In 2010, Hillary Clinton described social media as a new nervous system for our planet. So can the pulse of the planet be captured by looking at social media activity?
There are many who are skeptical not least because of the digital divide: “You mean the pulse of the Data Have’s? The pulse of the affluent?” These rhetorical questions are perfectly justified, which is why social media alone should not be the sole source of information that feeds into decision-making for policy purposes. But millions are joining the social media ecosystem everyday, so the selection bias is not increasing but decreasing. We may not be able to capture the pulse of the planet comprehensively at a very high resolution yet, but the pulse of the majority of the world is certainly growing louder by the day.
One may think this picture depicts electricity use in Europe. Instead, this is a map of geo-located tweets (blue dots) and Flickr pictures (red dots). “White dots are locations that have been posted to both” . The number of active Twitter users grew 40% in 2012, making Twitter the fastest growing social network on the planet. Over 20% of the world’s internet population is now on Twitter.