Last week, The Conversation published a new piece from Network chief of research Stefaan Verhulst on the growing use of social media data to improve people's lives around the world. Verhulst begins the article by describing a data collaborative launched in Malawi where the Red Cross improved its aid and relief distribution thanks to a mapping effort built on Facebook's population density data.

He goes on to describe the broader opportunity space created by the use of social media data to solve public problems: 

"The Malawi partnership is just one manifestation of the concept of data collaboratives. We have defined this as a new form of collaboration beyond the public-private partnership model, in which participants from different sectors  —  including private companies, research institutions, and government agencies  —  can exchange data to help solve public problems.

While such collaboratives are emerging in a number of sectors and areas, the Malawi case is an example of a particular kind of collaborative. It’s what we might call a social media data collaborative.

While much attention has been paid to the impact of social media on politics, much value can be generated from social media data for governing as well, but only when done responsibly.

Users of social media are today disclosing and sharing an unprecedented amount of data. Facebook alone collects 98 unique personal data points from its users, and Twitter processes about 6,000 tweets every second.

With an estimated 2.51 billion social media users across the world, a staggering amount of information is being gleaned about individuals and their interactions from social networking platforms.

There is little doubt that much of the data stored by social media companies could, if made available in a responsible manner, provide groups working for the public interest with new insights and avenues for action. Unfortunately, at present such groups have only limited access to data, and their data science expertise remains similarly limited.

Data collaboratives like the Missing Maps project represent a new, contemporary model of corporate social responsibility."

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