Improving Firearm Research Using Social Media Data

Massive Data Institute researchers and students developed machine learning classifiers to identify tweets that pertain to firearm deaths and develop estimates of the volume of Twitter firearm discussion by month.

One of the key factors limiting gun policy research is a lack of good data on a number and range of gun-related outcomes, including gun ownership, the stock, and flow of the supply of guns, defensive gun use, and non-fatal injuries associated with guns, among others. In 2019, MDI Director Lisa Singh was awarded a $569K grant by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research (NCGVR) to investigate the use of data from social media posts to measure gun-related outcomes in cities or states. This project represents important foundational work for understanding how social media data may be used by itself or in conjunction with other existing data resources through data blending to improve gun policy research.

In a recent article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Singh, Gresenz, and colleagues found that Twitter data may hold value for tracking dynamics in firearm-related outcomes, particularly for relatively populous cities that are identifiable through location mentions in tweet content. The data are likely to be particularly valuable for understanding firearm outcomes not currently measured, not measured well, or not measurable through other available means. 

The full paper can be found here. For more information about the Deploying Social Media Data to Inform Gun Policy project, please visit our website.

Credit: “image by natanaelginting  on Freepik”