Public Perceptions on Organised Crime, Mafia, and Terrorism: A Big Data Analysis Based on Twitter and Google Trends

By Kostakos, Panos | International Journal of Cyber Criminology, January-June 2018 | Go to article overview

Public Perceptions on Organised Crime, Mafia, and Terrorism: A Big Data Analysis Based on Twitter and Google Trends


Kostakos, Panos, International Journal of Cyber Criminology


Introduction

Culture and public perceptions enable serious crime and motivate policy action; however, there has been limited empirical research on serious crime perceptions in the social media. This study uses data from web-search queries and assorted social media postings to establish perceptions of serious crime. The aim is to explore the feasibility of using disaggregated data from Google Trends and Twitter to gain theoretical insights and to encourage readers to undertake their own analysis. With around forty percent of the world population having an Internet connection (United Nations, 2015), the data being produced by users and machines communicating over data networks is growing at an exponential rate. Also growing rapidly is the digital footprint people leave online. These trends have motivated research in criminology (Wang et al., 2012; Gerber, 2014), economics (Preis et al., 2013; Choi & Varian, 2012; Vosen & Schmidt, 2011), sociology (Kostakos et al., 2013; Anderson et al., 2014; Eagle et al., 2009), linguistics (Michel et al., 2011; Hand 2011; Lieberman et al. 2007), politics (Kallus 2014; Louis & Zorlu, 2012), and healthcare (Seifter et al., 2010; et al., 2015). Research that studies human behaviour through digital footprints is addressing focal social problems and identifying new problems (Kostakos & Ferreira, 2015). We first provide a review of recent work regarding perceptions of serious crime and then proceed to present the data sources. Subsequently, we expand on the research methods and obtained results. The final section draws out preliminary conclusions and highlights the main bottlenecks affecting our approach.

Perceptions of Organised Crime: From Discourse Data to 'Big Data'

Individual and group perceptions is a conspicuous subject in the literature of organised crime, not only because of the critical works of American and European historians, criminologists, and sociologists who have been trying to debunk the stereotypical image of "organised crime" created by media sensationalism and bureaucratic obsession (Paoli 2003: 3), but also because of the causal impact perceptions have in enabling individual and collective behaviourism that arena (Smith, 1975; Allum et al., 2010). Several well-established empirical studies have demonstrated how criminal groups engage in criminal recruitment and extortion by manipulating ethnic identities and public perceptions (Ianni, 1974; Bovenkerk et al., 2003; Chin, 2000; Bovenkerk, 1998; Paoli, 2003), while others have examined the role of culture in enabling criminal infiltration into the economy, politics, civil society and bureaucracy (Kleemans & de Bunt, 1999, 2008; Chambliss, 1971; Ianni, 1974; Allum, 2006; Schneider and Schneider, 2003).

More recently, there has been renewed interest in measuring the perceptions of a range of actors involved in organised and serious crime. Sarno (2014) reviewed Spanish, German and Dutch newspapers articles between 2000 and 2013 and studied the representations of the Italian Mafia. Similarly, content analyses of newspapers have also been published by Pruss (2014) and Young and Allum (2012). Shen et al. (2013) in their recent study of child trafficking in China adopted a broader approach by focusing on Chinese open media sources. Systematic content analysis of official documents and media sources has been used sparingly in the past. For example, Mcillwain (1997) studied public perceptions of Chinese organised crime in the US by analysing New York City press documents from 1894 to 1908. Likewise, Arsovska and Kostakos (2010) developed a corpus of about 3 million words from EU press releases from 1994 to 2008 and examined EU norm diffusion in the Balkan region. Lastly, Décary-Hétu and Aldridge (2015) have discussed the application of automatic data extraction.

A large body of empirical literature has focused on how the general public perceives serious crime. Mendoza (2015) has reported findings on public perceptions using focus groups in Latin America. …

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