Why is there so much research on Twitter? And what does this mean for our methods?

I was asked on Twitter by a fellow PhD student what tools and methods there were of capturing and analysing data from Facebook, and although I was able to find a few, there were far more Twitter data capture tools. I also noticed that there are very few tools that can be used to obtain data from other social media platforms such as, Pinterest, Goolge+, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, Vine, and Amazon among others. This led me to wonder whether it was tool availability, or some other reason for why there is more research on Twitter, compared to other social media platforms.

I then asked the following question on Twitter:

Why is there so much research on Twitter? Is it because it’s difficult to get data from other platforms? Or is Twitter a special platform?

I received a range of responses:

  1. Twitter is a popular platform in terms of the media attention it receives and therefore it attracts more research due to this cultural status
  2. Twitter makes it easier to find and follow conversations which consequently makes it easier to research
  3. Twitter has hashtag norms which make it easier gathering, sorting, and expanding searches when collecting data
  4. Twitter data is easy to retrieve as major incidents, news stories and events on Twitter are normally centered around a hashtag
  5. The Twitter API is more open and accessible compared to other social media platforms, which makes Twitter more favorable to developers creating tools to access data. This consequently increases the availability of tools to researchers.

It is probable that a combination of response 1 to 5 have led to more research on Twitter. However, this raises another distinct but closely related question: when research is focused so heavily on Twitter, what (if any) are the implications of this on our methods?

The methods that are currently used in analysing Twitter data i.e., sentiment analysis, time series analysis (examining peaks in tweets), network analysis etc., can these be applied to other platforms or are different tools, methods and techniques required?

I have used the following four methods in analysing Twitter data for the purposes of my PhD, below I consider whether these would work for other platforms:

  1. Sentiment analysis works well with Twitter data, as tweets are consistent in length (i.e., <= 140) would sentiment analysis work well with, for example Facebook data where posts may be longer?
  2. Time series analysis is normally used when examining tweets overtime to see when a peak of tweets may occur, would examining time stamps in Facebook posts, or Instagram posts, for example, produce the same results? Or is this only a viable method because of the real-time nature of Twitter data?
  3. Network analysis is used to visualize the connections between people and to better understand the structure of the conversation. Would this work as well on other platforms whereby users may not be connected to each other i.e., public Facebook pages, or images from Instagram?
  4. Machine learning methods may work well with Twitter data due to the length of tweets (i.e., <= 140) but would these work for longer posts and posts (i.e., Instagram) where images may be present?

It may well be that at least some of these methods can be applied to other platforms, however they may not be the best methods, and may require the formulation of new methods, techniques, and tools. On the tool front, I would like to see more software for those in the social sciences to obtain data for a range of platforms and including a range of data i.e., web links, images, and video. At the Masters and PhD level there should be more emphasis on training for social science students in effectively using existing software that can be used to capture data analyse data from social media platforms.


I would like to thank Curtis Jessop, Blog Editor of NSMNSS and Senior Researcher at NatCen Social Research, for the suggestion to write this blog post and the idea to examine the methodological implications of focusing on certain social media platforms.

Metadata across Twitter tools

In this very short blog post I want to show the amount of metadata it is possible to obtain via the Twitter API across TexifterTAGSMozdeh, and Chorus. 

I used Tweepy (a Python library), to pull in Twitter data in a raw JSON format. This is shown in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1 – A Tweet with all of the accompanying metadata


Code can then be written to extract  i.e., to lift the tweet, time stamp, author, and tweet ID out of the raw JSON. This is shown in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2 – Filtered JSON

JSON Small

This reduction in metadata may be required as for hardware purposes it may not be feasible to maintain and or process all of the data. The tweets can then be saved to a CSV file, for example, to be opened in a spreadsheet.

I thought it would be interesting to compare what metadata existing tools can provide and to see how they have been programmed for metadata retention. It is important to note that in 2013 Twitter increased the amount of metadata that was returned, therefore if a tool was designed prior to this, the developers could have chosen to retain the same metadata or to not have updated the software at all.

Figure 2 – Metadata provided by TexifterTAGSMozdeh, and Chorus. 

