Twitter in the city

A couple weeks ago I wrote a story about some work related to the Boston Marathon bomb­ings that net­work sci­en­tists in David Lazer’s lab are working on. They’re asking Android phone users to donate a little time as well as the data from the calls and texts they made in the hours fol­lowing the attacks. Researchers do have access to the anonymized call logs from cel­lular phone use, but without a little con­text about who those calls were made between and why, those data don’t say much. So they’re asking people to tell them in a brief survey in an app avail­able at the Google Play store.

The goal is to get a better sense of how people use their social net­works during emergencies. Another way the team is looking at this ques­tion is through Twitter. Yu-​​Ru Lin, an assis­tant research pro­fessor on the team, cre­ated a great inter­ac­tive Google map that shows all of the Tweets using fear-​​related words that came out of Boston on April 15, 2013. While people were appar­ently a little on edge all day — 26.2 miles will do that to you — there’s a very obvious spike at 2:49pm, when the first bomb went off. In the visu­al­iza­tion below, you see the whole city light up with red dots, rep­re­senting those fearful Tweets:

Here’s a static rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the tweets, showing that clear spike right when the bombs go off:

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 10.32.49 AM

If you’re inter­ested in par­tic­i­pating in Lazer’s Android project, you can learn more about the project on his web­site, Vol­un­teer­Science, which is a new plat­form his team devel­oped to inves­ti­gate these kinds of ques­tions more readily. Also, it’s worth noting that the team will donate $3 to One Fund Boston for every person that participates.