The Winter Olympics in Sochi has captured the attention of the world long before it officially commenced. Mainstream media has been covering the event with a mixture of negative and positive reporting. With the increasingly prominent role of social media in disseminating and sharing news, it is not surprising that people are using it as a tool to engage and participate in the conversation about the Olympics. Twitter is one such social platform known for its immediacy and interactivity. Therefore, for the purpose of analyzing social conversations around the topic, we have been collecting a sample of twitter data starting January 22 and ongoing till the event’s closing ceremonies. The twitter sample was collected using Netlytic, a cloud-based social media analyzer developed by the Social Media Lab. The collected data included mentions of Sochi2014, both as a hashtag and as the official twitter account (@Sochi2014). For this post, the timeframe of the examined data and its discussed results is from January 22 till February 14.
Number of Postings
Given the global appeal of the Olympics and all the controversies associated with it, the size of the data sample was large with more than 400,000 messages/tweets collected. The following chart illustrates the number of Twitter postings made during the specified timeframe. The trend-line demonstrates that the tweets’ volume were at a lower range in the week of January 22nd, but began to increase in volume as the opening ceremony of Sochi 2014 approached. On February 6th, when the Olympics games officially began, the collected tweets sample reached its maximum at 24,000 tweets per day. Netlytic is programmed to collect 1000 tweets per hour (24 hours per day X 1000 per hour = 24,000). The tweets’ volume decreased slightly to 23,000 tweets per day on February 7th, 11th and 12th. The difference in Twitter data volume prior to the event and during the event could be attributed to the increased level of interaction and social buzz during the games itself as more winners announcements and event updates would take place then.
The Top Posters
In total, our sample contained tweets from 260,487 unique posters (twitter profiles) during the given timeframe. Various types of accounts ranging from official Olympic accounts, athletes, news outlets, activists, supporters to spam accounts were posting about Sochi 2014. The top ten posters with the percentage breakdown are demonstrated in the following pie chart. The twitter account @wearejo2014 contributed about 26% of the tweets’ volume among the top 10 posters. Interestingly, the official Sochi2014 account is not among the top ten posters during the specified timeframe.
A brief description of each twitter profile is provided to understand the context and the type of content that they contributed to the social buzz around the Olympics.
2) @Akari_be_fair: This account is dedicated to promoting Fairness Judging For All with particular focus on figure skating. Tweets are written in various languages from English, Spanish, Japanese to Russian.
3) @PrinceROBERT15: Another suspended account.
4) @AdigaSilk: This is the Twitter account of a political activist for Circassian rights named Dana Wojokh, who is protesting the Sochi2014 due to the genocide committed against the Circassians.
5) @therealdwt: This is a personal account of an animal activist named Daniel Tham.
6) @stephenbsander: This is a personal account for a human rights activist named Stephen Sander.
7) @Steelersrock727: No description was provided for this account. However, from observation, its focus is on political activism.
8) @tulip135: This account is focused on “Fair judging for all figure skaters.” The tweets are primarily in Chinese.
9) @BeauShine99: This is a personal account of LGBT rights activist named Beau Shine. Lots of RT’s observed.
10) @InstaSochi14: Another suspended account.
In short, it appears that the active Twitter users who posted about the Sochi Olympics can be divided into three general groups: spammers, activists and sport-related accounts.
Top Profile Mentions
In terms of the Twitter accounts that got the most mentions, the following bar graph showcases the top ten posters that got the most mentions. The official @Sochi2014 occupies the top spot followed by the official account of the Australian Olympic Team, the Canadian Olympics Team, the US Olympic Team and the official Olympics as the top five profiles that got mentioned the most. This indicates that those official profiles are being tweeted at from various sources either as retweets or direct mentions. This finding could support the notion that the social content being shared includes announcements of medal winners in which the competing Olympics teams get mentioned. Since @Sochi2014 is the official account, it is not surprising that it will get mentioned by various posters in reference to the event’s happenings.
Textual analysis provides insights about the most popular topics discussed around Sochi 2014. The visualization map below demonstrates those trending keywords in terms of their popularity (represented as the filled areas) and the duration of sustained social interest. For the purpose of making the visualization map as useful and insightful as possible, certain words such as Sochi2014, Olympics 2014, winter, games, away, before, event, day, awesome were removed from the Netlytic’s Text Analysis. The rationale is that these words particularly Sochi and Olympics are expected to be part of the social conversation as keywords, while the others are mere adjectives that do not provide any meaningful insights.
Examining the timeline from January 23rd till around January 31st, there is a peak in tweets mentioning topics related to “support”, “LGBT”, “dolphins”, “orcas” and “hotels”. The topics discussed were creating social buzz around the numerous controversies surrounding Sochi before the event’s official commencement. Those controversies include Russia’s anti-gay law, rumours around an opening performance featuring captive orcas and dolphins as well as the incomplete hotel rooms and lack of city preparation ahead of the athletes’ arrivals. This in turn generated an interesting hashtag and an account titled @SochiProblems, which has amassed more than 300,000 followers in less than a week since it was conceptualized and created by a Canadian student. As observed in the visual map, Sochi Problems experienced peaks in terms of the social buzz around it particularly in the first week of February.
As the Games officially commenced with the opening ceremonies, the social conversation shifted towards messages and photos around the opening ceremony event. The first week of Sochi2014 saw an increase in topics around specific country teams, medal winners, popular Olympians such as American Snowboarder Shaun White and sports such as hockey, figure skating, halfpipe and curling. It is interesting to observe the shift in twitter conversations around the Winter Olympics once the event started in comparison to the preceding weeks.
Given the mainstream media extensive coverage of the controversies, it is not surprising that social media was buzzing with those same topics. Yet, a closer examination of those news articles reveals that most report on social media’s reaction to Sochi and feature screenshots of twitter conversations. One example is the Washington Post’s article on journalists live tweeting their gross hotel experiences. This begets the question of which causes what; are newspapers covering the events thus generating social media interest? Or is it that social media is first reacting to those events thus generating newspapers interest and coverage? This is rather a complex question with no single answer to it. Yet, it reveals the increasingly blurred lines of journalism between traditional and new media platforms. In today’s increasingly social and mobile media, the citizen is the journalist reporting the offline world’s happening to the online. Thus, the citizen is empowered to create, share and disseminate information to his/her respective networks.