Assessing the social and emotional costs of mass shootings with Twitter data

Article by Mary Blankenship and Carol Graham: “Mass shootings that result in mass casualties are almost a weekly occasion in the United States, which—not coincidentally—also has the most guns per capita in the world. Viewed from outside the U.S., it seems that Americans are not bothered by the constant deadly gun violence and have simply adapted to it. Yet, our analysis of the well-being costs of gun violence—using Twitter data to track real-time responses throughout the course of these appalling events—suggest that is not necessarily the case. We focus on the two March 2021 shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, and compare to similar data for the “1 October” (Las Vegas) and El Paso shootings a few years prior. (Details on our methodology can be found at the end of this blog.)

A reason for the one-sided debate on guns is that beyond the gruesome body counts, we do not have many tools for assessing the large—but unobservable—effects of this violence on family members, friends, and neighbors of the victims, as well as on society in general. By assessing how emotions evolve over time, real changes can be seen in Twitter messages. Our analysis shows that society is increasingly angered by gun violence, rather than simply adapting to it.

A striking characteristic of the response to the 1 October shooting is the immediate influx of users sending their thoughts and players to the victims and the Las Vegas community. Figure 1 shows the top emoji usage and “praying hands” being the most frequently used emoji. Although that is still the most used emoji in response to the other shootings, the margin between “praying hands” and other emojis has substantially decreased in recent responses to Atlanta and Boulder. Our focus is on the “yellow face” emojis, which can correlate to six primary emotions categories: surprise, sadness, disgust, fear, anger, and neutral. While the majority of face emojis reflect emotions of sadness in the 1 October and El Paso shooting, new emojis like the “red angry face” show greater feelings of anger in the Atlanta and Boulder shootings shown in Figure 3….(More)”.

Figure 1. Top 10 emojis used in response to the 1 October shooting

Top 10 emojis used in response to the 1 October shooting

Source: Authors