tweets, combined with historical crime data for an area, can be useful in predicting 19 to 25 kinds of crimes, including stalking, thefts, and certain kinds of assault.

Obviously people don't tweet about crimes directly, but according to lead researcher Matthew Gerber of the university's Predictive Technology Lab, "If I tweet about getting drunk tonight, and a lot of people are talking about getting drunk, we know there are certain crimes associated with those things that produce crimes. It's indirect".

As part of the experiment, researchers analyzed tweets from the city of Chicago, and were able to predict areas where certain crimes were likely to occur.

The information gathering process is easy, as researchers themselves do not need to go into the high-crime areas, they can just use computer algorithms to see what people are talking about. The research was funded by the US Army, which uses similar techniques to determine threats in war zones areas like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Twitter data is publicly available and can be used by law enforcement agencies to do predictive policing. According to Gerber, the New York police department is already in touch with him, and he is currently working to determine if the results from Chicago can be replicated.

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