A history of protests mapped: 1979 to today

Where have there been protests since 1979? Doctoral candidate John Beieler took data from the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) and mapped the locations and dates of protests around the world. The blips in his map show a range of events from Tea Party protests a few years ago across the US to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Foreign Policy’s J. Dana Stuster says there are limitations to the data. For example, all events in the United States that do not have a geographic location attached to the news story are plotted in Wichita, Kansas. It may look like the people of Kansas are never happy with the status quo, but it is not the case. He also says that there is little differentiation between protests such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street which represented opposing political viewpoints.

“The map also shows some of the limits of Big Data — and trying to reduce major global events to coded variables,” writes Stauster.

Most important is that the apparent sudden uptick of protests in the 1990s. That has less to do with actual protests and the rise of international and digital media.

“In some other work we are doing right now, preliminary results suggest that as a percentage of all events captured in GDELT, protests have not become more common overall,” explained Kalev Leetaru, the Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University working on the GDELT project, to FP. “So, the majority of that increase in protest events over time stems from the increase in available digital media.”

Beieler also mapped the Egyptian protests and the response by the military and/or police.

Beieler tracked protests (again as the purple and yellow dots) and changes in military or police posture (the red circles), which “can include things such as an increase in police alert status, a mobilization of police power, or some other exhibition of police power,” Beieler explained to FP. The map shows where the military and police did and did not respond to protests. But it’s not all about protests: Look at the Sinai, where military actions responding to extremist groups are recorded in the absence of protests.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.