Big Data

Big data reveals how social media users are talking about Edward Snowden

Data intelligence platform Affino mapped how ideas, like pardoning Edward Snowden, are discussed and shared between different demographic, psychographic, and geographic groups of web users.

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How groups of users on the web are talking about Edward Snowden. | Image: Affino

Oliver Stone's new movie Snowden perpetuates Snowden angst and stereotypes. Chris Inglis, Chairman of the Securonix Strategic Advisory Board and former Deputy Director at the NSA during the Snowden controversy said recently about the movie, "it was a hard thing to watch...because I was in a constant state of wonder about the misappropriation of the truth, fabrication and exaggeration."

Three years after Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency had amassed an enormous trove of data about internet users, public opinion about the the most infamous hacker in the world remains bitterly divided. Corporations and government agencies are rightly concerned that they're vulnerable to similar leaks and hacks.

But just how controversial is Snowden? Less than you'd expect, says big data firm Affino.

Affino is a data intelligence platform that scrapes the social web to reveal the topics users care about and how interest groups are connected. The deep-learning technology leans on Microsoft's Azure cloud to interpret large buckets of social data and to process data quickly. The technology specifically looks at how communities form, the interconnectedness of disparate groups, shared topics, and psychographics, demographics, and geographics.

SEE: Enterprise encryption: Trends, strategic needs, and best practices (Tech Pro Research report)

This allows the product to be nimble and process "billions of data points" about a vast array of topics, "in an hour or two," said Maura Woodman, a company spokesperson. "Our algorithm groups individuals into clusters based on the people, content, and brands they choose to engage with. This process reveals interest-based communities within a broader audience."

Social intelligence analysis—deriving meaningful and actionable insights from the ever-growing mountain of social, web, and mobile information—is a growing trend in brand marketing, in large part, because the tactic is effective. Companies like LP Political, Sysomos, OpenText, NGP VAN, TargetedVictory, Cambridge Analytica, and others use everything from corporate marketing records to census information and social media profile data to create personality models base based on consumer interests and business verticals.

"[Social media] data informs highly efficient content strategy," Woodman said.

The company typically works with brands and government agencies. The tech is particularly adept at revealing useful signals within the noise of traditional and social media online. The iPhone 7, for example, was released to mixed reviews. The product, said reviewers, was technically strong but failed to innovate. Affino's cloud tool learned, however, that due to the phone's improved GPU, gamers were particularly excited about the device. In fact, after the tech press, gamers were the phone's second largest market and made up a whopping 18% of the social audience actively discussing the new iPhone.

With respect to Snowden, Affino grouped and labeled communities discussing the famous hacker, then used the tool to visualize how important Snowden was to each group and how those communities are related.

  • The communities most interested in Edward Snowden are American news outlets, foreign news outlets, gamers, computer engineers, American conservatives, Bernie Sanders supporters, and marketers.
  • The groups most engaged and most interrelated are pop culture fans and computer engineers and developers.
  • American conservatives discussed Snowden passionately but were the most isolated community. Interestingly, the one community American conservatives did tend to interact with were those who share the #FeelTheBurn hashtag.
  • Marketers also discussed Snowden and were less likely to engage with external communities.
  • Business groups, libertarians, and African American sports fans appear to have one thing in common: they're not talking about Snowden very much.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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