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October 2, 2014

Twitter grants $10m to MIT to make sense of big data

Data scientists will develop tools to address social problems.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

A $10m fund to develop tools that analyse social behavior over the Internet has been granted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In a five-year investment plan from Twitter, data scientists at MIT’s Media LAB are setting up a Laboratory for Social Machines, where they will develop methods for understanding how information spreads on Twitter, Reddit and other media sites.

The researchers will get access to data from Gnip, a Twitter-owned website that stores the social media’s entire feed of real-time and archived public tweets dating back to the first.

With this data, the lab plans to develop new communication tools that journalists, policy experts and researchers can use to uncover new patterns and help address social problems.

"With this investment, Twitter is seizing the opportunity to go deeper into research to understand the role Twitter and other platforms play in the way people communicate, the effect that rapid and fluid communication can have, and apply those findings to complex societal issues," said Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter.

Deb Roy, Twitter’s chief media scientist and an associate professor at the Media Lab who will lead the LSM, said: "The Laboratory for Social Machines will experiment in areas of public communication and social organisation where humans and machines collaborate on problems that can’t be solved manually or through automation alone.

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"Social feedback loops based on analysis of public media and data can be an effective catalyst for increasing accountability and transparency — creating mutual visibility among institutions and individuals."

Twitter has previously awarded smaller sums of funding to academic institutions in a programme known as "Twitter Data Grants".

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