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Repost: The big picture of public discourse on Twitter by clustering metadata

Note: this is a re-post of an analysis previously hosted at mindalyzer.com. Originally published in late December 2016, this blog post was later followed up by this extended analysis on Follow the Data.

The big picture of public discourse on Twitter by clustering metadata | Mindalyzer

Authors: Mattias Östmar, mattiasostmar (a) gmail.com, Mikael Huss, mikael.huss (a) gmail.com

Summary: We identify communities in the Swedish twitterverse by analyzing a large network of millions of reciprocal mentions in a sample of 312,292,997 tweets from 435,792 twitter accounts in 2015 and show that politically meaningful communities among others can be detected without having to read or search for specific words or phrases.

Background

Inspired by Hampus Brynolf’s Twittercensus, we wanted to perform a large-scale analysis of the Swedish Twitterverse, but from a different perspective where we focus on discussions rather than follower statistics.

All images are licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY (mention the source) and the data is released under Creative Commons Zero which means you can freely download and use it for your own purposes, no matter what. The underlaying tweets are restricted by Twitters Developer Agreement and Policy and cannot be shared due to their restrictions, which are mainly there to protect the privacy of all Twitter users.

Method

Code pipeline

A pipeline connecting the different code parts for reproducing this experiment is available at github.com/hussius/bigpicture-twitterdiscouse.

The Dataset

The dataset was created by continously polling Twitter’s REST API for recent tweets from a fixed set of Twitter accounts during 2015. The API gives out tweets from before the polling starts as well, but Twitter does not document how those are selected. A more in depth description of how the dataset was created and what it looks like can be found at mindalyzer.com.

Graph construction

From the full dataset of tweets, the tweets originating from 2015 was filtered out and a network of reciprocal mentions was created by parsing out any at-mentions (e.g. ‘@mattiasostmar’) in them. Retweets of others people’s tweets have not been counted, even though they might contain mentions of other users. We look at reciprocal mention graphs, where a link between two users means that both have mentioned each other on Twitter at least once in the dataset (i.e. addressed the other user with that user’s Twitter handle, as happens by default when you reply to a Tweet, for instance). We take this as a proxy for a discussion happening between those two users. The mention graphs were generated using the NetworkX package for Python. We naturally model the graph as undirected (as both users sharing a link are interacting with each other, there is no notion of directionality) and unweighted. One could easily imagine a weighted version of the mention graph where the weight would represent the total number of reciprocal mentions between the users, but we did not feel that this was needed to achieve interesting results.

The final graph consisted of 377.545 nodes (Twitter accounts) and 15.862.275 edges (reciprocal mentions connecting Twitter accounts). The average number of reciprocal mentions for nodes in the graph was 42. The code for the graph creation can be found here and you can also download the pickled graph in NetworkX-format (104,5MB, license:CCO).

The visualizations of the graphs were done in Gephi using the Fruchterman Reingold layout algoritm and thereafter adjusting the nodes with the Noverlap algorithm and finally the labels where adjusted with the algoritm Label adjust. Node size were set based on the ‘importance’ measure that comes out of the Infomap algoritm.

Community detection

In order to find communities in the mention graph (in other words, to cluster the mention graph), we use Infomap, an information-theory based approach to multi-level community detection that has been used for e.g. mapping of biogeographical regions such as Edler, Etal 2015 and scientific publications such as Rosvall, Bergström 2010, among many examples. This algorithm, which can be used both for directed and undirected, weighted and unweighted networks, allows for multi-level community detection, but here we only show results from a single partition into communities. (We also tried a multi-level decomposition, but did not feel that this added to the analysis presented here.)

“The Infomap algorithm returned a bunch of clusters along with a score for each user indicating how “central” that person was in the network, measured by a form of PageRank, which is the measure Google introduced to rank web pages. Roughly speaking, a person involved in a lot of discussions with other users who are in turn highly ranked would get high scores by this measure. For some clusters, it was enough to have a quick glance at the top ranked users to get a sense of what type of discourse that defines that cluster. To be able to look at them all we performed language analysis of each cluster’s users tweets to see what words were the most distinguishing. That way we also had words to judge the quaility of the clusters from.

