In the wake of the Arab Spring, many observers have commented on the democratizing power of social media and its potential as a revolutionary tool. Todd Mostak, a 2012 graduate of the CMES master’s program who was in his first year at CMES when the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt began, recognized in social media a different kind of potential. Mostak’s work approaches social media, Twitter in particular, as a massive source of public opinion data. He explored this idea in his master’s thesis, a paper which won him the CMES AM thesis prize and launched a series of projects and partnerships that use social media–derived data and a custom-built database application to explore social science questions.
For his master’s thesis, Mostak decided to examine Twitter in the context of the Egyptian revolution, having become interested in social media while working for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. As he began collecting and analyzing Egyptian Twitter data, Mostak was struck by its potential as a data source. “I became more and more fascinated by Twitter not as the phenomenon you’re trying to study but as the tool to give you a massive amount of data,” he explains. “You can look at it both ways: you can look at how did social media affect the revolution or propel it forward—and that’s a very, very interesting question—but revolution or no revolution, [Twitter is] a great way to figure out what people are thinking.”