Research Planning

For developing our research on communities and analyzing data we have opted to choose to research how much users use the Twitter community and platform to help further spread breaking news, which in turn helps other users learn about breaking news through the trending hashtags.

We have made a list of keywords that are relevant in order to locate our online communities in this case, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and Media Platforms.

  • Paris Attacks
  • ISIS
  • Pray for Paris
  • Breaking News
  • News
  • Super Tuesday
  • Beirut Attacks
  • Love Wins
  • Charlie Hebdo


We have formulated some relevant search queries that are based on the list of keywords in order to locate online communities that will help us find the necessary data for answer our research question ‘How are Hashtags replacing the way we learn about breaking news?’



  • How did you learn about the Paris Attacks? (this can be the same for Charlie Hebdo Attack, Beirut Attack, Love Wins & Super Tuesday).
  • Have you used Twitter in any way to track breaking news such as Paris Attacks (ISIS, Pray for Paris, Super Tuesday, Beirut Attacks, Love Wins & Charlie Hebdo) ?
  • Do the use of hashtags in the trending list help you learn about breaking news?




Our roles as ethnographers are both active and passive we are active in the sense that we will propose our own questions into the communities but passive in the sense that we will not interfere we will objectively observe the results and data findings we collect.

For reddit we had to introduce ourselves to the already existing thread that is following the results of Super Tuesday for Bernie Sanders. We introduced ourselves in the following:


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.05.29 PM

In the following we will present the collected records of our participation in the community and how we went about finding necessary proof and data from Twitter and Instagram.

Important: Within the framework of Netnography, engaging in the online discussion regarding hashtags and their use was one of the prior intentions. Unfortunately, every attempt to get in touch with actual users failed, since although hashtags are frequently used on the internet, they do not tend to be a subject of discussion. That is why it has been decided to collect data that is already existent and closely related to the initial research question, in order to create a basis for a netnographical analysis. So instead of choosing the netnographer role of an active participant, we passively ‘lurked’ on online activities near different locations, making use of hashtags that are connected to hot topics of any kind.


Data Collection

1. Twitter

In order to collect the necessary data to see if Twitter users use much of the hashtags to either read more news through hashtags or are posting about the news through hashtags and therefor adding more useful information for those going online to search on Twitter we have used a specific strategy.

We have gone on Twitter to do an advanced search in order to find exactly what we are looking for. You can see in the following how we have done so by choosing an area, the hashtag or keywords, the date(s) and if we can we will try and count the amount of tweets that are relevant. Sometimes the amount of tweets and hashtags are too much to count and will therefore be either given an estimate or stated as “uncountable”.

According to those intentions of research, some of the most relevant keywords of the past months were used to investigate their frequency, the style of usage as well as the kind of information (either news-related or not). For this reason, our basic example of the November Paris attacks was extended in this case. Additionally, evidence on the different styles of hashtag usage is provided in the coding section below.

Frequency Analysis

(Please note: more information on the time frame for the frequency analysis can be found below)

frequency analysis

The frequency analysis comparing the usage of hashtags for the same topics at different locations revealed that in eight out of twelve cases, the majority of Twitter postings was news-related. Since we set a very limited time frame within the advanced search, the posting activities per area did not include any predication that would significant for the trend analysis. To find out more about local differences, research of larger scale would be necessary. However, it can be seen that Charlie Hebdo was the most discussed topic on Twitter with more than 50 entries around London, New York as well as Amsterdam. Considering our research objective, a frequency analysis can only provide a brief overview on Twitter hashtag usage itself and whether or not hashtags serve as a tool to spread breaking news on the web. Therefore, the actual content and potential similarities within the different postings is dealt with more thoroughly in the coding section below.