What did we find?

We took the top 20 communities in terms of size, collected the tweets during 2015 from each member in those clusters, and created a textual corpus out of that (more specifically, a Dictionary using the Gensim package for Python). Then, for each community, we tried to find the most over-represented words used by people in that community by calculating the TF-IDF (term frequency-inverse document frequency) for each word in each community, and looking at the top 10 words for each community.

When looking at these overrepresented words, it was really easy to assign “themes” to our clusters. For instance, communities representing Norwegian and Finnish users (who presumably sometimes tweet in Swedish) were trivial to identify. It was also easy to spot a community dedicated to discussing the state of Swedish schools, another one devoted to the popular Swedish band The Fooo Conspiracy, and an immigration-critical cluster. In fact we have defined dozens of thematically distinct communities and continue to find new ones.

A “military defense” community

Number of nodes 1224
Number of edges 14254
Data (GEXF graph) Download (license: CC0)

One of the communities we found, which tends to discuss military defense issues and “prepping”, is shown in a graph below. This corresponds almost eerily well to a set of Swedish Twitter users highlighted in large Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet Försvarstwittrarna som blivit maktfaktor i debatten. In fact, of their list of the top 10 defense bloggers, we find each and every one of them in our top 18. Remember that our analysis uses no pre-existing knowledge of what we are looking for: the defense cluster just fell out of the mention graph decomposition.

Top 10 accounts
1. Cornubot
2. wisemanswisdoms
3. patrikoksanen
4. annikanc
5. hallonsa
6. waterconflict
7. mikaelgrev
8. Spesam
9. JohanneH
10. Jagarchefen

Top distinguishing words (measured by TF-IDF:

#svfm
#säkpol
#fofrk
russian
#föpol
#svpol
ukraine
ryska
#ukraine
ryska
russia
nato
putin

The graph below shows the top 104 accounts in the cluster ranked by Infomap algorithm’s importance measure. You can also download a zoomable pdf.

Defence cluster top 104

Graph of “general pundit” community

Number of nodes 1100 (most important of 7332)
Number of edges 38684 (most important of 92332
Data (GEXF) Download (license: CC0)

The largest cluster is a bit harder to summarize easily than many of the other ones, but we think of it as a “pundit cluster” with influential political commentators, for example political journalists and politicians from many different parties. The most influential user in this community according to our analysis is @sakine, Sakine Madon, who was also the most influential Twitter user in Mattias eigenvector centrality based analysis of the whole mention graph (i.e. not divided into communities).

Accounts
1. Sakine
2. oisincantwell
3. RebeccaWUvell
4. fvirtanen
5. niklasorrenius
OhlyLars
7. Edward_Blom
8. danielswedin
9. Ivarpi
10. detljuvalivet

Top distinguishing words (measured by TF-IDF:

#svpol
nya
tycker
borde
läs
bättre
löfven
svensksåld
regeringen
sveriges
#eupol
jobb

The graph below shows the top 106 accounts in the cluster ranked by Infomap algorithm’s importance measure. You can also download a zoomable pdf.

pundits cluster top 106

Graph of “immigration” community

Number of nodes 2308)
Number of edges 33546
Data (GEXF) Download (license: CC0)

One of the larger clusters consists of accounts clearly focused on immigration issues judging by the most distinguishing words. An observation is that while all the larger Swedish political parties official Twitter accounts are located within the “general pundit” community, Sverigedemokraterna (The Sweden Democrats) that was born out of immigration critical sentiments is the only one of them located in this commuity. This suggests that they have (or at least had in the period up until 2015) an outsider position in the public discourse on Twitter that might or might not reflect such a position in the general public political discourse in Sweden. There is much debate and worry about filter bubbles formed by algorithms that selects what people get to see. Research such as Credibility and trust of information in online environments suggests that the social filtering of content is a strong factor for influence. Strong ties such as being part of a conversation graph such as this would most likely be an important factor in shaping of your world views.

