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CERC- Academic Research Case Study

Using Twitter’s API to fuel academic research

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Learn how Stein Monteiro — research fellow for the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University — was able to use Twitter data to further his research on the relationship between the Indian diaspora and India during the farmers’ protests. 

For Stein Monteiro, the farmers’ protests in India presented an interesting question: how would the Indian diaspora act during a time when major events took place in India? With the help of Twitter’s API, he was able to uncover the answer. Read about it here.

Challenge

For Stein Monteiro — research fellow for the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University — work lies at the intersection of statistics, culture and current events. While his economics expertise set him up for success in academia, it was his own experience that fuelled a passion for migration studies.

Born and raised in India, Stein lived in Dubai during his high school years before heading to Canada for his undergraduate degree. For him, the feeling of being new to a country was deeply familiar. He was no stranger to the experience of navigating new social systems, climates and ways of life. The process of adjusting to new cultures and environments sparked his interest in the migrant integration journey. As he continued his studies in economics, the draw of these more personal experiences remained compelling — so he sought to combine both worlds. In order to obtain his PhD in economics, he focused his dissertation on migration studies literature.

 While working on this dissertation, Stein taught himself how to code. When he later worked as a statistician for Humber College, he was able to put what he learned into practice. Coding enabled the process of automation — simplifying his work by organizing and crunching data.

 By placing his work process into coding form, Stein was able to identify problems more easily and explain his work/thought process in a step-by-step manner to others. It opened up a whole new way of looking at a problem and building solutions. He was slowly realizing the unlimited potential of this skillset, and he took this knowledge with him to the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC). 

While at CERC, Stein’s attention was captured by the online activism he witnessed all over social media, particularly around the Indian farmers’ protests (sparked by three controversial laws introduced in August, 2020). He could see connections between these protests and his work. This was an important moment: what was happening in real-time could reveal information about the migrant and diaspora experience as a whole.

 As the conversation exploded around him, he wondered how online activism was affecting the activity of people in the Indian diaspora living in Canada, the UK, Australia, and the Gulf countries. How are social networks connecting migrants to the conversations in India? 

It was time to get to work. 

Solution

In order to better understand the relationship between the Indian diaspora and their connection to the farmers’ protests, Stein knew he had to tune into the online conversation — so he set his sights on Twitter.

 According to Stein, “these local events were able to cater to an international audience, not just because Twitter is an international phenomenon but also because people, just regular people, were able to speak to each other online, and they were able to connect with each other, just through a hashtag.” For him, with Twitter, “you can be a participant in the farmers' protests happening in India and not be Indian, or be Indian but be in a different part of the world.

Stein saw Twitter as the place involving the protestors, anti-protest rhetoric, pro-government entities, and unfiltered experiences of what was actually happening on the ground. And he wanted in on the action. 

Absorbing the conversations, Stein needed to home in on a few things: when someone posts something online in India, how does that Tweet carry to the rest of the world? How does information flow through networks, hashtags etc.? And how is the diaspora responding to the Tweets coming in from India? 

Stein was able to gain clarity with the help of Twitter’s API, which introduced the Academic Research product track, allowing access to historical data in addition to large volumes of Tweets and author information for further analysis. 

To Stein, the power of the API was accessibility over a large period of time that would allow him to create a time dimension of conversations — who’s Retweeting what and who’s talking to whom. 

With all this information at his disposal, he was shocked by what he found: there was an enormous level of activity from the Indian diaspora reacting to the situation in India. Stein says, “it wasn’t even delayed activity, it was almost immediate. So within the span of a day, I was seeing Retweets from people posting in India and then Retweets happening within the rest of the world.”

The data was clear: social media enables migrants and diasporas to stay connected to their home countries and play active roles in important conversations.

Impact

Using Twitter’s open API, Stein was able to research a timely event that provided insight into the greater conversation of the migrant experience. Access to data and functions to filter and sort that data proved pivotal to this project. 

More importantly, Stein recognized the importance of Twitter as a tool for academic research as a whole. For him, one of the biggest hurdles in research is that data needs to be gathered from across the globe. Fortunately, Twitter’s international presence provides this access to global information, without the need to spend lots of money on surveys and focus groups in various parts of the world. 

Stein notes, “Twitter allows researchers and the academic community to access data for their own research purposes in a new way, to develop new methodologies, but also in a cost-efficient way.” He believes the conversations happening online were useful because “they were very unfiltered and they were unbiased conversations happening between people without the interference of the researcher in that conversation.” 

Stein’s work proved that Twitter remains a tool for connection across the globe — while Twitter’s APIs can help gather large-scale insights that spring from that connection.