#Paris Attacks

Area: Amsterdam

Hashtag: Paris Attacks

Date: From November 13th 2015 to 29th February 2016

Amount: 9 tweets


The tweets refer to the Paris Attacks but do not specifically share any information news related to the attacks.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.07.12 PM

*assertion: post contains information about news but also own opinion

 Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.07.59 PM


Area: Utrecht

Hashtag: Paris Attacks

Date: From November 13th 2015

Amount: 2


One of the two tweets did contain a tweet in regards to the attacks in Paris.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.08.54 PM

*informing: post contains background information on suspects

“ The most victims of the IS attacks were muslims from in and around Irak and

Syria #ParisAttacks”


Area: New York

Hashtag: Paris Attacks

Date: November 13th 2015

Amount: 40


There were several tweets that would seem to update Twitter with what is happening in Paris with the attacks.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.09.37 PM

*informing: again, post contains additional information not covered by media

 Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.09.45 PM.png

*keywording: situation is being frequently updated using concise & short text fragments


#Super Tuesday


Area: New York

Hashtag: Super Tuesday

Date: March 2nd 2016

Amount: > 50


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.11.13 PM

*capitals: special attention is drawn towards news updates through capitalization of words

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.12.15 PM

 Area: Amsterdam

Hashtag: Super Tuesday

Date: March 2nd 2016

Amount: 26


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.12.48 PM

*efficiency: advantages of hashtag-news-coverage is pointed out

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.12.56 PM 

*colloquial speech: post uses everyday language

 Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.13.02 PM

 Area: Washington D.C

Hashtag: Super Tuesday

Date: March 2nd 2016

Amount: 72


 Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.13.56 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.14.03 PM

*suspense: building up suspense to encourage users to further follow Tweets

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.14.54 PM 

Area: London

Hashtag: Super Tuesday

Date: March 2nd 2016

Amount: 40


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.15.16 PM

*personal touch: post conveys special tone of voice

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.15.32 PM.png

*colloquial speech: post uses everyday language


#Charlie Hebdo


Area: New York

Hashtag: Charlie Hebdo

Date: From January 7th to the 9th of January 2015

Amount: > 50


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.16.25 PM

*direct reporting: posts occur before official media coverage

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.16.33 PM 

*pointing out relevance: actual hashtag is being pushed by using #urgent

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.16.47 PM

*personal opinion: post contains point of view

*interpretation: post contains interpretations regarding the matter


Area: Amsterdam

Hashtag: Charlie Hebdo

Date: January 7th 2015

Amount: > 50


 Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.17.57 PM.png


*insult: post contains insult (freedom of speech on the web, not official rule of conduct)

*private picture: private pictures related to the incidents are published, showing features that are not covered by mainstream media



Area: London

Hashtag: Charlie Hebdo

Date: January 7th 2015

Amount: >50


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.18.25 PM



Area: Amsterdam

Hashtag: Indonesië

Date: 2nd of March 2016

Amount: 11


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.18.53 PM 

It seems evident that the news about the earthquake in Indonesia spread rather quickly online even in Amsterdam both from regular users and news outlets.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.19.28 PM 


Area: New York

Hashtag: Earthquake

Date: 2nd of March 2016

Amount: 6


 Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.20.16 PM

*capitals: special attention is drawn towards news updates through capitalization of words