Accounts
1. Jon_Brenelli
2. perraponken
3. sjunnedotcom
4. RolandXSweden
5. inkonsekvenshen
6. AnnaTSL
7. TommyFunebo
8. doppler3ffect
9. Stassministern
10. rogsahl

Top distiguishing words (TF-IDF):

#motgift
#natpol
#migpol
#dkpol
7-klövern
#svpbs
#artbymisen
#tcot
sanandaji
arnstad
massinvandring
#sdu14
#amazoncart
#ringp1
rlm
riktpunkt.nu:
#pkbor
tino
#pklogik
#nordiskungdom

immigration cluster top 102

Future work

Since we have the pipeline ready, we can easily redo it for 2016 when the data are in hand. Possibly this will reveal dynamical changes in what gets discussed on Twitter, and may give indications on how people are moving between different communities. It could also be interesting to experiment with a weighted version of the graph, or to examine a hierarchical decomposition of the graph into multiple levels.

2017 Mattias Östmar

License:
CC BY

Graciously supported by The Swedish Memetic Society

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Dynamics in Swedish Twitter communities

TL;DR

I made a community decomposition of Swedish Twitter accounts in 2015 and 2016 and you can explore it in an online app.

Background

As reported on this blog a couple of months ago, (and also here). I have (together with Mattias Östmar) been investigating the community structure of Swedish Twitter users. The analysis we posted then addressed data from 2015 and we basically just wanted to get a handle on what kind of information you can get from this type of analysis.

With the processing pipeline already set up, it was straightforward to repeat the analysis for the fresh data from 2016 as soon as Mattias had finished collecting it. The nice thing about having data from two different years in that we can start to look at the dynamics – namely, how stable communities are, which communities are born or disappear, and how people move between them.

The app

First of all, I made an app for exploring these data. If you are interested in this topic, please help me understand the communities that we have detected by using the “Suggest topic” textbox under the “Community info” tab. That is an attempt to crowdsource the “annotation” of these communities. The suggestions that are submitted are saved in a text file which I will review from time to time and update the community descriptions accordingly.

The fastest climbers

By looking at the data in the app, we can find out some pretty interesting things. For instance, the account that easily increased to most in influence (measured in PageRank) was @BjorklundVictor, who climbed from a rank of 3673 in 2015 in community #4 (which we choose to annotate as an “immigration” community) to a rank of 3 (!) in community #4 in 2016 (this community has also been classified as an immigration-discussion community, and it is the most similar one of all 2016 communities to the 2015 immigration community.) I am not personally familiar with this account, but he must have done something to radically increase his reach in 2016.

Some other people/accounts that increased a lot in influence were professor Agnes Wold (@AgnesWold) who climbed from rank 59 to rank 3 in the biggest community, which we call the “pundit cluster” (it has ID 1 both in 2015 and 2016), @staffanlandin, who went from #189 to #16 in the same community, and @PssiP, who climbed from rank 135 to rank 8 in the defense/prepping community (ID 16 in 2015, ID 9 in 2016).

Some people have jumped to a different community and improved their rank in that way, like @hanifbali, who went from #20 in community 1 (general punditry) in 2015 to the top spot, #1 in the immigration cluster (ID 4) in 2016, and @fleijerstam, who went from #200 in the pundit community in 2015 to #10 in the politics community (#3) in 2016.

Examples of users who lost a lot of ground in their own community are @asaromson (Åsa Romson, the ex-leader of the Green Party; #7 -> #241 in the green community) and @rogsahl (#10 -> #905 in the immigration community).

The most stable communities

It turned out that the most stable communities (i.e. the communities that had the most members in common relative to their total sizes in 2015 and 2016 respectively) were the ones containing accounts using a different language from Swedish, namely the Norwegian, Danish and Finnish communities.

The least stable community

Among the larger communities in 2015, we identified the one that was furthest from having a close equivalent in 2016. This was 2015 community 9, where the most influential account was @thefooomusic. This is a boy band whose popularity arguably hit a peak in 2015. The community closest to it in 2016 is community 24, but when we looked closer at that (which you can also do in the app!), we found that many YouTube stars had “migrated” into 2016 cluster 24 from 2015 cluster 84, which upon inspection turned out to be a very clear Swedish YouTuber cluster with stars such as Clara Henry, William Spetz and Therese Lindgren.

