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New article on Big Data and understanding terrorism

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Earlier this week, new CCHS senior fellow Kalev Leetaru published a commentary in Foreign Policy entitled “Why We Can’t Just Read English Newspapers to Understand Terrorism — And how Big Data can help.”

Here are four key takeaways from his analysis:

  • focus on Western English-language sources pervades Washington’s efforts to monitor and understand the world
  • machine translation, as imperfect as it may be, offers tremendous opportunity… it is capable of infinite scaling, processing the entirety of all global accessible media in real time
  • the error of machine translation can be fixed in post-processing, but it isn’t possible to fix or filter what hasn’t been monitored and flagged in the first place
  • big data offers…the ability to listen to the whole world at once…reaching deeply into the reactions and emotional resonance of global events to add context and understanding

The balance of the article applies these principles to specific contexts and themes, including Russia, Ukraine, and Yemen, as well as Countering Violent Extremism and the Ebola outbreak.

The fundamental problem, Leetaru concludes, is that the digital era has made us master collectors of information — but “we’ve emphasized archiving over analysis.”

Read more here about the possibilities which are rife, were we to begin to redress that imbalance.


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