Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tragedy Hipsters and the Connection of Mizzou to Paris

Over the weekend I was confronted with a new term that needed no explanation: Tragedy Hipster.  The term refers to people who respond to tragedies by mentioning other tragedies, and this behavior was prevalent over the weekend.

Specifically, there were a string of tweets from Mizzou protesters complaining about the world being more upset about Paris attacks (120 deaths) than issues surrounding Mizzou protests earlier in the week (racism).  Other "hipsters" were mentioning the Beirut bombings which received much less press coverage than Paris.  Later in the weekend, I noted another string of tweets referencing both Paris and Mizzou that tended to be from conservatives complaining about the earlier tragedy hipsters.  All fascinating to me.

So a few data questions emerged, can we identify tragedy hipster behavior in data?  Can we differentiate the hipsters from their critics?  How much of the linkage between Paris and Mizzou was the original hipsters versus their critics?  I looked at twitter data to examine the behavior of tragedy hipsters.

A few takeaways from the data:
  • There was a high amount of tweet traffic following the initial event comparing Mizzou to Paris.
  • Much of that first wave could be considered "Tragedy Hipsters" while others were just asking prayers for both.
  • Following that initial wave, the tweets were mainly from conservatives criticizing the initial wave.


First a definition: 
Tragedy Hipsters-People who react to the initial news of a tragedy by trying to cite a cooler tragedy.  (Side note:"cooler" might mean lesser known, more deaths, better cause, etc.)
This usage is a direct corollary to the way music hipsters talk about music, by trying to reference a "cooler" (read: more obscure, harder core, weirder) band whenever someone brings up music.  The music instance usually goes something like this:
Person 1: Hey have you heard the new Red Fang album?
Hipster: Red Fang sucks, they're just a rip off of the band Sleep.
Person 1: Whatever, hipster.
If that's what music hipster behavior looks like, what does a tragedy hipster look like?  Topic mining the tweets over the weekend containing the words "Paris" and "Mizzou" found a specific topic (topic 3, see below) that was both direct and indirect Tragedy Hipster Behavior.  Here are some examples:

Direct comparisons:



Let's mine some data, shall we? Here's what I did:
  • Downloaded tweets from the beginning of the attack until Tuesday at noon that contained both "Paris" and "Mizzou"
  • Topic mined the data to find true topics underlying tweets, looking for tragedy hipsters versus their backlash.
  • Analyzed topics used and how they changed over time.
  • Sentiment mined the data for emotions.
First a word cloud, just to identify the top words.  Unsurprisingly, "attack" is the top word overall, but it's closely followed by "spotlight," "stole," and "unbelievable."

A topic model might be helpful to understand why the weird terms are used, it converged around five topics:

On analyzing the tweets, topics 1,2,4,5 were mainly made of conservative criticisms "Tragedy Hipster" behavior, and topic 3 was... well tragedy hipsters.  By topic:

  • Topic 1: TCOT (Top Conservatives on Twitter)/foxnews references criticizing Mizzou protestors.
  • Topic 2: People talking about Mizzou activists having their spotlight stolen.
  • Topic 3: Tragedy Hipster behavior, a good amount of it showing legitimate sympathy/empathy.
  • Topic 4: Another topic of conservatives making fun of Mizzou protesters.
  • Topic 5: Another topic of student being mad about losing their media spotlight.

Because the "Tragedy Hipster" topic segregated so well from other topics, we can plot topic usage over time to show how the situation evolved. The chart below shows time in three hour blocks (UTC) and the proportion in each topic.

Note that topic three dominated the conversation for the first few hours after the attacks, but was supplanted by the other four topics over time.  Specifically, the initial ratio was 4:1 Tragedy Hipster to Conservative, but after the first day, the ratio reversed to between 1:4 and 1:9.  Overall, the total reaction has been 30% tragedy hipster, 70% conservative backlash.  In essence, the initial hipster reaction regarding Mizzou and Paris led to a few days of criticism from conservatives.

I embedded tweets for topic 3 above, so it's only fair I embed a couple of tweets associated with the other four topics:

I did one last thing to the data: sentiment mining.  Nothing too much of note here, except the emotion expressed was significantly angrier than other sets of tweets I've looked at, including Kansas Legislature Tweets and the Royals.


The concept of a tragedy hipster is somewhat fascinating.  On one hand, I understand the part of human nature that leads us to react strongly to tragedies that seem closest to them (white people dying in a western country). On the other hand, I understand the part of human nature that, when faced with a tragedy getting attention, point out another tragedy that is *worse* in someway, or closer to them (Mizzou students seeing discrimination, versus people they don't know dying in Paris).

But are there really any takeaways from this?  In my mind:
  • The initial tragedy hipster tweets were simultaneously overshadowed and made more popular by their conservative reactions.
  • This whole situation created a lot of anger between groups, possibly undermining progress made in the Mizzou protests.
  • If prone to tragedy hipster type behavior, you should be aware of optics, because there will be a backlash, and many may attempt to make you look foolish.

One last thing, for fun I wrote some code to auto-create wordclouds based on each topic. Here are the five for this analysis.  A couple of notable topics:
  • Topic 1 is a mess of conservative symbols, due to the repeated tweets of some conservative commentators.  
  • Topic 3 is notable in being much different (as noted before) than the other three topics.





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