*colloquial speech: post uses everyday language



Area: London

Hashtag: Indonesia

Date: 2nd of March 2016

Amount: 10


 Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.23.42 PM

*additional material: video is added to hashtag-post

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.23.48 PM

*sympathy: post does not news-related but expresses sympathy

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.23.54 PM

Data Analysis

The above-stated coding activities revealed numerous similarities regarding news coverage and expression of opinion on Twitter. In order to that, categories based on the type of content and its relevance to the news were created. Thereby, analysing the various intentions of authors was done by investigating the different postings in terms of the kind of language that was used (colloquial speech, informing content etc.). In doing so, the change concerning reporting as well as journalistic practices can be monitored as well as partly grasped in order to draw conclusions, relating them back to the initial findings from secondary research, provided in the literature review section. The first, obvious difference between traditional news reporting and the hashtag approach lies in its informality. Users as well as conglomerates tend to keep their postings rather informal in contrast to classic newspaper reporting. Furthermore, postings about breaking news often include personal opinions as well as interpretations of certain events and matters. This easily leads to confusion and misunderstanding on the part of consumers of news. That is why the source of information must be considered carefully (private person, company etc.). When reporting about incidents or world affairs, it seems to be common practice to bolster related postings with the help of capitalization of certain words (e.g. URGENT, BREAKING) to draw the readers’ attention towards the matter. The coding activities have also shown that news-related posts using hashtags are not always accurate. Mostly, they involve a personal touch or contain insults or extreme statements regarding individuals, their religion, ethnicity, race etc. Numerous findings contain background information or material such as links directing users to relevant videos or personal photographs related to the incident not published by mainstream media. It can also be found that frequently posting information using only fragments of texts or sentences is used to provide readers with as much information as possible having the least effort in reading. Some entries on incidents not only use the hashtag that it is all about but more hashtags are added to heighten the hit rate when seeking related information. Moreover, the mere process of reporting on events and incidents is enhanced through the act of using the same hashtags to express personal sympathy with victims or affiliates. As a result, hashtags involve personal as well as formal and informative components. Considering the focus on different locations, no significant difference regarding Twitter postings and the way of reporting can be found. All in all, those findings definitely provide evidence on how journalistic practices as well as news reporting are changing. Through utilization of social media as a news sharing channel, basically everybody is being enabled to spread news, not only at an incredible pace, but also using completely new “rules of conduct” when spreading the world. At that, is interesting to note that such practices are shifting towards informal expression, neglecting rules of objective reporting and mere journalism. Nevertheless, the above-stated categorization of rhetorical approaches included in such postings tend to occur in a frequent manner, causing news related content to merge with personal impressions and opinions.



2. Using Netvizz to scrape Instagram

When monitoring hashtags that have been used on Instagram to report or talk about the Paris happenings, again the total number of postings using the determined hashtags has been identified:

#prayforparis: 6,822,868 results

#parisattacks: 113,962 results

#portouverte: 567 results

#notafraid: 155,449 results

#jesuisparis: 346,519 results

#vivelafrance: 141,110 results

#noussommesunis: 28,627 results

#prayfortheworld: 522, 245 results

#franceunderattack: 967 result


(Please note: since Instagram does not offer advanced search or location focus, the above-stated results include postings worldwide. Further containment has been made in the following.)



Looking at the mere numbers, it can be concluded that Instagram is a real giant when it comes to using hashtags with postings, especially compared to Twitter and Reddit.

In order to find more localized, hashtag-related information regarding e.g. the Paris attacks, the tool Netvizz has been used to scrape the social media platform Instagram. With the help of this research tool, outcomes cannot only be presented in a very organized and well-arranged way, it also provides evidence on the exact numbers and timeframe of hashtag postings. Using the same, most-used hashtags to filter the results, one can obtain the most comparable outcomes regarding other platforms and communities such as Twitter or Reddit. In terms of location, again all contributions concerned were posted near New York, Amsterdam or Paris.

The following table provides a snapshot on the results of Netvizz’ hashtag exploration:


Instagram Hashtag Explorer

getting media, iterations:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The script has extracted tags from 12,962 media items that were posted between 2015-11-12 06:37:35 and 2016-03-07 07:19:00.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.34.59 PM

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.35.11 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.35.21 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.35.29 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.35.38 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.35.49 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.36.00 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.36.11 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.36.19 PM.png

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.36.29 PM.png






















































































Data Analysis

As mentioned above, the most relevant keywords regarding the Paris attacks have been chosen to scrape data on Instagram. Since this research aims to answer the question: ‘How are Hashtags replacing the way we learn about breaking news?’ The most striking findings within the scraping process require further explanation:

