Terrorism tops Twitter topics

Safya Khan-Ruf - 03 05 17

Terrorism and racism are the most discussed world issues on Twitter based on study of 173 million tweets.

Researchers at SOAS University used a list of UN real world issues to determine the biggest topics of discussion on Twitter during 2016.

On average, over 300 million users were active on Twitter every month by the end of last year. “Terrorism” was the most discussed issue on the UN’s list, with 31 million tweets mentioning the issue. “Racism” was the second highest with 28 million tweets.

The researchers say that interconnectivity has led to people feeling close to traumatic events happening geographically far away. “We begin to measure distances in flight hours instead of kilometres, and social networking has allowed us to keep up with faraway events as soon as they happen,” Richard Hammond, a data researcher on the project, said.

Courtesy of SOAS University of London

The study also found that that nearly 90% of the tweets posted last year were negative. The research suggests that most tweeters feel pessimistic and have lost hope that things can improve.

“We can conclude that these negative feelings may simply reflect the lack of optimism among the population because of the current socio-political mood across the world – we can call it the Trump or Brexit effect,” Hammond noted.

The researchers worked with DBD, a digital marketing agency, and counted the number of times each word was used by tracking Twitter activity every day, and categorising them under disease, food, environment, society, poverty and war. They also labelled whether there was a positive, neutral or negative slant to the tweets so as to better analyse the data.

Courtesy of SOAS University of London

Climate change and human rights were the third and fourth world issues most tweeted about last year.

“We care about pollution, climate change and deforestation mainly, probably because we believe that a change can be made to reverse these. However, we also worry about nuclear waste, marine pollution, desertification, ocean governance and water pollution – even though we have less control over the majority of these,” Hammond said.

The study reveals that 60% of tweeters were worried about society. These concerns included child abuse, equality, migration, women’s rights and world peace.

“We have come such a long way from where we were not that many decades ago, when we used to care only about what was happening in our own country,” Hammond said.

Courtesy of SOAS University of London

Surprisingly, only 1.6% of tweets mentioned war last year. Despite the huge socio-economic impact, it appeared to be a minor source of interest on Twitter. The researchers suggest that users are too used to the term “war” and that provoking positive change in conflict is extremely difficult.

Hammond asked: “Do we care less about it because most of the current wars are ongoing in what we call “developing-countries” or “third-world”? Or is the reason that we have stopped caring about what we can’t control or we cannot change?”


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