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Inferring the Location of Twitter Messages Based on User Relationships

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User interaction in social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, is increasingly becoming a source of useful information on daily events. The online monitoring of short messages posted in such networks often provides insight on the repercussions of events of several different natures, such as (in the recent past) the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the royal wedding in Britain and the death of Osama bin Laden. Studying the origins and the propagation of messages regarding such topics helps social scientists in their quest for improving the current understanding of human relationships and interactions. However, the actual location associated to a tweet or to a Facebook message can be rather uncertain. Some tweets are posted with an automatically determined location (from an IP address), or with a user‐informed location, both in text form, usually the name of a city. We observe that most Twitter users opt not to publish their location, and many do so in a cryptic way, mentioning non‐existing places or providing less specific place names (such as “Brazil”). In this article, we focus on the problem of enriching the location of tweets using alternative data, particularly the social relationships between Twitter users. Our strategy involves recursively expanding the network of locatable users using following‐follower relationships. Verification is achieved using cross‐validation techniques, in which the location of a fraction of the users with known locations is used to determine the location of the others, thus allowing us to compare the actual location to the inferred one and verify the quality of the estimation. With an estimate of the precision of the method, it can then be applied to locationless tweets. Our intention is to infer the location of as many users as possible, in order to increase the number of tweets that can be used in spatial analyses of social phenomena. The article demonstrates the feasibility of our approach using a dataset comprising tweets that mention keywords related to dengue fever, increasing by 45% the number of locatable tweets.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Departamento de Ciência da Computação

Publication date: 2011-12-01

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