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What can 720,000 news headlines tell us about the future of our digital world?

Daniella Tsar  Data Scientist, Thomson Reuters Labs

Daniella Tsar  Data Scientist, Thomson Reuters Labs

From automation to IoT, 5G to the digital divide, Thomson Reuters Labs analyzed more than 720,000 news headlines to identify trends in the global conversation around our digital world.

Thomson Reuters Labs has partnered with the World Economic Forum to contribute data-driven visualizations for Our Shared Digital Future, a new report on shaping the future of our (digital) world.

Looking at news volumes from 2014 to 2018, we explored the topic of the Digital Economy and Society through the lens of stories in the public eye. The World Economic Forum’s six shared goals within this topic are:

  1. Security and Resilienceto vulnerabilities arising from increasing digital connectivity
  2. Access and Adoptionof the internet for all, regardless of circumstances
  3. Responsible Digital Transformationwith a focus on digital sustainability leaders to act competently
  4. Data Sharingby creating social and economic value without endangering privacy
  5. Agile Governance – of policies equipped to deal with transnational nature of the digital world
  6. Digital Identity  – to be inclusive and trusted while increasing social and economic well-being

We collected headlines from Reuters News – the world’s leading trusted news provider – and from other third-party news sources, containing indicative keywords within the six shared goals, provided to us by the World Economic Forum. This is also shown within the visualization and draws attention to the most popular phrases by providing keyword frequencies.

Data visualization by Thomson Reuters Labs. Click on the image to enlarge and view the full-sized visualization.

The state of DE&S news

News volumes, and subsequently conversations, have grown considerably in some key areas of our topic space – the Digital Economy and Society – in the past couple of years. Events, especially with wide-reaching consequences, drive discussions which cross disciplines, geographies, and cultures. The rise of automation and machine learning – as highlighted by the Responsible Digital Transformation topic area  has increased the number of conversations about changes in labor markets, most notably job creation and job losses alike. In light of the growing number of cyberattacks around the world, it is no surprise that the Security and Resilience topic has centered around hacking, cyber attacks and cyber security. Whatever the area, news volumes provide a unique insight into the increasingly connected digital world and its nuances.

We can see that large news volume trends tend to cluster around events. Our visualization highlights some peaks in news volume which give us a glimpse of what drives the agenda at the time. In March 2016, the conversation within Data Sharing centers around the FBI–Apple encryption dispute. In December of 2016, the news conversation within the Security and Resilience topic is largely attributable to the U.S. election hacking scandal. Almost half of the Access and Adoption peak in April 2017 has mostly news headlines driven by the 5G topic, with Internet Access and Digital Skills coming in second and third, in terms of keywords found in the news articles, respectively.

What’s next?

We wanted to delve into the possibilities and challenges that a digital world faces. News volume trends provide an effective overview of the fast pace of digital change.

Taking these insights further to properly assess the growing conversation, events and trends around the Digital Economy and Society topic, one has to delve deeper. To conduct a rigorous study of news events, one would have to look at timelines, event clusters, factual differences, the spectrum of opinions used, the sentiment of those opinions and a multitude of other factors. Similar work has been done by Thomson Reuters Labs’s Research & Development team focusing on news event detection solutions.

The variety and velocity of news being published today reflects the growing digital future of information dissemination, which can have disastrous effects when misused. Looking into how stories develop, the effects of introducing new facts, new aspects, new points of views, would not only shed light on the events themselves, but on trends within journalism and how breaking stories spread around the world.

Collaborative initiatives of thought leadership and innovative data-driven insights, such as Thomson Reuters Labs’ partnership with The World Economic Forum, are essential as a first step in understanding the dynamics of our changing digital world and building a digital economy that is sustainable, inclusive and trustworthy.

Learn more

Access the full report, Our Shared Digital Futureswhich addresses the need for shared goals and coordinated action to shape an inclusive, sustainable, digital future.

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