So in other words, the The Fooo fan cluster and the YouTuber cluster from 2015 merged into a mixed cluster in 2016.

New communities

We were hoping to see some completely new communities appear in 2016, but that did not really happen, at least not for the top 100 communities. Granted, there was one that had an extremely low similarity to any 2015 community, but that turned out to be a “community” topped by @SJ_AB, a railway company that replies to a large number of customer queries and complaints on Twitter (which, by the way, makes it the top account of them all in terms of centrality.) Because this company is responding to queries from new people all the time, it’s not really part of a “community” as such, and the composition of the cluster will naturally change a lot from year to year.

Community 24, which was discussed above, was also dissimilar from all the 2015 communitites, but as described, we notice it has absorbed users from 2015 clusters 9 (The Fooo) and 84 (YouTubers).

Movement between the largest communities

The similarity score for the “pundit clusters” (community 1 in 2015 and community 1 in 2016, respectively) somewhat surprisingly showed that these were not very similar overall, although many of the top-ranked users are the same. A quick inspection also showed that the entire top list of community 3 in 2015 moved to community 1 in 2016, which makes the 2015 community 3 the closest equivalent to the 2016 community 1. Both of these communities can be characterized as general political discussion/punditry clusters.

Comparison: The defense/prepper community in 2015 vs 2016

In our previous blog post on this topic, we presented a top-10 list of defense Twitterers and compared that to a manually curated list from Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. Here we will present our top-10 list for 2016.

Username Rank in 2016 Rank in 2015 Community ID in 2016 Community ID in 2015
patrikoksanen 1 3 9 16
hallonsa 2 5 9 16
Cornubot 3 1 9 16
waterconflict 4 6 9 16
wisemanswisdoms 5 2 9 16
JohanneH 6 9 9 16
mikaelgrev 7 7 9 16
PssiP 8 135 9 16
oplatsen 9 11 9 16
stakmaskin 10 31 9 16

Comparison: The green community in 2015 vs 2016

One community we did not touch on in the last blog post is the green, environmental community. Here’s a comparison of the main influencers in that category in 2016 vs 2015.

Username Rank in 2016 Rank in 2015 Community ID in 2016 Community ID in 2015
rickardnordin 1 4 13 29
Ekobonden 2 1 13 109
ParHolmgren 3 19 13 29
BjornFerry 4 12 13 133
PWallenberg 5 12 13 109
mattiasgoldmann 6 3 13 29
JKuylenstierna 7 10 13 29
Axdorff 8 3 13 153
fores_sverige 9 11 13 29
GnestaEmma 10 17 13 29

Caveats

Of course, many parts of this analysis could be improved and there are some important caveats. For example, the Infomap algorithm is not deterministic, which means that you are likely to get somewhat different results each time you run it. For these data, we have run it a number of times and seen that you get results that are similar in a general sense each time (in terms of community sizes, top influencers and so on), but it should be understood that some accounts (even top influencers) can in some cases move around between communities just because of this non-deterministic aspect of the algorithm.

Also, it is possible that the way we use to measure community similarity (the Jaccard index, which is the ratio between the number of members in common between two communities and the number of members that are in any or both of the communities – or to put it in another way, the intersection divided by the union) is too coarse, because it does not consider the influence of individual users.

Finding communities in the Swedish Twitterverse with a mention graph approach

Mattias Östmar and me have published an analysis of the “big picture” of discourse in the Swedish Twitterverse that we have been working on for a while, on and off. Mattias hatched the idea to take a different perspective from looking at keywords or numbers of followers or tweets, and instead try to focus on engagement and interaction by looking at reciprocal mention graphs – graphs where two users get a link between them if both have mentioned each other at least once (as happens by default when you reply to a tweet, for example.) He then applied an eigenvector centrality measure to that network and was able to measure the influence of each user in that way (described in Swedish here).

