Evolution of hashtags #mvcoup & #mvprotest on Twitter

Definition: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize message.

A hashtag can be a reference to an idea, event, person, or it can even be a cultural reference that Twitter users can place in their tweets whereby providing a context for that particular tweet. The idea of using hashtags on Twitter was proposed by Chris Messina (@chrismessina) in 2007 when he posted a tweet using the hashtag #barcamp. When thousands of tweets are posted each second, trying to keep track of interesting topics becomes very difficult. One way to avoid this Twitter overload is by making use of hashtags. The use of hashtags allows Twitter users to filter for a particular topic of interest. For example by clicking on the hashtag #mvcoup filters for tweets containing the hashtag as shows in Figure 1.

Figure 1: hashtag #mvcoup

Hashtags can be created by simply adding a hash symbol (#) before a word or a string of letters in a tweet. The fate of a hashtag depends on how much that hashtag gets propagated and makes its way into the mainstream. It can live on for a few hours or days or simply die with the original tweet. According to Cunha et al. (Analyzing the Dynamic Evolution of Hashtags on Twitter: a Language-Based Approach) some hashtags can have a very short life while others may be accepted by members of a network and may propagate and thrive. In studying the measure of “stickiness” of hashtags  Romero et al. in Differences in the Mechanics of Information Diffusion Across Topics: Idioms, Political Hashtags, and Complex Contagion on Twitter found that most popular hashtags tend to be simple, direct and short. Hashtags thus provide a clever mechanism to aggregate tweets on a specific topic leading to conversations on Twitter.

After the alleged coup that took place in the Maldives on February 7th, 2012 Maldivian Twitter users took up the hashtag #mvcoup and #mvprotest. While hashtags are not case-sensitive different variations are in use such as #MVcoup, #MVCOUP, #MVprotest, etc. Absence of the hash symbol (e.g., mvcoup) will not link tweets on Twitter but they will still appear in a regular search. The hashtags #mvcoup and #mvprotest describes the content and the ideology behind these hashtags. MV being the ISO 3166 code assigned to Maldives, concatenated with words coup and protest provides the context for the conversation or post. Which also has a direct relation to the growing democratic movement taking place in the Maldives. Studies on Twitter hashtags by Tsur and Rappoport suggest that the content of the idea plays an important role in the acceptance and propagation of hashtags by a community

The following diagrams shows how the use of the hashtags #mvcoup and #mvprotest varied since February 2012. The small colored circles represent a tweet.


Figure 2: February 2012

A snapshot taken on February 19, 2012 of publicly available tweets shows #mvprotest hashtag being more popular than #mvcoup. The intersecting area in the middle indicates tweets containing both these hashtags.


Figure 3: March 2012

On March 24, 2012 we can observe the change in dynamics of the hashtags, #mvcoup seems to have become more popular than #mvprotest. We can also observe the increase in the intersecting area representing tweets carrying both the hashtags.


Figure 4: April 2012

From the snapshot taken on April 26, 2012 seems to represent a more equal distribution of these hashtags amongst the users while intersecting area representing tweets carrying both the hashtags remain relatively unchanged compared to the previous snapshot.


Figure 5: May 2012

The Snapshot taken on May 7, 2012 once again shows a decline in the use of the hashtag #mvprotest and an increase in the use of #mvcoup. As the tweets containing #mvprotest decline the number of tweets containing both the hashtags aslo decreased.

The observations presented reveals interesting trends from the largely Maldivian Twitter community. We understand that #mvprotest had been in use before the alleged coup of February 7th and #mvcoup appeared right after February 7th. Since the alleged coup the popularity of #mvprotest has been declining while the popularity of #mvcoup continues to rise. The community of users involved in conversations about #mvcoup increased over time. To this end, the adoption of the hashtag gives a reflection of the size of the community that might believes it is a coup and the growing discourses around the events of Feb 7th 2011. The analysis of hashtags used by a group of users can contribute significantly in understanding the user interests and their behavior in social network analysis.



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