11 january 2013

Chasing data shadows: Twitter map of football fans

Society

A map of geocoded tweets showing where Manchester United and Manchester City football players live.
A geocoded Twitter map used tweets associated with Premier League football teams, and aggregated to postal codes.

Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute are analysing geotagged tweets to see what they tell us about the material, offline world. As a fun side project, they have created a Twitter map to find out where football fans of different clubs actually live.

The data used include all geocoded tweets mentioning any of the Premier League football teams and their associated hashtags (e.g., #MUFC) that were sent between 18 August and 19 December 2012. The tweets were then aggregated to postal codes in order to see a fairly fine-grained geography of results.

The Twitter map explodes the myth that Manchester United fans do not live in Manchester, showing there is the historical east/west split between fans in Manchester who support Manchester United and those who support Manchester City. It also demonstrates that United do not have huge waves of support in London and the south east – a conclusion that overturns commonly held perceptions.

Researcher Dr Mark Graham said: 'We want to know what data shadows tell us about places. Although the geotagged tweets don't fully or accurately reflect underlying patterns or processes in any particular place, this is often the best data we can get on a broad scale. It would be too costly to survey every postcode to ask householders what football teams they support, but through creating a Twitter map, we are able to plot the geography of those fans and at least see what they are talking about.

'This method could be used for much wider purposes: possibly, in times of crisis we could see what was being said on the social media site about hurricanes or riots to see what was actually happening "offline" in certain areas of the country. This is exploratory work into the digital shadows we create, and the full potential of its applications has yet to be realised.'