Modeling social unrest and riot dynamics

Episodes of social unrest rippled throughout Chile in 2019. Researchers specializing in economics, mathematics and physics in Chile and the U.K. banded together to explore the surprising social dynamics people were experiencing. Social media is changing the rules of the game, and previously applied epidemic-like models, on their own, may no longer be enough to explain current rioting dynamics.

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Hugo Morales. ImageWikipedia

In the journal Chaos, from AIP Publishing, the team reports that social media is changing the rules of the game, and previously applied epidemic-like models, on their own, may no longer be enough to explain current rioting dynamics. Using epidemiological mathematical models to understand the spread of infectious diseases dates back more than 100 years. “In the 1970s, this type of methodology was used to understand the dynamics of riots that occurred in U.S. cities in the 1960s,” said Jocelyn Olivari Narea, co-author and an assistant professor at Adolfo Ibáñez University in Chile. “More recently, it was used to model French rioting events in 2005.”

“Within a rioting context, someone ‘susceptible’ is a potential rioter, an ‘infected individual’ is an active rioter, and a ‘recovered person’ is one that stopped rioting,” explained co-author Katia Vogt-Geisse. “Rioting spreads when effective contact between an active rioter and a potential rioter occurs.” They discovered that the SIR model uses Hamiltonian mechanics for mathematics, just like Newton’s laws for physics.

When including such triggers, the team found the way a sequence of events occurs varies greatly based on the initial number of potential rioters and active rioters. “Even the sequence of rioting events can be chaotic,” Rica Mery said. “Rich dynamics reveal the complexity involved in making predictions of rioting activity.” The team pointed out it was surprising that the idea of disease spread can be well applied to rioting activity spread to obtain a good fit of rioting activity data.

Source (American Institute of Physics. “Can social unrest, riot dynamics be modeled? Exploring episodes of social unrest and rioting, discovering a way to model its spread.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 July 2020.)

Caroca, P., Cartes, C., Davies, T.P., Olivari, J., Rica, S. and Vogt, K., 2020. The anatomy of the 2019 Chilean social unrest. arXiv preprint arXiv:2003.00423.