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Social action on social media

This paper examines a new way of detecting and measuring social action – especially that which takes place below the radar.

Nesta Working Paper 15/04
Issued: May 2015
social media, social action, big data


People try to help others in a wide number of ways. Taken together this is social action - the heart of civil society, and the foundation of a healthy one. However, some social action is hard to spot. It may be unregistered, be carried out with little or no income, or have little formal governance.

This paper examines a new way of detecting and measuring social action – especially that which takes place below the radar. It uses a new methodology developed by CASM to use social media to spot, collect and measure social action that normally is carried out below the radar. It uses natural language processing algorithms to analyse, and sort large quantities of Tweets related to two key events: the flooding of 2014, and the launch of the Step up to Serve Campaign.

This paper finds:

  • Disasters, accidents and catastrophes are likely to create a explosions of Tweets too large to manually read.
  • Some people will use Twitter to either offer or ask for help. This will often be specific to the disaster, spontaneous, and by people operating outside of any organization or charity.
  • Twitter is a significant new forum which people will use in response to events to try to help each other.

And it recommends:

  • An Ebay for social action on social media’: Connecting social action supply with demand: When social action information is found, it could be centralized onto a real-time online platform, information exchange or brokerage hub, clearly related to a specific event and segmented either being offered.


Carl Miller, Demos

The Nesta Working Paper Series is intended to make available early results of research undertaken or supported by Nesta and its partners in order to elicit comments and suggestions for revisions and to encourage discussion and further debate prior to publication (ISSN 2050-9820). The views expressed in this working paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of Nesta.


Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Director of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Peter leads work that explores how combining human and machine intelligence can develop innovative solutions to social challenges.

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