Twitter Data

This semester I’m in a class in which we get to use social media to share ideas about teaching and learning while also examining how we are currently using different platforms. I’d like to share a few of the ways I use social media for learning and research. The first Platform being Twitter:
Twitter is my most frequently used platform for all things, I started using it because my cousin wanted to stay in touch. I was on Twitter so frequently that I became the “official tweeter” of my rugby team during my undergrad at SUNY Oneonta and when my sociology professors found out, they pushed me to try something new and use Twitter to develop my senior independent research project. I had the opportunity to conduct two research projects using Twitter, one focusing on the public response to the documentary Blackfish and one exploring how women’s health was discussed by Twitter accounts that focused on “women’s health”. I think since then I’ve really used Twitter as a resource for research, what are people talking about and how are they talking about it. I’ve also helped design a few Twitter campaigns as part of a Fellowship and it’s great to think about the factors that draw people in and get them to click and pay attention.
The first project about women’s health focused on the perceptions and content that was shared on Twitter by accounts that either had “women’s health” in their name or description. The goal was to see what the rhetoric about women’s health focused on in the Twitter-sphere. I used an RSS feed to collect either three months worth of tweets or 1,000 from each account used and then I put all the feeds into SPSS Modeler and ran a few text analytics, I also personally when through and coded the tweets; I didn’t trust Modeler’s ability to pick up sarcasm or humor generally. It was my first (and so far only) time working with SPSS Modeler. I ended up creating three categories for tweets to fall into, disease and/or illness treatment, preventative tips/tricks, and fitness/physical health ( these are approximations of the categories) The main finding for it, though not generalizable, was that of the accounts I used, that use “women’s health” as a draw/tagline, there was a strong push for weight loss connected to physical appearance. Twitter is a great resource for studying interactions online, peoples can replies, favorites, retweets and quoted tweets can say so much about how they want to be seen and understood in the Twitter-sphere. When looking at the tweets from the various women’s health accounts I looked into data much like how Twitter gives out the “Tweet activity” on each tweet, the impressions and engagements. The goal of that project was to not only see the conversations that were happening on Twitter but more importantly for me to learn qualitative thematic analysis in a space I was excited about.
The Blackfish project was mostly to track community engagement. The documentary was made and the hashtag (#Blackfish) was created, which made it really easy to follow the conversations of people that wanted to engage and share their perspectives on the film. It was easy to see that people were moved by the film to speak out and share the feelings that came from it. Reading articles years later discussing new actions by Seaworld or activists immediately brought me right back to following the hashtag to see what the conversation looked like now.
Overall, I enjoy using Twitter for research. Anytime I come across a divisive topic, such as in politics, I’ll search for the conversations happening on Twitter and what perceptions are out there. Even though I use Twitter for research and news, my posts are still pretty personal, I feel like that’s what social media is for: to make the impersonal space of the internet feel more personal.

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My life is currently a lot of thesis writing, which can get pretty isolating, so being able to Tweet to other graduate students working on their thesis or dissertation makes it feel much less daunting of a task. I really think having hashtags and using Tweetdeck to follow specific hashtags has helped me to find organizations that can give me information for my research, has helped be find articles and perspectives relating to my current project on sexual consent that I might not have been able to access without others posting articles and information with hashtags.

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