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Shining Light On Tragedy: Collecting 14,000,000 Tweets Following the 1 October Mass Shooting by Miranda Barrie and Thomas Padilla

By Su Kim Chung on November 13, 2018 5:22 PM | Permalink

How do cities respond to tragedy? How do they remember? How do they heal? These are some of the questions researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) asked following 1 October, a mass shooting that occurred at the 2017 Route 91 music festival. Pursuing questions like these depends on access to the history of Las Vegas. UNLV Libraries has long dedicated itself to making that possible. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the libraries responded by collecting oral histories and archiving relevant websites. The libraries also collected more than 14,100,000 tweets associated with the tragedy. This post marks the release of the 1 October twitter collection (unlv access, public access).

October 2, 2017 was Thomas Padilla’s first day of work at UNLV Libraries. Working with colleagues across the library, they rapidly gathered the data that would become the 1 October Twitter data collection. Twarc, a tool developed by Ed Summers for Documenting the Now was central to this effort. With generous support from the Library Advisory Board, Thomas hired Miranda Barrie, a UNLV student and the libraries’ first data curation specialist, to help provide students and faculty with the tools necessary to use the 1 October Twitter collection.

Use of the collection is technically challenging and a number of issues call for investigation that would benefit from the attention of researchers. On the technical side, all 14,108,104 tweets are stored in a single JSON file. For those unfamiliar with the JSON format, command line based programs, and scripting languages like Python there will be a learning curve for asking questions of the collection. On issues that call for further investigation, we have observed what appears to be collection infiltration by bots and other bad actors spreading fake news. Issues of this kind merit the specialized attention of researchers.

In future posts, Miranda and Thomas will share their stories, provide an inside look at the collection process, highlight relevant research, and share a series of tutorials that will help researchers and the Las Vegas community use the collection.

Questions about the collection can be directed to Thomas Padilla (thomas.padilla@unlv.edu).