A Tempest in a Teacup? Analyzing Firestorms on Twitter
‘Firestorms,’ sudden bursts of negative attention in cases of controversy and outrage, are seemingly widespread on Twitter and are an increasing source of fascination and anxiety in the corporate, governmental, and public spheres. Using media mentions, we collect 80 candidate events from January 2011 to September 2014 that we would term ‘firestorms.’ Using data from the Twitter decahose (or gardenhose), a 10% random sample of all tweets, we describe the size and longevity of these firestorms. We take two firestorm exemplars, #myNYPD and #CancelColbert, as case studies to describe more fully. Then, taking the 20 firestorms with the most tweets, we look at the change in mention networks of participants over the course of the firestorm as one method of testing for possible impacts of firestorms. We find that the mention networks before and after the firestorms are more similar to each other than to those of the firestorms, suggesting that firestorms neither emerge from existing networks, nor do they result in lasting changes to social structure. To verify this, we randomly sample users and generate mention networks for baseline comparison, and find that the firestorms are not associated with a greater than random amount of change in mention networks.