I’ve been invited to give a keynote talk at the WISE 2022 Conference. Thinking about it, I decided to focus on my idea of a bi-verse. To me, the bi-verse is the duality between the physical and digital worlds.
On one side, the Web and social media are the environments where people post their content, opinions, activities, and resources. Therefore, a considerable amount of user-generated content is produced every day for a wide variety of purposes.
On the other side, people live their everyday life immersed in the physical world, where society, economy, politics, and personal relations continuously evolve. These two opposite and complementary environments are today fully integrated: they reflect each other and they interact with each other in a stronger and stronger way.
Exploring and studying content and data coming from both environments offers a great opportunity to understand the ever-evolving modern society, in terms of topics of interest, events, relations, and behavior.
This slidedeck summarizes my contribution:
In my speech, I discuss business cases and socio-political scenarios, to show how we can extract insights and understand reality by combining and analyzing data from the digital and physical world, so as to reach a better overall picture of reality itself. Along this path, we need to keep into account that reality is complex and varies in time, space, and many other dimensions, including societal and economic variables. The speech highlights the main challenges that need to be addressed and outlines some data science strategies that can be applied to tackle these specific challenges.
Despite the increasing limitations for unvaccinated people, in many European countries, there is still a non-negligible fraction of individuals who refuse to get vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, undermining governmental efforts to eradicate the virus.
Within the PERISCOPE project, we studied the role of online social media in influencing individuals’ opinions about getting vaccinated by designing a large-scale collection of Twitter messages in three different languages — French, German, and Italian — and providing public access to the data collected. This work was implemented in collaboration with Observatory on Social Media, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA.
Focusing on the European context, we devised an open dataset called VaccinEU, that aims to help researchers to better understand the impact of online (mis)information about vaccines and design more accurate communication strategies to maximize vaccination coverage.
Furthermore, a description has been published in a paper at ICWSM 2022 (open access), which can be cited as:
Di Giovanni, M., Pierri, F., Torres-Lugo, C., & Brambilla, M. (2022). VaccinEU: COVID-19 Vaccine Conversations on Twitter in French, German and Italian. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 16(1), 1236-1244. https://ojs.aaai.org/index.php/ICWSM/article/view/19374
Online reviews have long represented a valuable source for data analysis in the tourism field, but these data sources have been mostly studied in terms of the numerical ratings offered by the review platforms.
In a recent article (available as full open-access) and a respective blog post, we explored if social media and online review platforms can be a good source of quantitative evaluation of service quality of cultural venues, such as museums, theaters and so on. Our paper applies automatic analysis of online reviews, by comparing two different automated analysis approaches to evaluate which of the two is more adequate for assessing the quality dimensions. The analysis covers user-generated reviews over the top 100 Italian museums.
Specifically, we compare two approaches:
a ‘top-down’ approach that is based on a supervised classification based upon strategic choices defined by policy makers’ guidelines at the national level;
a ‘bottom-up’ approach that is based on an unsupervised topic model of the online words of reviewers.
The misalignment of the results of the ‘top-down’ strategic studies and ‘bottom-up’ data-driven approaches highlights how data science can offer an important contribution to decision making in cultural tourism. Both the analysis approaches have been applied to the same dataset of 14,250 Italian reviews.
We identified five quality dimensions that follow the ‘top-down’ perspective:Ticketing and Welcoming, Space, Comfort, Activities, and Communication. Each of these dimensions has been considered as a class in a classification problem over user reviews. The top down approach allowed us to tag each review as descriptive of one of those 5 dimensions. Classification has been implemented both as a machine learning classification problem (using BERT, accuracy 88%) and as and keyword-based tagging (accuracy 80%).
The ‘bottom-up’ approach has been implemented through an unsupervised topic modelling approach, namely LDA (Latent Dirichlet Allocation), implemented and tuned over a range up to 30 topics. The best ‘bottom-up’ model we selected identifies 13 latent dimensions in review texts. We further integrated them in 3 main topics: Museum Cultural Heritage, Personal Experience and Museum Services.
The ‘top-down’ approach (based on a set of keywords defined from the standards issued by the policy maker) resulted in 63% of online reviews that did not fit into any of the predefined quality dimension.
The ‘bottom-up’ data-driven approach overcomes this limitation by searching for the aspects of interest using reviewers’ own words. Indeed, usually museum reviews discuss more about a museum’s cultural heritage aspects (46% average probability) and personal experiences (31% average probability) than the services offered by the museum (23% average probability).
Among the various quantitative findings of the study, I think the most important point is that the aspects considered as quality dimensions by the decision maker can be highly different from those aspects perceived as quality dimensions by museum visitors.