Comparing the APIS

Texifter a commercial provider of Twitter data (using the Firehose) supplies all of the metadata whereas free tools provide only certain amounts of metadata. TAGS provides the most metadata (TAGS can also provide further metadata ), and Mozdeh the least.

The figure above demonstrates the varying levels of data that tools can provide i..e, that decisions about what metadata is included or excluded has already been decided when it is time to use the tool.This may have implications for the types of research that can be conducted as, for example, it may not be possible to study the favoriting behaviour of users if a tool does not provide this data.

Using Mozdeh to analyse Norovirus tweets

This blog post is a small case study of how I used Mozdeh to capture and analyse over 5 million tweets related to the norovirus infection. Mozdeh requires no programming knowledge and can be used by those from the social sciences to capture and analyse Twitter data. Mozdeh currently only supports Windows operating systems (32 and 64 bit) and it is advisable to use Mozdeh with a Desktop computer. Mozdeh can be downloaded from here, an excellent user guide can be found here, a theoretical overview can be found here, and an overview of Twitter query set generation can be found here.

Mozdeh uses the Search API which is rate limited at 180 queries per 15 minutes i.e., that Mozdeh will search Twitter a 180 times per 15 minutes, and will return a maximum of 3,200 tweets going back in time. An overview of the different software and APIs can be found in one of my previous blog posts here. 

Searches took place contentiously from 16/02/2015 19:20:00 to 06/04/2015 14:06:26 with a total of 5,055,299 tweets with 2,731,452 unique tweeters. I produced four time series graphs, figures 1 to 4.

Figure 1 – Time series for all tweets all of the keywords


Note that for the time series graph some of the fluctuations are caused by the time of day, with troughs for each night. This is because up to 60% of all tweets have English language settings, and this may indicate sleeping time for English speaking users (Gerlitz & Rieder, 2013). The dip in tweets at the beginning and middle of the graph are caused by Twitter’s rate limiting. In total there are 5,055,299 tweets with 2,731,452 unique tweeters.

The peaks can be further investigated by clicking on a point of interest, for instance, by double clicking on the largest peak will bring up the list of tweets that caused the peak. It is possible to create a time series graph with another keyword or hashtag e.g., if a particular keyword or hashtag is occurring frequently. For example if it was found that the word ‘poisoning’ was occurring frequently this word by-itself could be searched for, to create a time series graph (which will also produce a new sentiment graph), as shown in figure 2 below.

Figure 2 – Time series for all tweets containing the word ‘poisoning’


On the 16th of February 2015 there is a peak in tweets mentioning the word ‘poisoning’, after investigating this peak, it appears that users indicate that they may be suffering from food poisoning, however there is also an increase in spam (i.e., tweets that are not relevant to food poisoning). The second largest peak occurs on the 9th of March 2015 and this is a genuine peak i.e., users indicate that they may have food poisoning with very little spam. The third largest peak occurs on the 19th of March 2015 and is solely due to an increase of spam with very few users mentioning that they have food poisoning.

Figure 3 – Time series of all tweets containing the word ‘pain’


Looking at the word ‘pain’ in this time series graph, the first two peaks (16th of February 2015 and 9th of March 2015) occur at the same time as the peaks of the previous graph of the word ‘poisoning’. The third peak occurs on the evening of the 18th of March 2015 and continues on to the 19th of March 2015 which also overlaps with the previous peak in tweets with words that use ‘poisoning’.

Figure 4 – Average tweet sentiment of all tweets


The time series analysis also plots the average tweet sentiment, however tweets related to the norovirus sickness contain very little negative or positive sentiment.

I used the following search queries (adapted from queries used by the Foods Standards Agency) to gather the data: sick bug, Sickness bug, stomach flu, vomiting, #Sicknessbug, sickness virus, winter AND sickness, bug, winter sickness, winter virus, winter vomiting, #winterbug, #norovirus, norovirus AND outbreak, Norovirus, Norovirus AND symptoms, puke, retch, sick AND fever spit up, stomach pain, throw up, throwing up, upset stomach, Vom, #barf, Barf, being sick, chuck up, feeling sick, Heave, Norovirus AND Food, Food poisoning, Norovirus AND cruise, and Norovirus AND cruise ship. Data were analysed at an aggregate level, and these results form part of a project that has ethics approval.


