Tweets to provide insights into Britain’s horse-meat scandal

British researchers will discover public perceptions of the recent horse-meat scandal for the first time by analysing social media data.

The horse-meat scandal last year revealed a major breakdown in the traceability of the food supply chain and the adulteration of meat.

The extensive media coverage revealed not only widespread fraud but also the complexity of the British meat supply chain and the extent of meat imports.

The project will investigate how the growing complexity of international food supply chains is giving rise to a new generation of risks and concerns.

Cardiff University’s Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (Cosmos) has been awarded an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) grant under their Global Food Security Programme, a joint initiative with Britain’s Food Standards Agency.

The project is in collaboration with NatCen, the University of Warwick and the University of Westminster.

Dr Pete Burnap, a computer scientist and expert in risk in distributed and collaborative online networks, said Cosmos would provide a unique opportunity to study the story arc of crises in unprecedented detail.

“We have collected data from public Twitter accounts since 2012 and our database of more than three billion tweets will allow us to trace the unfolding of the horse-meat scandal; pinpointing moments of escalation, de-escalation and duration.

“We can also mine the data to discover variation in levels of public sentiment and tension around the topic, as well as identify demographic characteristics of those involved and the geographic spread of the scare.

“This study will enhance understanding of the potential of social media analysis to both access public perceptions and how these evolve and to establish how social media analysis can be used in risk governance and engagement with the public about risks more generally,” Burnap added.

Dr Luke Sloan, from the Cardiff School of Social Sciences, said: “The research will generate new empirical findings on public perceptions of UK food supply chains, what people’s concerns are, what influences these and how they may be best managed in the future.”

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