Twitter punishes cities where injustice is perceived
Twitter conversations related to Baltimore continue to be largely negative three weeks after the widely reported death of a 25-year-old African American man injured while in police custody.
The response suggests once again that even on a platform often dominated by lightweight banter about sports and entertainment, high profile events that kindle emotions over issues of criminal and social justice can profoundly influence the social media vibe of a city.
The PittsburghTODAY Positivity Index shows that Twitter conversations related to Baltimore turned overwhelmingly negative following the April 19 death of Freddie Gray and have kept Baltimore at the bottom of the positivity rankings of the 15 cities the index tracks.
PittsburghTODAY and the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research developed the index to track what is tweeted about Pittsburgh and 14 benchmark cities – including Baltimore – and calculate a score for each that reflects how positive the tweets are. It gathers data with the ForSight™ social media analytics platform using an opinion analysis algorithm to analyze conversation and quantify it as positive, neutral or negative in context.
Gray died from a spinal cord injury he reportedly sustained while in police custody after he was arrested April 12 on charges of possessing an illegal switchblade knife. Several days of civil unrest followed. Gray’s death was ruled a homicide and on May 1, six Baltimore police officers were indicted on criminal charges in connection with his death.
St. Louis experienced similar social media repercussions following the Aug. 9, 2014 death of Michael Brown, an 18-year African American man who was unarmed when shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. As with Gray’s death, the killing of Brown was followed by civil unrest and attracted national news coverage. Topics such as “Baltimore police,” “Freddie Gray” and “protests in Baltimore” have dominated Twitter conversations mentioning Baltimore since Gray’s death. But just one week earlier, the context of social media conversations related to the city was generally positive with “love Baltimore,” “Orioles” and other baseball references being the most popular topics.
Twitter conversations related to St. Louis immediately turned negative, dropping the city to the bottom of the positivity rankings, where it stayed for weeks. It was a long fall. One week before the shooting, St. Louis had topped the positivity rankings, buoyed by social media chatter about its professional baseball team and an upcoming concert featuring the popular boy band, One Direction.