Researchers hoping to prove that social media can be used to predict the future are getting a real-life run for their money in the ongoing Republican primaries. As I write in a recent article for the BBC:
Peter Gloor does not own a crystal ball. Nor does he read tea leaves, the lines on your hand or claim to speak to people “from the other side”. Yet, the research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) claims he can predict the future.
Take the ongoing Republican nomination race. Late last year, Newt Gingrich was surging in the polls and some pundits thought he may well overtake frontrunner Mitt Romney. But Gloor predicted he would not.
It was true that chatter on Twitter seemed to be giving an edge to the former House speaker, but analysing edits to Wikipedia, Gloor predicted that Romney would beat him. Gloor ended up being right: Romney beat Gingrich by a wide margin on the night.
Researchers are applying similar methods to predict social protests, wars, and even terrorist attacks. But the U.S. presidential elections are likely to be the real testing ground for social media prediction, at least for the next year.