You can find out more about this analysis by reading the full article published online as open-access, or this longer blog post . The full reference to the paper is:
Agostino, D.; Brambilla, M.; Pavanetto, S.; Riva, P. The Contribution of Online Reviews for Quality Evaluation of Cultural Tourism Offers: The Experience of Italian Museums. Sustainability2021, 13, 13340. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132313340
In this study, we map the Twitter discourse around vaccinations in English along four years, in order to:
discover the volumes and trends of the conversation;
compare the discussion on Twitter with newspapers’ content; and
classify people as pro- or anti- vaccination and explore how their behavior is different.
Datasets. We collected four years of Twitter data (January 2016 – January 2020) about vaccination, before the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, using three keywords: ’vaccine’, ’vaccination’, and ’immunization’, obtaining around 6.5 MLN tweets. The collection has been analyzed across multiple dimensions and aspects. General
Analysis. The analysis shows that the number of tweets related to the topic in- creased through the years, peaking in 2019. Among others, we identified the 2019 measles outbreak as one of the main reasons for the growth, given the correlation of the tweets volume with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data on measles cases in the United States in 2019 and with the high number of newspaper articles on the topic, which both significantly increased in 2019. Other demographic, space-time, and content analysis have been performed too.
Subjects. Besides the general data analysis, we considered a number of specific topics often addressed within the vaccine conversation, such as the flu vaccine, hpv, polio, and others. We identified the temporal trends and performed specific analysis related to these subjects, also in connection with the respective media coverage.
News Sources. We analyzed the news sources most cited in the tweets, which include Youtube, NaturalNews (which is generally considered as a biased and fake news website) and Facebook. Overall, among the most cited sources, 32% can be labeled as reliable and 25% as conspiracy/fake news sources. Furthermore 32% of the references point to social networks (including Youtube). This analysis shows how social media and non-reliable sources of information frequently drive vaccine-related conversation on Twitter.
User Stance. We applied stance analysis on the authors of the tweets, to determine the user’s orientation toward a given (pre-chosen) target of interest. Our initial content analysis revealed that a large amount of the content is of satirical or derisive nature, causing a number of classification techniques to perform poorly on the dataset. Given that other studies considered the presence of stance-indicative hashtags as an effective way to discover polarized tweets and users, a rule-based classification was applied, based on a selection of 100+ hashtags that allowed to automatically classify a tweet as pro-vaccination or vaccination-skeptic, obtain- ing a total of 250,000+ classified tweets over the 4 years.
The words used by the two groups of users to discuss of vaccine-related topics are profoundly different, as are the sources of information they refer to. Anti-vaccine users cited mostly fake news websites and very few reliable sources, which are instead largely cited by pro-vaccine users. Social media (primarily Youtube) represent a large portion of linked content in both cases.
Additionally, we performed demographics (age, gender, ethnicity) and spatial analysis over the two categories of users with the aim of understanding the features of the two communities. Our analysis also shows to which extent the different states are polarized pro or against vaccination in the U.S. on Twitter.
A video presenting our research is available on YouTube:
This work has been presented at the IC2S2 conference.
The network of collaborations in an open source project can reveal relevant emergent properties that influence its prospects of success.
In our recent joint work with the Open University of Catalunya / ICREA, we analyze open source projects to determine whether they exhibit a rich-club behavior, that is a phenomenon where contributors with a high number of collaborations (i.e., strongly connected within the collaboration network) are likely to cooperate with other well-connected individuals.
The presence or absence of a rich-club has an impact on the sustainability and robustness of the project. In fact, if a member of the rich club leaves the project, it is easier for other members of the rich club to take over. Less collaborations would require more effort from more users.
For this analysis, we build and study a dataset with the 100 most popular projects in GitHub, exploiting connectivity patterns in the graph structure of collaborations that arise from commits, issues and pull requests. Results show that rich-club behavior is present in all the projects, but only few of them have an evident club structure.
For instance, this network of contributors for the Materialize project seems to go against the open source paradigma. The project is “owned” by very few users:
Established in 2014 by a team of 4 developers, at the time of the analysis it featured 3,853 commits and 252 contributors. Nevertheless, the project only has two top contributors (with more than 1,000 commits), which belong to the original team, and no other frequent contributors.
For all the projects, we compute coefficients both for single source graphs and the overall interaction graph, showing that rich-club behavior varies across different layers of software development. We provide possible explanations of our results, as well as implications for further analysis.
In a world more and more connected, new and complex interaction patterns can be extracted in the communication between people.
This is extremely valuable for brands that can better understand the interests of users and the trends on social media to better target their products. In this paper, we aim to analyze the communities that arise around commercial brands on social networks to understand the meaning of similarity, collaboration, and interaction among users.
