Exhibiting the Global Post-2015 Twitter Conversation

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Global Pulse has partnered with the UN Millennium Campaign on a novel project that aims to shed insight on which Post-2015 relevant topics are talked most about by people on social media around the world. The interactive visualization is currently on display in a new exhibition at UNICEF Headquarters in New York, which opened last week to coincide with the UN General Assembly week.

The 68th session of the UN General Assembly is underway, with leaders from all over the world gathering in New York to discuss pressing humanitarian and development issues. Many meetings are dedicated to reviewing progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which have a global deadline of 2015, and to discuss what the new global priorities should be going forward. But this decision-making process must be broadened beyond policymakers alone, and also include the voices and priorities as expressed by people around the world. That is why, as part of the Post-2015 planning process, the UN system has been reaching out to the public for input through consultation meetings, surveys and more.

Taking the Pulse on Post-2015, in Real-Time

In addition to surveying people directly and asking them to rank priorities, we can also pay attention to what people say about what’s on their minds right now. For this purpose, social media data is a great source of real-time information.

By searching approximately 500 million new posts on Twitter every day for tweets relevant to 16 key development topics, it is possible to see which topics are most talked about in different countries at different times. Through a collaboration with DataSift, we were able to search for approximately 25,000 keywords in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, yielding around 10 million new tweets each month.

The interactive visualization shows the 20 countries that have proportionately tweeted the most about each topic over the past 6 months. The percentages show the volume of tweets that were generated in that country about the highlighted topic, in comparison to tweets about all the other topics. Thereby giving us insight on where in the world the various Post-2015 issues are talked about the most. For example, it may not be surprising that Indonesia is in the top-20 list for tweeting about "Better transport and roads," as it is a highly populous country with a saturated transport infrastructure.

Regardless of their knowledge of Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) or their involvement in the formal Post-2015 process, people do talk on social media about issues that are closely related to the MDGs. Through this exercise and visualization, we have tried to reflect their voices.

Making Sense of the Data & Next Steps for Analysis

The UN’s MY World survey asks people to vote for the long-term priorities that are most important for them and their families. Currently, after more than 1 million votes, "A good education", "Better healthcare", "Better job opportunities", and "An honest and responsive government" are the clear winners. (See the survey result data, broken down by country, age and demographics, here.)

When we turn to Twitter, "Better healthcare" falls from second to fifteenth place, while "Freedom from discrimination" enters the global top-4 most talked about topics, together with "An honest and responsive government", "Better job opportunities", and "A good education". This supports a hypothesis behind the Twitter analysis that social media is about people's daily hopes and grievances, arguably giving us a better picture of the things that matter today in everyday life, but less about future events and priorities for the long-term. Further analysis is needed to better understand the differences between what people say they prioritize when asked questions in a survey, and what they may reflect or reveal about their priorities in passive social media chatter.

Certainly, there are important caveats to consider. For instance, the majority of Tweets in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French are being generated in more developed countries. While the visualization does break down proportions of Tweets by country (see the “rankings” list), there is more disaggregation to be done at the country-level. The differing results in the MY World Survey and the Twitter analysis may also be due to Twitter users generally being younger and well-off. Therefore, the next round of our analysis will compare the Twitter results specifically against the votes cast by young people in the MY World survey.

Visit the project page for more information about the methodology, and to interact with the data visualiztion online, here.

The exhibit is on display at the Danny Kaye Centre in UNICEF House (3 United Nations Plaza) until 17 November 2013.

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