Mapping the Eclipse with Social Data

Did the Instagram conversation about the eclipse mirror the actual eclipse?

On Monday afternoon, a 70-mile wide band connecting Salem, Oregon and Columbia, South Carolina emerged as the epicenter of a natural and social phenomenon. No, it wasn’t the path of the total solar eclipse. Well…it was, but it wasn’t just that — it was also the path of the Instagram conversation about the eclipse.

We wanted to see if the solar eclipse conversation on Instagram mirrored the path of the actual eclipse, so we plotted the social media conversations including ”#eclipse” and superimposed them on a map of the US. Unsurprisingly, we found that the proportionally heaviest social conversation almost exactly followed the path of the actual eclipse.
Here’s what the Instagram conversation across the US looked like during the eclipse:

The size of the hexagons reflect the volume of ‘#eclipse’ posts coming from that location, and the ‘redness’ depicts how disproportionate that volume is relative to typical volume from that area. Clearly, the eclipse elicited a lot of conversation, especially in the path of its totality. People loved talking about the eclipse (and media outlets loved writing about it).
People weren’t just talking about the eclipse in the few hours surrounding it — they discussed  the event all throughout August. Did that conversation also mirror the path of the eclipse? Very much so. When we included all of the social media data from August (and again compared it to the normal volume for that location) we saw that the “band of totality” remained the epicenter of the national conversation about the eclipse.

It turns out social media data is great at identifying large trends, even if they last only a few hours. Because people take to social media to talk about everything from politics and current events to their lives and milestones, the dataset is an amazingly powerful for seeing how these trends vary by geography. For example, we were able to watch Zika pinball around the globe simply by mapping the social media conversation about it.

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