Gerlitz, C., & Rieder, B. (2013). Mining one percent of Twitter: Collections, baselines, sampling. M/C Journal, 16(2).

González-Bailón, S., Wang, N., Rivero, A., Borge-Holthoefer, J., & Moreno, Y. (2014). Assessing the bias in samples of large online networks. Social Networks, 38, 16–27. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2014.01.004


I would like to thank Prof. Peter Bath from the Health Informatics Research group for suggesting to examine peaks and sentiments across health topics.

Tools that can be used to create network graphs of Twitter data

This is by no means a comprehensive list and the tools are presented in no particular order. I normally use one of each when visualizing Twitter chats, workshops, or conferences. These tools requires no programming knowledge and can be used by those in the social sciences. Recently, I have been exploring how network graphs can be used to better understand Health Communication on Twitter. I created a network graph for my Twitter network (@was3210) using each tool (clicking on the image will show a larger version in a separate window).

NodeXL (@nodexl)

NodeXL is a Microsoft Excel Plugin. The software can be used to obtain data from Twitter, YouTube, and Flicker. NodeXL runs on Windows operating systems. Users can download graph options from the NodeXL graph gallery by navigating to the bottom of the page. The GraphML file can then be imported into NodeXL, and using the automate feature a graph with a similar layout can be constructed. The workbook used to create a particular graph is often linked from the bottom of the page, and it can be opened without importing the GraphML file (as previously stated), there is also no reason to use the automate feature.The graphs can be further customized i.e., adding or removing group labels. There are some excellent NodeXL tutorials on YouTube. NodeXL is part of the Social Media Research Foundation. Marc Smith director of the foundation can be found on Twitter (@marc_smith). There is no need to register an account to create the graphs, however an account is required to upload these to the graph gallery.

@was3210 NodeXL

A network graph of @was3210 created using NodeXL 

Netlytic (@Netlytic)

Netlytic is a cross platform as it is a web based tool and can be used for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Tier 2 of Netlytic allows users to create and manage up to 5 data-sets and 10000 records.Feature number 4, ‘Network Analysis’ allows users to visualize and customize the data that is captured into a network graph. Netlytic can also automatically summarize large volumes of text and discover social networks from conversations on social media. There are some excellent Netlytic guides on YouTube. Netlytic is part of the The Social Media Lab. Members of the lab, Anatoliy Gruzd (@gruzd), and Philip Mai (@PhMai) can be found on Twitter. Users are required to register for an account to use Netlytic.

@was3210 Netlytic

A network graph of @was3210 created using Netlytic 

Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet (TAGs)

TAGS (Twitter Arching Google Spreadsheet) created and managed by Martin Hawksey is a web based tool and is cross platform. After capturing Twitter data, of a keyword, hashtag, or user-handle it is possible to use the TAGS Explorer, currently in beta, to visualize networks. Martin can be found on Twitter (@mhawksey). There is no need to register for an account as the tool uses Google Spreadsheets.


A network graph of @was3210 created using TAGs

SocioViz (@SocioVizNet )

SocioViz is a social media analytics platform powered by Social Network Analysis metrics. SocioViz is an analytics tool, so it does not capture data (unlike the other tools) it is possible to extract data. SocioViz can provide analytics for keywords, hashtags, or user-handles. Users are required to register for an account. More information on SocioViz and how data can be extracted can be found here.

@was3210 socioviz

A network graph of @was3210 created using SocioViz

Gephi (@Gephi)

Gephi, a network visualization and analysis platform is a very powerful tool and it may be of interest to developers. A variety of file extensions are supported by Gephi which makes it easy to import data into the program.

If I have missed a tool please let me know as I can create a test network graph and include it in this blog post.

A comparison of Twitter APIs across tools

In this blog post I compare the Streaming, Search, and Firehose APIs over a three day period (3rd to the 5th of January, 2015) across three different tools. A comprehensive outline of the different APIs and how they return tweets can be found here.

