Zencity posted on 14 Aug 2019
Monitoring social media feeds is a common practice for major brands and companies trying to keep up with consumer sentiment and tastes. City governments are now tapping into those data streams to keep tabs on residents' chatter and complaints about what's happening around town.
Why it matters: Twitter and Facebook posts, when combined with other city tip lines and data collection tools, can be a gold mine of information about what citizens really think.
The big picture: Social media creates a wide-ranging sensor network of sorts that helps cities direct resources to what residents actually care about. But it can also be surprising for users who don't expect city staff to be paying attention.
What's happening: Zencity, a Tel Aviv-based Microsoft-backed startup, sells an AI-powered sentiment analysis tool designed to track citizen opinions so cities can gauge how they are performing. Zencity works with 75 communities and collects more than 1.5 million social media interactions each month.
How it works: Zencity provides a dashboard that aggregates data points including social media posts, local news stories, messages received by cities' 311 portals, and online feedback forms. Zencity collects more than 1.5 million interactions each month, Feder-Levy said. AI is used to identify and sort trends, anomalies and public sentiment.
For example: Houston works with Zencity to gauge how residents are responding to changes in city services, such as a recent garbage pickup schedule change and a project equipping free WiFi on public buses and trains.
The big picture: Cities naturally want to take advantage of the troves of information citizens are sharing on social media, but some people may not expect city administrators to "listen to" them when blowing off steam about a traffic jam or venting about a snow plow.
Privacy tensions bubbled up when law enforcement agencies were found to be using social media to monitor protesters and activists in 2016. After criticism, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram changed their policies to prohibit using their data for police surveillance.
That's where the distinction between passive monitoring and personal tracking is key, says Kelsey Finch, senior policy counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum.
Many social media monitoring services, including ZenCity, aggregate data to show broad trends, heat maps and topics without singling out specific users. If city staff wants to drill down to an individual comment or comment thread, names are whited out.
Originally Published in Axios
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