We exploit the network that builds around the brands by encoding it into a graph model. We build a social network graph, considering user nodes and friendship relations; then we compare it with a heterogeneous graph model, where also posts and hashtags
are considered as nodes and connected to the different node types; we finally build also a reduced network, generated by inducing direct user-to-user connections through the intermediate nodes (posts and hashtags). These different variants are encoded using graph representation learning, which generates a numerical vector for each node. Machine learning techniques are applied to these vectors to extract valuable insights for each user and for the communities they belong to.
We report on our experiments performed on an emerging fashion brand on Instagram, and we show that our approach is able to discriminate potential customers for the brand, and to highlight meaningful sub-communities composed by users that share the same kind of content on social networks.
We implemented an analysis (meaning both a method and a system) that aim to gauge local support for the two major US political parties in the 68 most competitive House of Representative districts during the 2018 U.S. mid-term elections.
The analysis attempts to mirror the “Generic Ballot” poll, i.e., a survey of voters of a particular district which aims to measure local popularity of national parties by querying participants on the likelihood they would vote for a “generic” Democrat or Republican candidate. We collect the tweets containing national parties and politicians in the 68 most competitive districts. By most competitive we mean that they are rated as: toss up, 50%-50%, or lean by the Cook Political Report.
This means we are addressing an extremely challenging analysis and prediction problem, while disregarding the simpler cases (everyone is good at predicting the obvious!).
Our solution employs the Twitter Search API to query for tweets mentioning a national leader or party, posted form a limited geographic region (i.e., each specific congressional district). For example, the following query extracts tweets on Republicans:
To limit the search to each congressional district, we use the geocode field in the search query of the API, which queries a circular area based on the coordinates of the center and the radius. Because of the irregular shape of the congressional districts, multiple queries are needed for each of them, therefore we built a custom set of bubbles that approximate the district shape.
For the analysis of the tweets, we adopted a Recurrent Neural Network, namely a RNN-LSTM binary classifier trained on tweets.
To build training and testing data we collected tweets of users with clear political affiliation, including candidates, political activists, and also lesser know users, well versed in the political vernacular.
The accounts selected yielded around 280,000 tweets in 6 months before election day, labeled based on the author’s political affiliation.
Notice that the method is a general political-purpose language-independent analysis framework, that can be applied to any national or local context.
Further details and the results can be found on this Medium post.
Predicting the outcome of elections is a topic that has been extensively studied in political polls, which have generally provided reliable predictions by means of statistical models. In recent years, online social media platforms have become a potential alternative to traditional polls, since they provide large amounts of post and user data, also referring to socio-political aspects.
In this context, we designed a research that aimed at defining a user modeling pipeline to analyze dis cussions and opinions shared on social media regarding polarized political events (such as a public poll or referendum).
The pipeline follows a four-step methodology.
First, social media posts and users metadata are crawled.
Second, a filtering mechanism is applied to filter out spammers and bot users.
Third, demographics information is extracted out of the valid users, namely gender, age, ethnicity and location information.
Fourth, the political polarity of the users with respect to the analyzed event is predicted.
In the scope of this work, our proposed pipeline is applied to two referendum scenarios:
independence of Catalonia in Spain
autonomy of Lombardy in Italy
We used these real-world examples to assess the performance of the approach with respect to the capability of collecting correct insights on the demographics of social media users and of predicting the poll results based on the opinions shared by the users.
Experiments show that the method was effective in predicting the political trends for the Catalonia case, but not for the Lombardy case. Among the various motivations for this, we noticed that in general Twitter was more representative of the users opposing the referendum than the ones in favor.
Social media platforms let users share their opinions through textual or multimedia content. In many settings, this becomes a valuable source of knowledge that can be exploited for specific business objectives. Brands and companies often ask to monitor social media as sources for understanding the stance, opinion, and sentiment of their customers, audience and potential audience. This is crucial for them because it let them understand the trends and future commercial and marketing opportunities.
However, all this relies on a solid and reliable data collection phase, that grants that all the analyses, extractions and predictions are applied on clean, solid and focused data. Indeed, the typical topic-based collection of social media content performed through keyword-based search typically entails very noisy results.
We recently implemented a simple study aiming at cleaning the data collected from social content, within specific domains or related to given topics of interest. We propose a basic method for data cleaning and removal of off-topic content based on supervised machine learning techniques, i.e. classification, over data collected from social media platforms based on keywords regarding a specific topic. We define a general method for this and then we validate it through an experiment of data extraction from Twitter, with respect to a set of famous cultural institutions in Italy, including theaters, museums, and other venues.
For this case, we collaborated with domain experts to label the dataset, and then we evaluated and compared the performance of classifiers that are trained with different feature extraction strategies.