Most research on Twitter uses either the Search API, or the Streaming API. Twitter’s Search API provides access to tweets that have occurred i.e., users can request tweets that match a ‘search’ criteria similar to how an individual user would conduct a search directly on Twitter. When you query Twitter via the Search API, the maximum number of searchers going back in time that Twitter will return, is 3,200 (with a limit of 180 searchers every 15 minutes).

Twitter states that the Search API is:

…focused on relevance and not completeness. This means that some Tweets and users may be missing from search results. If you want to match for completeness you should consider using a Streaming API instead (Twitter developers).

The Streaming API is a push of data as tweets occur in near real-time. However, Twitter only returns a small percentage of tweets. The tweets that are returned depend on various factors such as the demand on Twitter, and how broad/specific the search query is. Twitter states that the Streaming APIs:

…give developers low latency access to Twitter’s global stream of Tweet data. A proper implementation of a streaming client will be pushed messages indicating Tweets and other events have occurred, without any of the overhead associated with polling a REST endpoint.If your intention is to conduct singular searches, read user profile information, or post Tweets, consider using the REST APIs instead (Twitter developers).

The Firehose (which can be quite costly) provides all the tweets in near real-time, however, unlike the Streaming API there are no limitation on the number of search results that are provided. I won a historical data prize from DiscoverText and which provided me access to 3 days worth of Firehose data. I selected this data to overlap with data I had gathered via the Streaming API (using Chorus), and the Search API (using Mozdeh).

This is what I found:

Table 1 – The amount of tweets retrieved via

API across three different tools

Tool  API No. tweets



Firehose API

Search API

Search API




Table 1 shows that searchers with the keyword ‘Ebola’ were gathering up to 79% (155,086) of all tweets via the Search API using Mozdeh, and 74% (145,348) of all tweets via the Search API Streaming API using Chorus. As compared to baseline, the complete set of tweets were 195,713 (100%) obtained via DiscoverText.

I produced three word clouds to examine the most frequent words across the three samples in order to investigate whether there were any major differences in word frequencies.

Word Cloud 1: 195,713 Ebola tweets via the Firehose API using DiscoverText and from the 3rd of January to the 5th of January:

Firehose API

Word Cloud 2:155,086 Ebola tweets via Mozdeh using the Search API from the 3rd of January to the 5th of January:


Word Cloud 3:145,348 Ebola tweets via Chorus using the Streaming Search API from the 3rd of January to the 5th of January:

Chorus Streaming API

The word clouds provide a visual representation of the samples in terms of word frequency i.e., the more frequent a word is the bigger it will appear in the word cloud. These word clouds contain words such as ‘nurse’, ‘critical’, and ‘condition’, as within this time period a nurse (Pauline Cafferkey) suffering from Ebola in the U.K. had fallen into critical condition. The word clouds are very similar across the different tools and APIs. This may be because, as Twitter’s senior partner engineer, Taylor Singletary, in a forum post, suggested that the sample stream via Streaming API would be a random sample of all tweets that were available on the platform (Gerlitz and Rieder,2013).

These results suggest that if you use a limited amount of search queries and gather data over a relatively short period of time that Twitter will provide a fair amount of tweets, and depending on the research question of a project this may be sufficient. However, González-Bailón et al (2014) have found that the structure of samples may be affected by both the type of API and the number of hashtags that are used to retrieve the data. Therefore, depending on the number of keywords and hashtags used the amount of tweets retrieved are likely to vary. All of this may change as Twitter introduces potential adjustments to the Streaming API. These results form a part of a larger project which has ethics approval.

Edit 08/07/15

As Dr. Timothy Cribbin has pointed out in the comments, Chorus uses the Search API and not the Streaming API as previously mentioned in this blog post. Although not across three APIs I hope the comparison is still interesting.


I am very grateful to Dr Farida Vis for her expert guidance & advice, for providing me with the literature, and for the various discussions on Twitter APIs.

References and further reading

Gaffney and Puschmann. (2014). Data Collection on Twitter. In Jones, S (Eds.) Twitter and Society (pp.55-67). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Gerlitz, C., & Rieder, B. (2013). Mining one percent of Twitter: Collections, baselines, sampling. M/C Journal, 16(2).

