Social media being used to gauge “pulse” of city

There are new uses for social media and it has nothing to do with being social.  What if your social interactions on public media sites were captured, collected and shared with city government officials, state officials, or other governing agencies? Would you post comments differently?

a graphic of a bunch of social media iconsThat is exactly what the city of New Haven, CT is doing. It is the first city in the nation to take part in a study by Yale Researchers called: The Digital Life of a City. This Human Ecosystems study captures emotions from citizens of New Haven by gathering real-time public conversations occurring on social networks. These interactions can be deciphered in 29 different languages and then are visually represented on a map of New Haven. Posts from public social media sites are collected and categorized into various emotions such as joy, love, sadness, and hate.

This information is shared with New Haven mayor Toni Harp, giving her the “pulse” of the city. City officials are able to see what people are happy with or complaining about, everything from snow removal to cutting the grass.  The “pulse” of the city is important to know so city officials can understand the impact of the city’s services and whether or not they are reducing anxiety or sadness.  Knowing whether citizens are happy or unhappy can assist city officials with making decisions.  Advocates of the study say the overall goal is to create a more welcoming and inclusive community.

What’s interesting about media and social media is there is no end in sight for what uses society will find for them, and the implications it will have on human communication in the future.  If a community like New Haven can find new uses for social media to gain valuable information, other communities are bound to also pursue these new opportunities.  Think about the uses public school communities, higher education, or federal communities could find if they began collecting our public conversations on social sites.  This kind of data collection is being used already online by advertisers, website developers and possibly even the National Security Agency (NSA).

Critics who push for privacy must realize that nothing is private in the virtual world.  Although there can be many advantages to capturing our social conversations, this study can potentially give way to a new dimension of “big brother” watching us via our social conversations. With great power comes great responsibility.  Be critical of media, but in a good way.  As the saying goes, once you put it out there, you can’t take it back.


Sharon Burke is an Associate Faculty member for Communication and Media Studies. Burke holds a Master’s Degree in Communication from the University of Hartford and a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication from Franklin Pierce University. Burke is also an Emmy Award-winning news photojournalist at NBC Connecticut.

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