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More Evidence that People are Still Talking about Gun Control

- January 31, 2013

Apropos of John’s post from earlier in the week, here’s some additional evidence that people are still paying attention to the issue of gun control a month out from the Newtown tragedy:

The data are from a collection of 5 million + tweets that we’ve collected at the NYU Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab since the shooting that contain a number of related keywords, including the six on the graph. While the data are still in a crude format (e.g., nothing in the figure shows whether tweets are supportive of the NRA or opposed to the NRA when they include “NRA” in their tweet), one pattern is quite clear. Even as tweets directly related to the Newtown shooting have tailed off (i.e., those containing the hashmarks #ctshooting or #PrayForNewtown) people are still talking about the political/policy implications (i.e., gun control, NRA, 2nd Amendment).  This therefore extends the initial observation we made about this pattern after three days of tweets (here and here) to more than a month’s worth of tweets.

What’s interesting about this is that it provides at least some rudimentary evidence that it is not just those in the media that are continuing to talk about topics such as gun control; it is the mass public as well.  That being said, the biggest boost in the discussion of the issue by the mass public (the second set of peaks on the right part of the figures) came following President Obama’s gun control speech on January 16th, suggesting that while the public remains interested, elites (and especially the president) can play an important role in sustaining that interest.  Of course, the data (which show tweets on “gun control” trending up before the President’s speech) are also consistent with a world in which public opinion may have encouraged him to act as well.


Update: Here is the additional figure requested by Danny Hayes in his comment below:

Danny does seem to be right that discussion picked up on the 9th, but there seems to have been almost as much chatter the previous two days as well. The biggest mini-spike actually comes a couple days after the Biden announcement. But overall, I think the pattern of Tweets clearly is consistent with Danny’s claim that the Tweeting is being driven by the White House as opposed to visa versa. And yet, it is still interesting to see that it is not just journalists “covering the story”, but indeed tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals (with the caveat again that these are just counts of tweets) that are doing so as well. The ability to see citizens in action this way is a new opportunity for social scientists — as indeed is the ability for citizens to “speak” publicly in this way! — and one which I think will prove very interesting to follow.


[Figures by Pablo Barberá; data from NYU SMaPP lab.]