González-Bailón, S., Wang, N., Rivero, A., Borge-Holthoefer, J., & Moreno, Y. (2014). Assessing the bias in samples of large online networks. Social Networks, 38, 16–27. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2014.01.004

Morstatter, F., Pfeffer, J., Liu, H., & Carley, K. (2013). Is the Sample Good Enough? Comparing Data from {Twitter’s} Streaming {API} with {Twitter’s} {Firehose}. Proceedings of ICWSM.

Algorithmic Visibility at the Selfie Citizenship Workshop

The Selfie Citizenship Workshop was held on the 16th of April at the Digital Innovation Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University, and brought together researchers across various disciplines, fields, and backgrounds in order to explore the notion of ‘selfie citizenship’, and how the selfie has been used for acts of citizenship. The event was very well tweeted, using the hashtag: #selfiecitizenship, and generated over 400 tweets during the day, a network analysis of tweets at the event can be seen here. The event was sponsored by the Visual Social Media Lab, Manchester School of Art, Digital Innovation, and the Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research.


A talk that stood out to me the most was that by Dr Farida Vis, titled: Algorithmic Visibility: Edgerank, Selfies and the Networked Photograph. The reason for this is that I once wrote a blog post where I briefly outlined Farida’s talk at the Digital Culture Conference: improving reality, on algorithmic culture.

The talk at this workshop was centered on an image that Farida saw pop up in her Facebook news feed. This image was shown to her because one of her friends had commented on the picture. Due to their perceived close tie, that is to say, as they were Facebook friends, the image was also shown to her. The image was of an Egyptian protester who is displaying solidarity with Occupy Oakland by holding a homemade cardboard sign with the caption ‘from Egypt to wall street don’t afraid Go ahead #occupyoakland, #ows’.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) refers to the protest movement which began on September 17th in Zuccotti Park, in New York City’s Wall Street financial district. The movement received global attention, which led to an international occupy movement against social and economic inequality across the world. Hence, why an Egyptian protestor is holding a sign with both the #occupyoakland, and #ows hashtags.

The image left an impression on her, especially the composition of the image; the sign and the man’s face, presumably inviting us to look at his face.  Months later she attempted to locate the image, and was surprised to find she could not locate it anywhere on her friend’s wall. It was as if that she had not seen the image in the first place. She asked then, how do people locate images on social media? That is to say, if you see an image, do not initially retrieve it, and are then unable to locate it. How would you locate it? In this case, she knew that the image was about the Occupy movement and was related to Egypt, and she combined these as search queries and, with some detective work, was able to locate the image.

She found that the photographer had uploaded a range of images on a Facebook album, and that there was a similar image to the one she was searching for, but that in this case the protester had their eyes closed. Surprisingly, this image had the exact amount of likes and more shares than the original image. However, this series of other similar images from the same protest were not made visible to her. She argued here, that we should think critically and carefully about the different structures for organising images which can vary across platforms, and how images may be made visible to us.

That is for example, how does EdgeRank decide what image to show us? EdgeRank is the name that was given to the algorithm that Facebook once used to decide what articles should be displayed in a user’s news feed. However, Facebook no longer refer to its algorithm as EdgeRank internally, but rather now employ a more complex news feed algorithm. And that as EdgeRank ranked three elements: Affinity, Weight, and Time Decay. That the current algorithm, that does not have a catchy name, but now takes into account over 100,000 factors in addition the EdgeRank’s three. I would argue here, that just to understand what an algorithm is, in this instance, is difficult. Then, when you attempt to understand the workings behind the algorithm, you find that this is not possible as the methods that Facebook, for example, use to adjust the parameters of the algorithm are considered proprietary and are not available to the public. Moreover, if we do understand how images are made visible, then we are taking the images to be a given.

Algorithms can also get it wrong, take the example of the Facebook year in review feature. which received much press coverage. Displaying one user a photograph of his recently deceased daughter, another user of his fathers ashes, and in one case showing a user a picture of their deceased dog.

