Using Twitter to Gauge Sentiment in the Arab World

A Q&A with a UCIPT Postdoctoral Researcher

What psychological trends have you noticed on Twitter generally with the end of Ramadan?

Ramadan, or fasting month, is one of the biggest Muslim holidays. For those who celebrate Ramadan, the month is dedicated to spending more time with family and only eating and drinking after sunset or before sunrise. A recent article reported that changes in daily life rhythms are also reflected in people’s online behaviors. According to Google search results, online shopping demands, online travel bookings, and online video consumption all increase during Ramadan. Searches related to certain food (e.g., breakfast menus) also increase during Ramadan. I have not studied psychological trends on Twitter during Ramadan, but I think we may be able to see similar trends compared with the Google search results.

Can you predict future bombings in the Middle East based on trending topics on Twitter?

This is an interesting question. I think it would be very challenging to predict future bombings in the Middle East based on trending topics on Twitter. I think we would need to consider one’s social network (e.g., Twitter social network analysis), criminal history, or travel patterns.

Overall, I think other databases will need to be combined with social media data if we want to predict future bombings in the Middle East.

Do you see any voices for peace in the Middle East on social media that are gaining traction?

I think social media can be used to promote peace if it is done right. I have listed several links below of organizations that aim to use social media to promote peace in the Middle East:

During Ramadan have you seen more or fewer expressions of opinions by UCLA students of their attitudes about violence in the Middle East?

I think this can be a very interesting future research project. We have not been monitoring the change in expression of opinions by UCLA students. However, if you use this sentiment analysis web app build by North Carolina State University, you can see that the overall attitudes and tweets around Ramadan are positive. You can try it yourself and use #ramadan as the keyword.

What percentage of tweets are in Arabic or Farsi? What percentage of them are sent in the Muslim world?

According to the Arab Social Media Report, there were 5,797,500 users in the Arab world as of March 2014. The country with the highest number of active Twitter users in the Arab region is Saudi Arabia (2.4 million users), which accounts for more than 40% of all active Twitter users in the Arab region. In March 2014, Twitter users in the Arab world wrote 533,165,900 tweets, an average of 17,198,900 tweets per day. In addition to Saudi Arabia producing 40% of all tweets, Egypt produced 17% and Kuwait produced 10%. The percentage of female Twitter users in the Arab region—published for the first time in the Arab Social Media Report series—is 36.6%, which is slightly higher than that of female Facebook users in the region.

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