April 06, 2012

Mapping #Kony2012 on Twitter

A LOT has been said about the recent Kony 2012 video. There have been critiques, critiques of critiques, critiques of critiques of critiques.

Interestingly, there were many claims that video was one of the most successful viral campaigns in the history of the Web. In other words, the campaign was able to rapidly spread, in part, because of millions of people sharing it through social media.

And yet, we still haven't seen is any sort of time/space mapping of how the campaign spread. So, we decided to do just that.

The map below was made by collecting all georeferenced tweets containing the terms "#kony", "#kony2012", and "#stopkony" between February 28 and March 13.

It is important to point out that we're only dealing with geotagged tweets here (which account for less than 1% of all content pushed through Twitter). We also are missing data from some of March 11 due to our script breaking down (so interpret the data from that day with particular caution).

Nonetheless, the map still does give us a rough sense of where and when the debate (on Twitter) was taking place.

We start by seeing a small amount of discussion in the U.S., that quickly spreads to Western Europe (especially the UK) on March 6. By the 7th, the conversation in North America and Western Europe has become much more dense and widespread. We also see people in Asia, South America and Africa joining the discussion. Then, from the 10th onwards, the intensity of mentions of Joseph Kony on Twitter starts to die down throughout much of the world.

The results that we see here are perhaps not that surprising, but they do allow us to trace some of the temporal and geographic contours of a much debated social and political moment in the Internet's history. #Kony's moment of visibility was both brief and largely transatlantic. This Western-centric pattern of information flow is not necessarily surprising and can be found on many other online platforms. However, given the video's relevance to East Africa, and the global diffusion of Twitter (e.g. Indonesians form the world's 6th largest population of Twitter users), we might have expected #Kony to have a slightly less clustered geography.

I'll soon try to make some graphics that map Kony-related tweets as a proportion of the total number emanating from each country. Doing so might give us a better sense of how prominent the narrative was in the consciousness of Internet users in each country.

In the meantime, if you're interested in exploring the data in more detail, the full time series is included below:

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