This was raised in one of the Q&A’s; that changes in features on social media need to be better documented. This is important in this context, as the image was on a Facebook album, a feature that is not used as widely today. In my own work, for example, I have found that Twitter has implemented several new features, and which is difficult to document and to also connect back to data sets where these new features were not present. Further points raised in the Q&A’s, that I thought were interesting were that of Twitter users ‘hacking’ the platform in order to share Instagram images on Twitter, after Instagram images stopped appearing on Twitter. IFTTT, for example, will allow users to connect Instagram to Twitter.

Overall, I thought the talk highlighted very well that it is important to think about the conditions in which an image may be shown to us, and to also think about what is not shown to us. As a social media user and a Facebook user I see images, videos, links pop up on my news feed. I had not given much thought to the conditions for their visibility, or that an algorithm taking into account over 100,000 factors was deciding what would appear on my news feed.

Pandemics and epidemics on Twitter

Predictions that a global pandemic will wipe out a large percentage of the population is regarded as a genuine threat. And it was recently reported that an outbreak of a drug-resistant infection could kill 80,000 people in the UK.


A man protests for the mandatory quarantine of everyone that has returned from Ebola affected countries in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct.24, 2014. Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

In terms of a threat that has just passed, if we think back to September of last year, at the peak of the Ebola outbreak. Conversations about the virus on Twitter started to increase. Due to the accumulation of news reports and sensationalised headlines, similar to the one above.

The actual threat, however, as opposed to the perceived public threat, remained low. Fear and hysteria may not allow people to think, or act logically during an outbreak. So, it is crucial to have an awareness of how people are communicating about an infectious disease. Using real-time data from Twitter it is possible for researchers to gauge public opinion on infectious disease outbreaks.

Why use Twitter?

Twitter feasibly offers researchers millions of views on an outbreak that are available in real-time.  This allows the examination of how a subset of the population may react to an infectious disease outbreak. There is ongoing research on why people may have negative views towards vaccines, for example, as this could affect the spread of a disease.pg17-twitter-getty

Picture:  Getty Images

Gauging public opinion at the precise time of an outbreak may not be feasible using traditional methods; as designing a survey or questionnaire is an expensive, and time-consuming process. Though, most research suggests that data from Twitter is best used in combination with traditional methods rather than as a substitute. Especially for research that predicts the occurrence of an infectious disease.

Challenges of using Twitter

On the other hand, not all adult Internet users are on Twitter, but adult internet users on Twitter is increasing. According to the Pew Research Centre, 23% of adult internet users also use Twitter (18% in 2013); 19% of the entire adult population. Twitter, however, is most popular with those who are under 50, and college educated.

When these figures are compared to Facebook, Twitter does not stack-up well, as 71% of adult internet users are on Facebook; 58% of the entire population. And 65% of Facebook users are 65 and over. Those who tweet about outbreaks may be overrepresented in relation to the national offline population, but these people may be under-represented in survey data.

It is also difficult to obtain Twitter data as Twitter only provides a sample of data to researchers. And obtaining full Twitter data can be quite costly for small to medium sized research groups. There are also issues that arise surrounding spam on the platform, and developing methods of filtering out useful content can be quite challenging.

Current research on Infectious diseases using Twitter

Current research on infectious disease outbreaks suggests that Twitter offers a method of understanding what a subset of the population communicate about in real-time. The misconceptions that people may hold, and whether these will be harmful in a public health epidemic or pandemic.


A man dressed in protective hazmat closing leaves after treating a nurse in Texas who is diagnosed with the Ebola virus. Photographer: Mike Stone/Getty Images

Specifically on the Ebola outbreak, early research indicates that there may have been medical misinformation present on the platform regarding vaccines, the role of health officials, and the cure and transmission of Ebola.

My own research involves using Twitter data related to the Ebola outbreak to better understand the content on the platform, how people communicate about Ebola, and to examine the types of information that is present on the platform.

In the present day, research teams are developing better methods in analysing social media data. So this type of research will start to become more sophisticated in the future.