In the present analysis we went further and tried to identify communities in the mention network by clustering the graph. After trying some different methods we eventually went with Infomap, a very general information-theory based method (it handles both directed and undirected, weighted and unweighted networks, and can do multi-level decompositions) that seems to work well for this purpose. Infomap not only detects clusters but also ranks each user by a PageRank measure so that the centrality score comes for free.

We immediately recognized from scanning the top accounts in each cluster that there seemed to be definite themes to the clusters. The easiest to pick out were Norwegian and Finnish clusters where most of the tweets were in those languages (but some were in Swedish, which had caused those accounts to be flagged as “Swedish”.) But it was also possible to see (at this point still by recognizing names of famous accounts) that there were communities that seemed to be about national defence or the state of Swedish schools, for instance. This was quite satisfying as we hadn’t used the actual contents of the tweets – no keywords or key phrases – just the connectivity of the network!

Still, knowing about famous accounts can only take us so far, so we did a relatively simple language analysis of the top 20 communities by size. We took all the tweets from all users in those communities, built a corpus of words of those, and calculated the TF-IDFs for each word in each community. In this way, we were able to identify words that were over-represented in a community with respect to the other communities.

The words that feel out of this analysis were in many cases very descriptive of the communities, and apart from the school and defence clusters we quickly identified an immigration-critical cluster, a cluster about stock trading, a sports cluster, a cluster about the boy band The Fooo Conspiracy, and many others. (In fact, we have since discovered that there are a lot of interesting and thematically very specific clusters beyond the top 20 which we are eager to explore!)

As detailed in the analysis blog post, the list of top ranked accounts in our defence community was very close to a curated list of important defence Twitter accounts recently published by a major Swedish daily. This probably means that we can identify the most important Swedish tweeps for many different topics without manual curation.

This work was done on tweets from 2015, but in mid-January we will repeat the analysis on 2016 data.

There is some code describing what we did on GitHub.

 

Links without a common theme

  • Are we ready for a true data disaster? Interesting Infoworld article that talks about possibilities for devastating “data spills” that could have effects as bad as the oil spill, or worse.
  • Monkey Analytics – a “web based computation tool” that lets users run R, Python and Matlab commands in the cloud.
  • Blogs and tweets could predict the future. New Scientist article that mentions Google’s study from last year where they tried to use search data to predict various economic variables. A lot of organizations have seized upon that idea, and lately we have seen examples such as Recorded Future, a company that attempts to “mine the future” using future-related online text sources. Google famously used the “predictions from search data” idea to predict flu outbreaks. One of the interesting things here, I think, is that people’s searches (which could be viewed naïvely as ways to obtain data) actually become data in themselves; data that can be used as predictors in a statistical models. The Physics of Data is an interesting video where Google’s Marissa Mayer talks about this topic and a lot of other googly stuff (I don’t really get the name of the presentation though, despite her attempt to justify it in the beginning …).
  • Wikiposit aims to be a “Wikipedia of numerical data.” It aggregates thousands of public data sets (currently 110,000) into a single format and offers a simple API to access them. As of now, it only supports time series data, mostly from the financial domain.

Singapore in 2015: Augmented reality video

Via Bruce Sterling (@bruces on Twitter): A video imagining the “intelligent nation 2015” with lots of nifty augmented-reality gadgets. The movie is from the IDA, Infocomm Development Authority, in Singapore. Their Intelligent Nation 2015 project is described as a “blueprint to navigate Singapore’s exhilarating transition into a global city, universally recognised as an enviable synthesis of technology, infrastructure, enterprise and manpower.”

Augmented reality refers to technology that merges computer-generated data with what we think of as the “real world”. Some simple examples are things like TwittARound, an application that visualizes tweets (Twitter messages) near you on your smartphone camera, and Layar, an “augmented reality mobile browser”.

[Layar] displays real time digital information on top of reality [] in the camera screen of the mobile phone. While looking through the phone’s camera lens, a user can see houses for sale, popular bars and shops, jobs, healthcare providers and ATMs.

More mindblowing augmented reality tech is demonstrated in this TED video by Patti Maes, who talks about the intriguing concept of “developing a sixth sense for data”.

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