Here’s something I know to be true: not all protests get into the newspaper. Formerly, I had a career convincing groups of people to meet me at different places and wave signs, for causes. My colleagues and I raised a decent amount of hell that no one ever wrote about. So it goes. These days, whether a protest does make the news or not, it shows up online anyway, because the organizers share it themselves.
In a new paper, researchers have shown that by plugging into the photo sharing site Flickr, they were able to find that protest photos ticked up in countries when real protests were going on (using media accounts to ground-truth that real protests took place), suggesting that social media could be a cheap way to monitor human behavior. Research team member and PhD candidate Merve Alanyali told the Observer in an email, “Our initial question was ‘Can Flickr be used as a fast and cheap way of monitoring real world events?’” The short answer: yes.