Social change is often reflected in social talk. The capability to track who is talking about what, where, and with whom, as well as changes in the topics of concern by region, may provide insight into emerging crises and guidance on how to mitigate other crises. Network analytics have been proven successful at analyzing such data. However, such talk is increasingly carried out in social media at dramatically higher volumes than previously analyzed. A high-dimensional network approach for assessing this talk and identifying not just what is being talked about, but the locality and change in that talk and the associated groups, as well as their structure, is presented. This approach is applied to data captured with respect to the Arab Spring. The results provide insight into the co-evolution of topics and groups across the region during this period of dramatic social change.
The wave of revolutions in the Arab world, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring, was a period of major social change. As protests and demonstrations broke out in country after country, questions arose as to what mechanisms supported the diffusion of ideas and actions, promoting or inhibiting violence, and thus enabling successful regime change. New communication technologies and social media were touted as critical to these revolutions. The belief in the power of the Internet was such that in some cases embattled leaders turned off access, e.g. Egypt and Syria . In all cases, as these countries moved from a pre-revolutionary state to a revolutionary state the “talk” changed. Where Wikileaks and sports were topics of interest prior to the onset of the protests, discussion moved towards issues such as liberation, government overthrow, and insurgency once the revolution began. At the same time, groups formed and disbanded, and alliances among diverse actors altered the way they went about their activities.
Throughout the Arab Spring, discussion of the transition and issues potentially related to the transition, such as economic conditions, injustices, and civil rights were discussed in the traditional and social media. Various actors, purportedly, used these media to engage discussions to foment or counter rebellion. These media contain information about the set of actors, the set of topics, and the connections among actors and topics. Herein we use the term “topic” to refer to a general idea or issue around which a set of diverse words and sentiments coalesce.