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Nelson Mandela: the numbers behind the internet’s heartbreak

Nelson Mandela

On my way to work today a friend noted the change in information flow and news. “I heard about 9/11 on TV via CNN, Michael Jackson’s death on Twitter, and now Nelson Mandela on WhatsApp,” she observed. The numbers continue to show after almost every major world event that social media is an (almost) accurate reflection of tone and sentiment.

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Nelson Mandela has died, and the world is gripped by sadness. I found out on Facebook and went to Twitter to confirm and get more information. The statesman had been battling with illness for several months now and has been on constant watch since the June scare that resulted in a long stay in hospital.

Mandela was discharged in early September after a three-month long stay, but continued to receive specialised care in his home in Johannesburg, and it was in his home that he passed away. The news brought floods of tributes and fresh social conversation.

A look at the 24-hour numbers

The news has been dominating most of the global online conversation. In the last 24 hours there have been close to 10-million posts from around the world mentioning Nelson Mandela, according to data from Acceleration Media, a Salesforce Marketing Cloud Authorised Reseller. The conversation around Mandela crosses between reports of his passing and tributes to the hero that united a nation torn apart by years of segregation.

The data provided shows that chatter around Nelson Mandela began around after 10PM last night and by 11PM there were over one million posts. By 12AM conversation peaked with 3.5-million posts. The data provided monitored conversation on major social media platforms as well as forums and blogs around the web.

Most of the conversation on social seems to be coming from the United States, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and South Africa. The bulk of the conversation also seems to have been coming out of the United States in the last 24 hours. This makes sense due to the timing of the news breaking, when most of Africa had been asleep and the United States had just woken up. It could also be attributed to the fact that America’s online population is much larger than South Africa’s.

Twitter still the leading source of news

The bulk of the conversation around the former president comes in the form of mentions from Twitter. This has become typical of the platform, as this type of news reflects the speed at which Twitter distributes information.

In the last few years Twitter has established itself as a leading source of news, and news organisations are taking constantly using the platform as its ‘breaking news’ vehicle. With around 9-million mentions from Twitter, and just over 452 000 mentions from Facebook, the social conversation around Nelson Mandela shows Twitter’s 94.5% dominance over Facebook’s 4.7% respectively.

Words are what make the conversation

Perhaps the most interesting data to come out of the social chatter around the passing of this hero are the words people are using. Based on the conversation cloud, of the 50 most common words used around the topic, common themes comes through: “mandela” “nelson” “rip” “#ripnelsonmandela” “madiba” “world” and “#mandela”.

Though his name is prominent, words such as “love”, “hero”, “peace” and “Africa” make an appearance too — all indicative of the way the world felt about the former president.

The largest age group participating in the conversation ranges from 24-34 dominating 41.3% of the social chatter followed by 35-44 with 23.8% input.

Among the top 100 mentions by number of followers, celebrity tweets and news organisations feature the most. Names like Sarah Schechter (as retweeted by Katy Perry), Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Ellen DeGeneres and CNN appear as the top tributes based on their Twitter following.

You can have a look at the full sentiment report here.

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