Just between July and September 2021 there was a total of 4973 hijackings in South Africa and the general public is unaware of the risk in certain areas.
These statistics form part of computer science master’s student, Taahir Patel’s research studies at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). He is using Twitter data to develop an app for mapping and pinpointing hijacking hotspots. He said that the application is still in development, but he is excited about its future possibilities.
“Growing up in South Africa, especially here in Cape Town, there is this constant fear when on the roads. While you’re driving you need to make sure your doors are locked; you need to be on the constant look-out at night and you’ve programmed yourself not to stop unnecessarily.
“Cape Town has a lot of tourists who are unaware of the dangers of entering these hotspot areas and I hope that at some point this information will be useful in reducing the number of daily hijacking attempts on our roads,” he said.
Patel (pictured) is one of 45 computer science students who were chosen to have their theory converted into a mobile app.
“This is an idea that goes all the way back to my first year at university. We had to think of a new type of application and statistics show hijackings are only getting worse, I was hoping that by means of my research, I would one day be successful in identifying these hotspots and hopefully make this information usable to the general public,” said Patel.
“The initial idea was that of a visual map. However, as a first year I only had the general idea, but once I reached my honours year, I pitched it to my supervisor to find a way of incorporating this into my actual research and continued with it through to my master’s.”
Patel explained why he opted to use Twitter data. “There’s a constant flow of information at all times and we are currently in this world of social media and communications whereby people are discussing every aspect of there lives and every event that occurs to them.
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“For example, if someone is hijacked and let’s say they quite commonly use Twitter, its quite normal for them to tweet it out after the incident.
“So for example, if you see someone on the road getting hijacked, you’d send out the tweet and then others know to be aware of it. With all this information available, why not actually use it? Because unless you actually go search on Twitter, you may never know when hijackings take place.”
Twitter users are a very different audience to your Facebook and Instagram audience. It’s a lot more instant, people are very much reactionary and act very quickly.
Asked whether Twitter would be the primary source of where his app will be getting its data from, he responded, “We want to incorporate a lot of other areas. We’ve used Twitter because there are many areas we want to add to increase the number of reports that we can obtain.
“By just using Twitter we may be getting a percentage of all the actual hijackings occurring, but if we maybe find a way to incorporate other areas, perhaps via your Instagram, TikTok and all of these, it could be helpful, but this could prove difficult.
“From a computer science point of view, you’d want to take an easier route, but one that would produce the most accurate information as well; hopefully turning it into a mobile application.
“We expect the app to be used within the next couple of months, but obviously there are a lot of areas that we have to take into account because we also have issues of, for example, possibly being fed misinformation, and this we have to address.”
In terms of linking the app to Twitter, instead of linking Twitter directly to the app, his thinking is currently not to force people to actually have Twitter to be able to utilise the app.
“I’d want people to use the app regardless of whether they have Twitter or not,” he concluded.
Patel will conclude his studies at UWC next year.