Social network analysis of the 4.6 million #COP21 tweets

The 21th “Conference of the Parties” of Paris was THE international event of 2015. Because of the failure of the Copenhagen negotiations in 2009, there was of course a lot of pressure for all the representatives of the 195 countries gathered at Paris to reach a climate agreement, at least a symbolic one. This COP 21 was also the perfect event for all environmental lobbyists, from NGOs to oil companies, to get their voice heard.  Even the tiny islands from the Pacific, actually the first victims of climate change, were able to speak about climate migration.

In a previous study of twitter conversations during the COP 20 at Lima, I found that about 410 000 tweets were sent during the conference using the twitter analysis software Visibrain. A year before, only about 20 000 tweets were sent during the COP 19 at Varsaw. But for the COP 21, twitter became an impressive tool of communication used by people all around the world, reaching the impressive number of 4 600 000 tweets during the two weeks of negotiations !

01_COP21_all

The aim of this study is to introduce a future article which shall be presented at the social media society conference of London in July 2016, about the influence strategy of the most important communities of twitter users that sent tweets during this event.

In order to do a social network analysis, I used the free software Gephi to create a data visualization of twitter users accounts using Visibrain data. The bigger the node is, the more mentions a twitter users got from other users. The different colors represent the various communities. A community in social network analysis is a group of nodes that often mention each other. But it is also possible to represent relations between keywords or hashtags. Here is the Gephi data graph of the most mentioned hashtags during COP 21:

02_COP21_hashtags

Because Gephi needs a lot of computer power, I decided to divide this analysis in two parts: from the 29th of November to the 6th of December, and from the 6th of December to the 15th of December.

First week: NGOs and global leadership

03_COP21_first_week

We can see that the most important number of tweets was exchanged during the first days of COP 21. Indeed, it is at the beginning of such meetings that the political decisions about climate can be influenced by the different representatives.  The NGOs used the “sea of shoes” of the climate march at the Place de la République (public gathering were forbidden due to the state of emergency in France) in order to successfully get more visibility, for example.

Apart from a strong participation of NGOs, we can also see looking at the metrics from Visibrain that the most mentioned political leaders were not French ones (the COP 21 organizers) but rather leaders from other countries, such as Barack Obama and Narendra Modi (Prime Minister of India).

04_COP21_first_week_most_mentionned

Using Gephi to do a social network analysis, we can see that indeed the NGOs have a very important community, with about 24 % of all twitter accounts. The French leaders and the United Nations organizers have the next two most important communities, while Barack Obama and Narendra Modi have a small community, isolated from the main discussions. This means that only their followers were interested in their tweets, they didn’t reach the other communities, at least not through enough people to influence twitter accounts from other countries. They got a lot of mentions due to their local followers, but not from other communities involved in the COP 21.

Betweeness Centrality measures the connectivity of a node (a twitter account) to all the other twitter accounts of the network. In our case, an important betweeness centrality value implies that a twitter account is mentioned and mentions other accounts from various communities, enabling it to reach a very heterogeneous audience.

05_COP21_first_week_most_central

We can see that only the @COP21direct and the @COP21 twitter accounts were really connected to the other communities (and in this case to each other community).

This seems to indicate that during the first week, there weren’t a lot of discussions between the different communities. They were all communicating on their own agenda and thematic, without really influencing the other communities.

If we refer to the twitter network map made by the Pew Research Center, these communities were organized primarily as community clusters, independent from each other.

First community: the NGOs lobby

This very big community includes mostly NGOs and people involved in climate movements. It is interesting to note that apart from @COP21direct, none of these twitter accounts seems to be in the center of the discussion.

06_COP21_first_week_first_community

@richardbranson CEO of Virgin is also a part of this community, due to the numerous tweets he sent to support the climate negociations, as he was in Paris for the COP 21.

As for @David_Cameron, most tweets mentionning him seemed a little suspicious, sent all at the same time from twitter accounts with very strange activity …

07_COP21_cameron_RT

Second community: the french organizers of the Conference of the Parties

In this community, the leaders are clearly the political officials François Hollande, Ségolène Royal and Laurent Fabius. They all used their own institutionnal twitter accouts to communicate.

It is interesting to note that the French green political party “EELV” isn’t a part of this community. Event without participating in the french government, it was a huge opportunity to get more visibility for them.

