Climate Change Under the Text Analytics Microscope

February 28, 2014
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Ah Twitter, how I love you so.

A few weeks ago, I was on Twitter, and noticed a burst of users talking about the crazy snowstorms happening in North America. In Canada, we had record low temperatures that were colder than temperatures on Mars (seriously, it’s a thing – check that link out).

Ah Twitter, how I love you so.

A few weeks ago, I was on Twitter, and noticed a burst of users talking about the crazy snowstorms happening in North America. In Canada, we had record low temperatures that were colder than temperatures on Mars (seriously, it’s a thing – check that link out).

Being the curious monkey I am, I decided to run Lexalytics Salience (a text mining engine) on about 50,000 tweets around #climate. Text analytics and Twitter is always fun!

First, I looked at the facets that recurred the most. They were, unsurprisingly, climate, warming, aid agencies, climatechange, and Japan. Kind of what I expected.

I then looked at the attribute count associated with those phrases, and this is where things started to get interesting. Here are the top 5, with the number of times they appeared:

-global warming: 4776

-warm climate: 245

-bold climate change: 307

-man-made global: 261

-un: 176

Ok, the first four make sense, but what the heck is “un”? I went through the tweets, ran a quick search, and realized it was a reference to the UN! Silly twitterizers, forgetting to put caps on proper nouns. Mystery solved, let’s move on.

I looked at hashtags next:

#climate: 108

#climatechange: 75

#leo: 57

#fail: 57

#socialgood: 57

Besides having the odd coincidence of the last 3 hashtags occuring the exact same amount of times, I was once again confronted with two indecipherable hashtags.

I looked at #fail first, to see what came up, and found a bunch of tweets insulting people who thought the cold burst this winter disproved climate change. My favorite example came from an American user who tweeted “saying a cold snap disproves climate change is like saying the ability to jump disproves gravity.”

A man after my own heart, I must admit.

Alright, but what about #leo? The only thing I could think of was that someone was mixing in astronomy with science. I didn’t like that idea, so I looked up the tweets.

You know what I found?

This:

Leonardo and Kate

No, not the Titanic, but everyone’s favorite Titanic star Leonardio DiCaprio, who is an avid environmentalist, and now a very well known hashtag. Man, I’m so out of the loop.

There was one last thing that still bothered me, before I closed this investigation. Why were so many people using the word “bold” to describe climate change?

A little bit of digging, and I found that a campaign to raise money for the Philipines was making the rounds. The phrase used to describe the changes they were after? You guessed it: “bold climate change”.

Phew. Well, that was enough digging for one day. Hope you enjoyed this little investigative journey with me down the Twitter firehose.

Just remember one thing folks: not all hashtags are as they seem.