What were people really saying about summer 2016 in Baton Rouge?

On Monday, Lance Porter, director of the LSU Social Media Analysis & Creation Lab, spoke about the reaction on social media to the events in Baton Rouge during summer 2016. Porter examined national vs. local social media volume and opinion, the top influences and hashtags, and the dominant emotions as the events occurred.

Porter believes his lecture and the research from the SMAC Lab will help residents heal as a city and have a better understanding as a society. He said SMAC functions by “looking at the creation part” and the database “helps us engage civically.”

The SMAC Lab is supported by Harvard’s top of the line Crimson Hexagon software, which allows researchers to look at and analyze the contents of social media, mostly Twitter. The software filters the results by emotion and connotation.

Porter discussed how everything on social media was deeply intertwined during these events. The conversations were happening around the same subject. When he searched “Baton Rouge” in the Crimson Hexagon database, it allowed him to manipulate the dates around the events.

When researching reactions to the recent shootings in Baton Rouge, he database showed that posts reflected more fear than anger, contrary to popular belief. There was a wider range of emotions around the shootings.

Porter said, “Twitter is a player in political conversation.” It sets the tone for a lot of conversations. The shootings were a national conversation. The media sets the agenda in social media.

Porter discussed hashtags, saying that they are similar to a library call system. One of the top hashtags around the events was #BatonRouge, and the #3 most retweeted tweet was published by John Fuglesang and read, “I’m on the side of everyone who’s against both police brutality & brutality against police. It’s not a complication position. #BatonRouge.” Without the hashtag, readers may not have known what Fuglesang was talking about.

Other popular hashtags included: #BlackLivesMatter, used 8-9 million times; #BlueLivesMatter; and #AllLivesMatter. The difference with the last two hashtags, however, was that people using these were not talking to each other; they were having separate conversations. There was also a lot more volume around #BlackLivesMatter than any other hashtag.

#AltonSterling had around 3 million mentions. Most centered around sadness or neutrality. The popularity of this hashtag only lasted a couple of days.

Unlike the conversations about the shootings, the Baton Rouge flooding conversations were almost all in only Louisiana. The top hashtags used were #LouisianaFlood and #LAFlood. The top mentions during this time were @realDonaldTrump, because he visited Baton Rouge, and @POTUS, because he did not visit.

Porter then focused on moving beyond sentiment, talking about the most popular topics pertaining to the flood. These included: damage, public information, rescue and recovery, and people asking for help. A main issue from this event was the lack of national coverage.

Many outbursts came from the shootings. Of these, the most important were challenging injustice and anti-government and anti-media.

One guest at the lecture asked, “Who cares about the social media effects and why?” Porter answered with the fact that social media is the way most young people get their information. He said, “How we as citizens participate in democracy is through the use of media.” He pushed that social media gives people ways to communicate with one another that wasn’t possible before, such as talking to someone from a different state or even a different country about the same issue.

Porter claims that the purpose of the SMAC Lab is not only to analyze social media, but also to figure out how to get more people to participate in social media.

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