08_COP21_first_week_second_community

Third community: United Nations officials

This community is organized around the United Nations officials of the Conference of the Paris, @UNFCC and @cfigueres. Nonetheless, various American people involved in climate change appear. For example, Leonardo Di Caprio who became in 2014 climate ambassador at the United Nation and Michael Bloomberg who is since 2013 representing the United Nations on climate and cities.

09_COP21_first_week_third_community

During the first week, after the first days when various NGOs decided to get their voice heard, no clear leader had emerged from the various communities. It remains now to see how the outcome of the COP 21 negotiations shaped the twitter discussions.

Second week: More leadership for the new global leaders

10_COP21_second_week

First of all, Visibrain allows us to see that between the second and the first week, we lost 500 000 tweets and about 150 000 people (who didn’t sent any tweet). There were more retweets, as a lot of tweets celebrate the Paris Agreement.

The social network analysis shows us a lot of similarity between the COP 20 communities and the COP 21 ones for this second week of negotiations. The most important community, in purple, is the United Nations Network. The second one is the French organizers community (French Officials).The third most important community is composed of NGOs.

11_COP21_second_week_most_mentionned

Lets’s get a better look at all these twitter accounts various communities :

First community: the United Nations network

The most important community of the COP 21 network corresponds to the twitter accounts mentioning and mentioned by the official accounts of the United Nations active in the Conference of the Parties: @UNFCC, @UN, @Unep …

This network seems to be focused on @NiliMajumder, a former VSO volunteer from India.

12_COP21_second_week_first_community

Second community: the french organizers of the Conference of the Parties

More than 29 % of all tweets were sent in french (about 50 % in english, and 10 % in spanish) so of course the host of the event has to have an important community on twitter.

We can see that each political leader as his own cluster and is not directly connected to the others : @Fhollande, @LaurentFabius, @SegoleneRoyal. The only strongly connected cluster in the most mentionned account is an environnementalist one, linking green politics and NGOs.

13_COP21_second_week_second_community

Third community : Environmental activits and NGOs

There seems to be a connection between all activists fighting for a strong agreement for climate change. For example, the third most retweeted account is @NaomiKlein who expressed her concerned about the fact that “fossils fuels” aren’t mentioned in the agreement.

There is also a small cluster distant from the others which includes the official twitter account of the South Africa President, the account of an indian diplomat, and the account of an australian minister.

14_COP21_second_week_third_community

Fourth community: New Diplomatic leaders

In this community the french and english officials twitter accounts of COP 21 are part of a community linked to the indian prime minister and the brazilian president.

15_COP21_second_week_fourth_community

Fifth community: wild life activists

The @WWF clearly leads this network as it was the case during COP 20.

16_COP21_second_week_fifth_community

Other kinds of influence: centrality in the network and connection to influent people

Gephi allows us to make other calculation of influence than the number of mentions for and from each twitter accounts on the map. Two are particularly interesting.

Betweeness Centrality measures the connectivity of a node (a twitter account) to all the other twitter accounts of the network. In our case, an important betweeness centrality value signifies that a twitter account is mentioned and mentions other accounts from various communities, enabling it to reach a very heterogeneous audience.

17_COP21_second_week_most_central

We can see that the French community is not much connected to the other communities, as the UNFCC one. It is the COP21 official account and the NGOs who seem to be in the middle of all the twitter conversation. Otherwise, there are more potential leaders apart the from the COP21 twitter accounts than during the first week.

Centrality Eigenvector measures the connectivity to other well-connected node. In our case, it means that a high value corresponds to a twitter account exchanging with the most influent accounts. It can be useful to detect specific people who seem to have little influence but are in fact able to propagate their message to influent people on twitter.

18_COP21_second_week_most_connected-to_influential

This shows us that despite the fact that Laurent Fabius was officially in charge of the COP 21, François Hollande and Ségolène Royal are as well connected to influential accounts than him. So the three French political people did not speak in “one single voice”. The American accounts finally are visible, thanks to John Kerry, whose talent in French seems to have gotten him a lot of connections on twitter.

Finally, there doesn’t seem to be any leaders in the NGOs  community.

As a short conclusion before a more detailed study on this subject, we can say that :

  • The struggle for the negotiations leadership between French officials can be seen directly on twitter, and it affects the influence of the French community (Peruvian officials didn’t have this problem) ;
  • The NGOs influence on twitter is directly connected to their actions and protests, but also to their capability to get in the center of the discussion ;
  • Activists and leaders outside the richest countries in the world can have influence and connect various communities in the COP 21 conversation ;
  • As it is the case in various twitter discussions, mentions aren’t everything, especially when it is possible to buy them …
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