Everyday Socio-Political Talk in Twitter Timelines: A Longitudinal Approach to Social Media Analytics

Phillip Brooker, John Vines, Julia Barnett, Tom Feltwell, Shaun Lawson

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding


Increasingly, social media spaces are understood by researchers to be a valuable site of everyday politically-relevant discussions. However, qualitative usages of social media data are typically undertaken with existing tools and methods developed for more ‘traditional’ tools and methods (i.e. thematic analysis and content analysis and so on). This, we argue, misses an opportunity to develop new methods which may be more tightly attuned to the idiosyncrasies of such data. Accordingly this paper aims to provide a means of drawing on and working with such idiosyncrasies, demonstrating the value of doing with reference to an empirical case.

Building on previous work looking at how everyday discussions around social welfare issues arise on Twitter around the broadcast of a TV show (Benefits Street) (Brooker et al, 2015), we seek to explore the possibilities arising from capturing an atypical slice of Twitter data (i.e. whole timelines) and treating those data with an atypical analytic approach (i.e. investigating timeline narratives longitudinally). Hence, this paper will dually comment on both the empirical case at hand, and the methods requirements worked out through the course of undertaking this work.

We captured timeline data of 2581 Twitter users tweeting using the ‘official’ #BenefitsStreet hashtag during the broadcasts of both series of the programme (January 2014 and May 2015), amounting to 6,260,444 tweets in total. We undertake an exploratory analysis of an arbitrarily selected subset of user timelines within the master dataset, concentrating on the pervasion of welfare discussion throughout these users’ timelines between the two series’ of Benefits Street, as well as drawing out other themes and topics that motivate these tweeters to tweet.

The study elaborates on how socio-political talk on Twitter fits in with tweeters’ everyday talk around a range of different interests and topics. This study also demonstrates the potential for longitudinal analysis of timeline narratives as an innovative qualitative approach to social media data, which can tap into the depth of meaning that such data may hold for those who produce it.

The present study stands as a first exploratory step in the analysis of the full dataset of 6,260,444 tweets, also providing more generalizable methodological grounding on which to base the idea of longitudinal research with social media timeline data. However, the complexity of applying this approach to data of this kind also requires further thought and discussion around the development of scalable computational tools for assisting qualitative researchers in the handling of such large-scale data. The present paper points the way towards solutions for both of these problems.

Brooker, P., Vines, J., Sutton, S., Barnett, J., Feltwell, T. and Lawson, S. (2015). Debating poverty porn on Twitter: Social media as a place for everyday socio-political talk. CHI ’15 Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 3177-3186. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702291
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2016 International Conference on Social Media & Society
Subtitle of host publication#SMSociety
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2016
Event2016 International Conference on Social Media & Society: #SMSociety - Goldsmiths University of London, London, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Jul 201613 Jul 2016


Conference2016 International Conference on Social Media & Society
Abbreviated titleSM+S
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom
Internet address


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