Language frequency of Ebola tweets

Ebola is a unique word particularly for an infectious disease; in comparison to Bird Flu or Swine Flu, for example, where developing search queries may be difficult. In the case of Ebola, using the keyword on its own, for me, has been sufficient to gather an enormous amount of tweets.  And for languages supported on Twitter, ‘Ebola’ is used across 15 languages and 7 languages have their own translation. As shown in the table below:

Language Key word
English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Dutch, Turkish, Hungarian, Swedish, Polish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Hindi Use ‘Ebola’
Russian, Japanese, Arabic Korean, Thai, Urdu, Farsi Different keyword

I found that my sample of tweets contain languages which have different translation of Ebola as Twitter users may opt to use ‘Ebola’ rather than their own translation. For example, Russian tweeters may use ‘Ebola’ rather than ‘Эбола’.

In order to examine the percentage of English tweets relative to those in other languages; I gathered over a million tweets using Mozdeh which uses Twitter’s Search API. The tweets were gathered over an 11 day period starting 27th of November and ending on the 7th of December 2014.

I used the language metadata to work out the frequencies of these using SPSS, and I have created a table to show the different languages:

Language Breakdown
Frequency (%)
English 632112  (62.3)
Spanish 220566 (21.8)
Portuguese 59774 (5.9)
French 42242 (4.2)
Italian 20645 (2.0)
Dutch 12698 (1.3)
Turkish 5099 (0.5)
German 4899 (0.5)
Russian* 2267 (0.2)
Hungarian 1854 (0.2)
Swedish 1779 (0.2)
Japanese* 1649 (0.2)
Polish 1362 (0.1)
Arabic* 1303 (0.1)
Danish 586 (0.1)
Norwegian 465 (0.0)
Finnish 405 (0.0)
Korean 366 (0.0)
Hindi 187 (0.0)
Thai* 170 (0.0)
Urdu* 116 (0.0)
Farsi* 36 (0.0)
Total 1010580
Missing** 37995
Total 1048575

*These languages have their own translation of ‘Ebola’, but users have still chosen to use ‘Ebola’.
**Not all tweets have language identifiers 

The keyword Ebola was picked up across 22 out of 29 languages that Twitter supports. It is interesting to note that 62.3% of Ebola tweets are in English, and Spanish tweets are the second most frequent (21.8%), the third most frequent tweets are in Portuguese (5.9%). For my PhD research I am focusing on English language tweets and this type of analysis tells me that there are a sufficient number of English language tweets related to the Ebola epidemic.

A limitation of this, however, is that I was only able to draw up frequencies of languages that are ‘supported’ by Twitter, for which there is metadata. And not for languages which do not have language identifiers, such as Sub-Saharan African languages.

In the next post I will look at the number of tweets on Ebola that have geolocation data and cross-tabulate these with language identifiers. These results form a part of a larger project which has ethics approval.

Twitter data capture tools from a usability perspective

In a blog post comment I was asked what tools are good from a usability and interface perspective. And I thought this would make for a good blog post. The tools covered in this blog were recommended to me by my PhD supervisor. Many of these tools have existing guides, videos or instructional tutorials and rather than provide my own I have provided the links to these.

Users of these tools are reminded that the data obtained via the tools should be used in a fair and responsible manner. And this means adhering to Twitter’s Rules of the Road as well as applicable ethical codes of practice and data protection laws.

TAGS (Twitter Arching Google Spreadsheet)

System: TAGS is a Web based tool so it will work on most operating systems.

Download TAGS: https://tags.hawksey.info/get-tags/

TAGS Support Forums: https://tags.hawksey.info/forums/


System: Mozdeh only works on Windows and it is advisable to use a Desktop computer (there are 32 and 64 bit versions).

Download Mozdeh: http://mozdeh.wlv.ac.uk/installation.html

Mozdeh User Guide: http://mozdeh.wlv.ac.uk/resources/MozdehManual.docx

Mozdeh Theoretical overview: http://mozdeh.wlv.ac.uk/resources/TwitterTimeSeriesAndSentimentAnalysis.pdf

Twitter query set generation with Mozdeh: http://mozdeh.wlv.ac.uk/TwitterQuerySetGeneration.html


System: Chorus only runs on Windows. It is also advisable to use Chorus with a desktop computer.

