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.