For my analysis of mass incarceration on Twitter, I used the TAGS 6.1 archive created by Martin Hawksey. This archive allows you to pull a specified number of tweets containing a certain keyword. The archive is represented in a spreadsheet laid out chronologically, displaying the tweet itself, user, time tweeted, and some metatdata like location, follower count of the tweeter and the user’s language. For my archive, I archived 3000 tweets starting April 2 and ending April 12 containing the keyword #massincarceration.
Some trends jumped out at me as I looked through the TAGS archive. I was really impressed with the amount and variety of information that archive could pull, I had no idea that my location could even be part of the metadata of a tweet. Speaking of locational metadata, I’ll start with trends in location. It seems that many of the tweets, not all of course, come from urban locations. These locations include New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Houston, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.
One reason to describe this could be sheer population density. Many peoplelive in cities, it would make sense for many tweets to come from cities. Another reason could be the relatively liberal political lean of most urban areas (discussed in this article from NYMag). Progressive communities like those in cities will push for reform on social justice-related issues. Mass incarceration could be an example of one of the issues that largely politically left cities are discussing. Another possible explanation could be by looking at the locations of the communities affected by mass incarceration. In this case, we can look at the concentration of population of black people in cities. Census.gov published an article in which it describes the concentration of black people in certain areas. According to the article, “6 in 10 people reporting as Black or African American, alone or in combination with other races, resided in 10 states where nearly half the U.S. population lived last year.” This tells me that 6 in 10, or a very large amount of the black population, lives in concentrated areas. This may seem like a frivolous detail, but I will again reference the work of Michelle Alexander. According to Alexander, mass incarceration is a very racial issue. Knowing that a large amount of the black population is in cities and that mass incarceration is an issue that most affects black communities, it would make sense that the conversation of mass incarceration stems from urban areas.
Another interesting trend I started to notice was in the data on follower counts. I expect for an average TAGS archive to pull tweets from mostly “average” twitter users. I’ve seen some different quotes on how many followers an “average” Twitter user, the quotes average very roughly to 200-400 followers. I was surprised how many tweets were from users with much higher follower counts than that. From a sample of the first 50 tweets listed chronologically, 27 of the 50 tweets had more than 400 followers, which is a fairly high estimate for “average” follower counts. So, most tweets including #massincarceration are from what can be considered a large account. Looking through the tweets themselves, I found that there were a lot of organizations that tweeted using #massincarceration to promote events, share articles, or share other media.
There didn’t seem to be as much discussion of the issue from “average” users. There were some examples of mentioning and replying, but the majority of tweets seemed to be organizations or issue-related accounts promoting media about mass incarceration. This could sound insignificant, but I think it’s an important piece to mention from the statistics. It tells me that some larger accounts and people are trying to start discussion but those discussions might not be happening on Twitter. That being said, I don’t think Twitter tells the whole story on the issue of mass incarceration. I think mass incarceration is part of the larger picture of social justice, but doesn’t have strong representation on social media.
Honestly, I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t a shorter period of tweets pulled to reach the specified 3000. I would think that more than 300 people per day tweet about mass incarceration. It seems to be an issue I hear about in discussion and on the news. I know it’s not the most in-spotlight social issue but I think it’s on many people’s radar. I’m not the best at picking through spreadsheets and analyzing numbers, but the conclusions I drew could help me in my studies on mass incarceration. Hopefully I’ll be able to either reject or strengthen these claims as I look at mass incarceration on social media in further depth.