Compared to the other social media platforms and communities that are to be investigated, Instagram postings and the way users treat news-related information are essentially different. Although the top-ranked hashtags regarding the incident have been used again, it has been found that those words are often combined with further hashtags which were especially designed to e.g. express sympathy with victims of terror or to show affiliation with certain groups of people who are fighting terror and homophobia. Those hashtags include #igersparis and #instaparis (marked yellow in the table above). While the construction of the word ‘instaparis’ is quite obvious (= Instagram + Paris), the word composition ‘igersparis’ was made up using the words ‘igers’ (=abbreviation of ‘Instagrammers’) and Paris. Herewith, the term ‘igersparis’ was tagged more than 1,047,350 times and 318,132 postings comprising the word ‘instaparis’ could be found. Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.29.22 PMWith this, users are enabled to not only share or spread news but simultaneously, people get the chance to express their feelings with it, taking a stand that is clearly visible for other users of the platform. The conducted hashtag exploration also illustrates how hashtags and related reporting can be divided into different categories of hashtags. On the one hand for example, users include rather objective hashtags in their postings, e.g.: #paris #parisattacks etc. On the other hand, more subjective or personal hashtags were used when formulating online, e.g.: #prayforparis #jesuisparis etc. (indications are marked blue in the table).

In order to that, also a certain ‘logo’ was designed to express support for Paris and its victims (Instagram, 2016). For Instagram as a main photo-sharing-platform, those development was quite obvious. But also related to the way in which news are consumed nowadays, these findings serve as a major indicator for the shift in spreading as well as perceiving news with the help of hashtags. Also the creation of user-generated content reaching millions of people is being supported, since whole lots of postings, articles and texts can be comprised into one single hashtag, enabling social media users to access entire texts again.

Today, free expression of thoughts and opinions regarding those incidents often enforces dialogues and discussions on social media platforms such as Instagram.

2.1 Gephi Analysis

Data Analysis

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 3.01.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-14 at 3.02.03 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-14 at 2.57.43 PM

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.17.58 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.18.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.20.03 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.19.25 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.31.34 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.31.55 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.32.10 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.32.25 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.32.46 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.32.54 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 3.33.05 PM

In order to further our research and to gather valuable data to answer our research question: ‘How are Hashtags replacing the way we learn about breaking news? We have used Netvizz and collect the data and import them onto Gephi to find the percentages and create a Graph. We have gone forth with choosing to research the hashtag ‘parisattacks’ and search for 20 iterations so we could get a clear graph with clear relatable and valuable information.

There were a total of 20 iterations and within those there were a number of labels that were related or attached to the hashtag ‘parisattacks’ on instagram. We used Netvizz to find 20 iterations to analyse the data. The label ‘parisattacks’ had the most counts out of all of the labels with 17 counts. From the 20 iterations found there were several labels that were related to the hashtag such as ‘paris’ had 4, ‘islam’ had 4, ‘isis’ with 3, ‘muslim’ with 3 there were then several other labels with one count such as ‘prayforparis’, ‘peacefortheworld’, ‘parisshooting’, ‘terrorism’, ‘bataclan’ and more. The ones with the one count appeared much more frequently they had a total of 74.88% (dark pink colour) while the label ‘parisattacks’ garnered 0.48% (light purple in the middle). This has a lot to do with the fact that the users would add more than one hashtag in their posts, which are either attached to the label hashtag ‘parisattacks’ or related to the events. The other colours in the graph were related to mainly the labels that had 2, 3 or 4 counts. Based on the information gathered from Gephi and Netvizz we can see that the use of hashtag to spread or express thoughts on the events of breaking news is greatly used however it is also used alongside other either related or random hashtags to garner more attention to the posts. It is visible to see that the switch to post about breaking newsworthy events are happening via social media more and more from Twitter to Instagram and Facebook it is now becoming more popular. Users want to express their emotions, sympathy and relatable information in regards to those events. This further proves our notion that the change of receiving and spreading the news is switching over to social media with the use of hashtags whether they are used alone or together with other hashtags.

3. Reddit

We have gone onto Reddit on the Super Tuesday live thread that was happening on the 2nd of March. We have found several forums that were discussing the results and the events of Super Tuesday, as mentioned before, it was not easy to try and get replies from the participants in the discussion thread. In total we have submitted our question to 6 sub-Reddit but have yet to receive an answer.

