A new tool to monitor Twitter reaction to the Russian floods

Thursday 12 July 2012, 13:28

Stephen Ennis Stephen Ennis is Russian media analyst for BBC Monitoring.

BBC Monitoring is carrying out a three-month trial of ForSight, a tool to monitor social media. This survey of Twitter reaction to the recent Russian floods uses ForSight sentiment analysis:

Russians have responded to the devastating floods in the south of their country by heavily criticising the authorities, including President Putin, on Twitter, but also by using the microblogging service to coordinate relief for the victims.

The floods in Krasnodar Territory on the night of 6 and 7 July claimed the lives of more than 170 people. On 7 and 8 July, the two leading Russian-language Twitter hashtags were Krymsk and Gelendzhik, the names of the two worst-affected towns. More than 150 died in Krymsk alone.

More than 80,000 tweets mentioned variants of the word ‘Krymsk’ over these two days. Further ForSight-based analysis of flood-related tweets suggested that on one day 36% of tweets containing the words ‘Krymsk’ or ‘Gelendzhik’ were critical of the authorities, 33% contained factual information that could be broadly described as neutral, 18% were concerned with helping to bring relief to victims, and 6% were either supportive of the authorities and/or critical of the opposition.

Thus, of those taking some kind of a political position on the floods, 86% were critical of the authorities and only 14% took a pro-government line.

The next day, tweets yielded a slightly different picture. The balance of politically engaged tweets remained more or less the same – 87% anti-government to 13% pro-government. But, as a proportion of all tweets, this kind had gone down from 45% to 34%, with tweets related to the humanitarian effort increasing - from 19% to 27%.

Floods 8 July Word Cloud Floods Word Cloud Concern with humanitarian issues was reflected in a word cloud derived from a random sample of 1,000 tweets. It contained terms such as ‘volunteers’, ‘tinned food’, ‘nappies’, ‘collections’ and ‘Yandex’. The last term relates to online money collections set up using Yandex.Dengi - a Russian equivalent of PayPal.

On 7 July, criticism of the authorities centred on accusations that the water had been deliberately unleashed on Krymsk from a nearby reservoir and criticism of state television's response to the crisis - both its failure to report these accusations and the way it continued to show light-hearted entertainment shows as the death toll mounted.

Pro-government Twitter users accused the opposition of spreading false rumours about the discharge of water from the reservoir and trying to make political capital from the tragedy.

A good deal of the Twitter anger and abuse was directed at local officials and Krasnodar Territory governor Aleksandr Tkachev. But a fair amount also came Putin's way.

A separate ForSight analysis of tweets containing the words ‘Putin’ and ‘Krymsk’ found that around 70% were anti-Putin and only 30% neutral or in some way supportive of the president.

Many likened Putin's initial delay in responding to the floods to his reaction to the 2004 Beslan hostage siege or the loss the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000. Others declared that the tragedy lay on the president's "conscience".

Among the much smaller number of pro-Putin tweets was one that praised the president for having flown to Krymsk and asked "liberals" why they were "sitting around on Twitter".

Research published in January found there were around 5 million Twitter users in Russia. This is less than 4% of the population – so Twitter is very much a minority medium, and is also heavily dominated by urban elites.

But usage is growing rapidly: January’s 5 million users grew from around a million in just six months.

The BBC College of Journalism has its own Russian language website.

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