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Watching breaking news on Twitter: Junior Seau’s passing

May 3, 2012

As many have sadly reported today, Junior Seau, the beloved former NFL player, passed away at his home in Oceanside, CA. The sudden nature of his passing resulted in a flood of Twitter activity expressing grief, shock and condolences for the famed athlete. Using Topsy’s real-time social search capabilities, we identified the first tweet that mentioned Seau’s passing and the subsequent tweets that drove a spike in activity.

At 10:13 a.m. PT the first tweet about Junior Seau’s passing was posted.

At 10:20 a.m. PT, the following tweet was posted by @thedonnydunk. This Twitter account was created 2 minutes prior to posting this, its first (and at the time of writing, only) tweet. As of now, it has also not been retweeted.

At 10:45 a.m. PT and 10:47 a.m. PT, a cryptic message and response were posted by @jhammon67.


However, the post that got the most attention (arguably the tipping point) came from Harvey Levin from TMZ, at 10:52 a.m. PT and simply speculated on the activity at Junior Seau’s home – no mention of death or suicide:


Below is a minute-by-minute graph of the tweets leading up to the spike in activity the terms for ‘juniorseau’, ‘#juniorseau’ and ‘junior seau’, as well as 3 related terms surfaced by Topsy’s discovery technology. The first minutes with non-zero counts of ‘junior seau’ mentions (labeled in the graph) correspond to the first tweets mentioned above.

We can also trace the tidbits of information that were leaked to the public as the story unfolded by looking at the related terms. Topsy discovers related terms by identifying terms with an increased rate of co-occurence with a given term (in this case, ‘junior seau’ and its variants) within any specified period of time. In this case, by looking at Junior Seau when the story was breaking, the terms ‘committed suicide’ and ‘gunshot wound’ were automatically detected. Both these phrases had concurrent spikes (outside of their normal activity) with the news of Seau’s passing, causing them to appear on our radar. The widely-retweeted account, @harveylevintmz, was also found by our related terms algorithm.

Following these spikes, we can piece together the circumstances around the story as the story unfolded. Below is an annotated graph of these 3 terms.

As Twitter becomes more ubiquitous, it becomes both a timely source of breaking news, as well as a collective forum for grieving an admired public figure, such as Seau. Countless fans, NFL coaches and players also posted their stories and thoughts about Seau today on Twitter.

Posted by jenna