Request to download Chorus: http://chorusanalytics.co.uk/chorus/request_download.php

Chorus Tweetcatcher Desktop manual:  http://chorusanalytics.co.uk/manuals/Chorus-TCD_usermanual.pdf

YouTube tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmCrmiBOOvw

I made another list a while back ‘A list of tools to capture Twitter data’ at: https://wasimahmed1.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/a-list-of-tools-to-capture-twitter-data/ 

Also be sure to check out via Dr Deen Freelon’s curated list at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UaERzROI986HqcwrBDLaqGG8X_lYwctj6ek6ryqDOiQ/edit

You can catch me on Twitter @was3210 

Using Twitter to gain an insight into public views and opinions for the Ebola epidemic

The World Health Organisation writes that Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, is a very severe and fatal illness with an average fatality rate of 50%. The first outbreak of Ebola occurred in 1976. The first case of Ebola, outside of West Africa, was reported in the U.S on September 19th 2014. The current Ebola outbreak has taken more lives and infected more people than all the other outbreaks combined. And Twitter provides a platform for people to express their views and opinions on Ebola.

Chew and Eysenbach, for example, used Twitter to monitor the mentions of Swine Flu during the 2009 pandemic. They found that Twitter provided health authorities with the potential to become aware of the concerns, which were raised by the public. Similarly, Szomszor, Kostkova, and Louis examined Swine Flu on Twitter and found that Twitter offers the ability to sample large populations for health sentiment (public views and opinions). Signorini, Segre, and Polgreen also found that by using Twitter it was possible to understand user’s interests and concerns during the Swine Flu outbreak.

In 2010, Chew and Eysenbach wrote that Swine Flu was the first global pandemic which had occurred in the age of Web 2.0, and argued that this was a unique opportunity to investigate the role of technology for public health. Fast forward to the current outbreak of Ebola, this is the first time a global outbreak of Ebola has occurred in the age of Web 2.0.
And as the number of Twitter users has increased since 2010, there is the possibility to examine the recent Ebola outbreak on a larger scale.

In relation to the Ebola outbreak on Twitter. A study by Oluwafemi, Elia and Rolf published last year examined misinformation for Ebola on Twitter. This study found that the most common types of misinformation on Ebola were, that ingesting a plant ‘Ewedu’, blood transfusions, or drinking salt water could cure Ebola. Another study by Jin et al, which was published last year, found that there were conspiracy theories, innuendos, and rumours on Twitter related to Ebola. Jin et al looked at the time period between late September to late October (2014). Among some of the rumours reported, was that the Ebola vaccine only worked on white people, that Ebola patients had risen from the dead, and that terrorists would contract Ebola and spread it around the world.

Therefore, Twitter has the potential to provide insight into public views and opinions related to the Ebola outbreak, which would allow health authorities to become aware of the public concerns. Furthermore, by examining the rumours related to Ebola health authorities will be able to dispel false information via new or existing health campaigns.

In the next post I will examine the language dynamics of tweets related to Ebola.


I would like to thank Jennifer Salter, from the health informatics research group, for reading and providing extremely valuable feedback on an earlier version of this blog post.


Chew, C., & Eysenbach, G. (2010). Pandemics in the age of Twitter: Content analysis of tweets during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. PLOS ONE, 5(11).

Fang Jin; Wei Wang; Liang Zhao; Dougherty, E.; Yang Cao; Chang-Tien Lu; Ramakrishnan, N., “Misinformation Propagation in the Age of Twitter,” Computer , vol.47, no.12, pp.90,94, Dec. 2014
doi: 10.1109/MC.2014.361

Signorini A, Segre AM, Polgreen PM. (2011) The Use of Twitter to Track Levels of Disease Activity and Public Concern in the U.S. during the Influenza A H1N1 Pandemic. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19467. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019467

Szomszor, M., Kostkova, P., & St Louis, C. (2011). Twitter informatics: Tracking and understanding public reaction during the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic. In Proceedings – 2011 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conference on Web Intelligence, WI 2011 (Vol. 1, pp. 320–323). doi:10.1109/WI-IAT.2011.311

WHO. (2015). WHO | Ebola virus disease. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/ [Last accessed 20/01/2015].

Oyeyemi Sunday Oluwafemi, Gabarron Elia, Wynn Rolf. Ebola, Twitter, and misinformation: a dangerous combination? BMJ 2014; 349 :g6178