“Hi everyone, I am doing research for an assignment and wondering if you can answer these questions for me: “Have you used Twitter’s hashtag trending page to follow up on the breaking news in regards to the results of Super Tuesday?” & “Do you find Twitter’s hashtag more useful for finding out the results or through television?”

We’ve unfortunately haven’t received any replies on Reddit to continue our research on the impact of hashtags for breaking news on Twitter. We have posted our question on 8 sub-Reddits and have failed to receive any replies. This ultimately means we have to use the data we’ve collected via Twitter and Instagram as primary data considering the lack of data we were able to collect from Reddit as our community.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.29.28 PM

Data Analysis

The difference between the use of Reddit as a way to receive breaking news through their threads and tags in comparison with hashtag is quite different. Hashtags on twitter for example are quite straightforward but they don’t form a part of a discussion. Users use them for various reasons and it is usually when an event is getting a lot of attention that it is when the hashtag starts to be popular and is then trending on the Twittersphere. Reddit however uses headlines to gather the attention of users to go into discussion about that specific topic. Reddit also has different categories that a user can go into in order to find the discussion forum that they want to participate in or just read through. Reddit doesn’t use hashtags to gather a trending forum. Reddit has on the top a trending list of sub-Reddits but not with the use of hashtags. Hashtags seems obsolete on Reddit, it seems to be more of use for Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

Trending sub-Reddit

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.31.38 PM

Hashtags are to twitter for example what sub-Reddits are to Reddit. They are generally used to find certain types of topics and content based on the description.

If one tries to use hashtags on Reddit it will only serve to find other content that are related to what was typed with the hashtag. It doesn’t appear in the sub-Reddits as hashtags at all.

Enter in the search engine on Reddit with hashtags

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.29.40 PM

Results look generally like this

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 3.29.44 PM

Discussion on Reddit however do seem to happen in real-time but are based on what others have read online or received from television. There is not much indication that they use Twitter or Twitter’s hashtags to get the breaking news.

Furthermore we found this sub-reddit which asks the users as to why it is not visible to see hashtags used in reddit posts or comments and there was a discussion about it.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 2.21.29 PM.png


Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 2.23.46 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 2.29.54 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-19 at 2.26.03 PM

The discussions from what we can see also provides further proof that reddit has no use for hashtags for reasons such as that they don’t have a limited word count, they have no need for it to find communities for discussions and others such as they aren’t used for their traditional form on reddit but to show more impact or as a joke. As mentioned before reddit has no use for them as they have sub-reddits, which serves in a way like hashtags.


Significant conclusions can be drawn from the netnographical findings. First of all, the results not only serve as proof that hashtags are indeed influencing the way society learns about breaking news, but that they also revolutionize media coverage as a whole; firstly through giving all individuals the chance to report on all kinds of incidents online and secondly through the support of real-time interaction. Furthermore, the above stated findings show that hashtags tend to influence not only the quantity of media coverage but also the quality. While it can be seen as an advantage that whole news reports can be packed with the help of hashtags, enabling users to learn about happenings in a much quicker way, it simultaneously retrieves certain disadvantages and risks concerning the accuracy of reporting. That is why truthful coverage can never be assured when informing oneself about latest news. On the other hand, hashtags contribute to the shift towards rather personal and even compassionate reporting. While the prior conduct of mainstream media reporting is the (mostly) objective and demure way, hashtag postings enforce statements of personal view (-surprisingly with both, media giants as well as private users). Another important feature of news reporting through hashtag is that incidents and events are being covered in a much quicker way, since e.g. eye witnesses tend to be the first ones bringing up the subject while conglomerates have not even heard about it. As a result, hashtags are accelerating the news spread worldwide.


On the basis of the netnographical analysis, it must be considered that accessing news through hashtags involves the above- mentioned risks which require consideration at all times. That is why recommendations aim towards the consumption of ‘hashtag and social media news’ with reservation, also considering official reporting to avoid misinformation and corresponding personal consequences.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s