Kalev Leetaru

Mapping Violence and Protests in Nigeria

How Big Data can find the big story.

The escalating tension between Ukraine and Russia in Crimea has captivated the world's headlines the past few weeks, invoking imagery of Russian occupation not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. As the world's media outlets run round-the-clock coverage of masked soldiers facing off against besieged Ukrainian military outposts, the rest of the world has largely been drowned out. Few, for example, have likely followed the events in Nigeria, where Boko Haram has executed 59 children in an attack on a boarding school and killed more than 150 over the past two weeks.

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It's Not Just Kiev

Using Big Data to map Ukraine's protest violence.

After nearly a week of bloodshed, Ukraine seems to have found a moment of peace. What the map above offers is a glimpse of what big data can tell us of the unrest through the eyes of the world's news media. Contrary to the image that has emerged in Western media centering on a single square occupied in the capital city, we see instead a conflict that reaches to the farthest corners of a nation, not only between the police and protesters in Kiev, but in protests that have spread to other cities. In short, big data allows us for the first time to map quantitatively how large-scale societal unrest brings a nation together, even as it tears it apart.

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Half a Billion Clicks Can’t Be Wrong

What big data tells us about next year’s crisis zones.

Everyone likes to close the outgoing year with lists and rankings of the year gone by, and a particular favorite of the foreign policy world is the fragility index, ranking every nation in the world by how much it destabilized or re-stabilized over the previous year -- then estimating when and if 2014 might be the year it finally unravels. In a city where it seems you can't sit down to lunch without hearing the neighboring table's prognostications on the fate of world, Washington is of course no stranger to such rankings, where it seems every think tank, academic, and policy wonk around town has their picks. What then could big data possibly contribute to this mix?

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King Snowden and the Fall of Wikileaks

The whistleblower refugee has dominated the media -- and displaced Julian Assange.

In 2013, Edward Snowden shone a spotlight into the darkest corners of American foreign policy, dealing a cataclysmic shock to the country's intelligence-gathering apparatus as its most clandestine methods and programs were splashed across front pages worldwide. Whether one reviles or reveres him, Snowden's disclosures were inarguably one of the biggest stories of the year, profoundly reshaping America's image and relations with friend and foe alike.

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The Tehran Connection

How much can a superfast algorithm tell us about Iran? Quite a lot, actually.

Iran's nuclear program has been one of the hottest topics in foreign policy for years, and attention has only intensified over the past few days, as an interim agreement was reached in Geneva to limit enrichment activity in pursuit of a more comprehensive deal. The details of the deal itself are of course interesting, but in aggregate the news stories about Iran can tell us far more than we can learn simply by reading each story on its own. By using "big data" analytics of the world's media coverage, combined with network visualization techniques, we can study the web of relationships around any given storyline -- whether it focuses on an individual, a topic, or even an entire country. Using these powerful techniques, we can move beyond specifics to patterns -- and the patterns tell us that our understanding of Iran is both sharp and sharply limited.

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