FireAnt has officially launched!

Laurence Anthony and Claire Hardaker first introduced FireAnt at the CL2015 conference. In their talk, Claire explained that her work with the Discourse of Online Misogyny (DOOM) project had led her to realise that when working with Twitter data, you fast encounter a large array of problems: how to easily collect data, how to arrange that data in a useful way, and how you then analyse that data effectively. It was these problems that had led to the creation of FireAnt, a freeware social media and data analysis toolkit. Laurence and Claire showed the CL2015 audience a beta version of FireAnt, and it’s safe to say it was very well received… the Q&A at the end of their talk went along the lines of ‘it will be publicly available, right?’, ‘when can I get my hands on it?’, and ‘can I sign up to help you trial the beta version?’.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over. On Monday 22nd February, Laurence and Claire officially launched FireAnt; it became available to the public on Laurence Anthony’s website, and they held a launch event at Lancaster University to teach people how to use the tool. Here’s a little about what I learnt at this launch event…

FireAnt is not just for analysing social media data; it’s also for collecting it…

FireAnt makes collecting tweets incredibly easy. All you have to do is enter a search term, specify how long you want FireAnt to collect tweets for (or set a maximum number of tweets you want it to collect), and go away and have a cup of tea. To trial this, I instructed FireAnt to start collecting tweets that contained the hashtag #feminism. While I munched my way through two biscuits and two cups of tea, 675 tweets were posted on Twitter containing the hashtag #feminism; FireAnt collected all of these.

FireAnt helps you extract the data you’re actually interested in…

When you collect social media data, you don’t just collect texts that people have posted online. You also collect lots of information about these texts – for example, the date and time that each text was posted on the internet, the username of the person who posted the content, the location of that user, etc. This means that the file containing all your data is often very large, and you have to extract the bits you want to work with. This sounds simple but in reality it’s not, unless you’re a fairly capable programmer and have a computer with a decent amount of memory. However, with FireAnt, the process is much simpler. FireAnt automatically detects what information you have in your file, allows you to filter this, and creates new files with the information you’re interested in (without crashing your computer!).

FireAnt can also help you analyse your data….

At the launch event, we experimented with three different analysis features of FireAnt. Firstly, FireAnt allows you to gather timeseries data, showing the usage of a particular word within your dataset across time. You can use this to produce pretty graphs, such as the one below, or export the data to Excel.

Secondly, FireAnt can produce Geoposition maps. For example, below is a picture of Abi Hawtin, one of CASS’ research students, who’s looking very excited because she used FireAnt to create a map showing the different locations that the tweets in her dataset were posted from:


Thirdly, FireAnt allows you to easily produce network graphs, like the one below:One great feature of these graphs is that they allow you to plot lots of different things. These types of graphs are typically hard to produce but with a tool like FireAnt it’s easy.

What are you waiting for? Time to try FireAnt out for yourself!


FireAnt Launch Event

We will be running a launch event and workshop for a new software tool that we have created called FireAnt. The event and workshop will be held from 13:00 to 17:00 on Monday 22nd February 2016 here at Lancaster University.

FireAnt was created by Laurence Anthony as part of the 2015 ESRC-funded CASS-affiliated DOOM project on social media analysis. FireAnt is a free and easy-to-use tool designed to help corpus linguists and social scientists analyze Twitter and other social network data without the need for programming or database management skills. The following features of the tool will be explored in this workshop:

  • import different formats of data (e.g. Twitter data in JSON format, Reddit data in CSV format, etc.)
  • search that data and its associated metadata in a variety of ways (e.g., retrieve all tweets containing #blacklivesmatter sent in December 2015)
  • export the results to other formats including a plain text file for “standard” corpus analysis, an Excel/CSV file for statistical analysis, a timeline chart, and a network graph

We will be providing lunch at the start of the event and all materials for the workshop (including the software and help guide) on a USB drive. The schedule for the day can be found below.


Time Agenda
1315-1415 PDR Room: Lunch
1415-1430 Introduction, log on, etc.
1430-1530 FireAnt basics
1530-1545 Refuel: Coffee break
1545-1645 FireAnt advanced
1645-1700 Q&As, requests, bouquets, encores

Please note that places are extremely limited and must be booked in advance. If you would like to attend, please email Claire Hardaker (c.hardaker(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign) in the first instance.

CASS represented at Winter Reception of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism

Paul Iganski and Cat Smith MP for Lancaster & Fleetwood, and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, at the Winter Reception.

Paul Iganski and Cat Smith MP for Lancaster & Fleetwood, and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, at the Winter Reception.

On Wednesday, 16th December, Paul Iganski and Abe Sweiry attended the Winter Reception of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism in the Terrace Pavilion at the Houses of Parliament. Attendees heard speeches from John Mann MP, the chair of the Group, Commander Dean Haydon from the Metropolitan Police Service and Baroness Williams of Trafford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The event ended a significant year for the APPG against antisemitism, in which it published its second major inquiry into antisemitism. John Mann MP instigated the report into the lessons that could be learned from the upsurge of anti-Jewish incidents associated with last year’s conflict in Gaza.

Professor Iganski and Dr Sweiry, as part of a team from Lancaster University’s ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), were commissioned by the APPG to provide a rapid-response analysis of antisemitism on Twitter during the conflict to inform the Inquiry’s report.

CASS blog Anti-semitismIn highlighting the findings from CASS in the Inquiry report, the APPG called the analysis of Tweets ‘a unique piece of research which provides valuable and important early indications of trends that occurred during the summer’. [1]

The report recommended further research of the kind offered by CASS stating that ‘the importance of this research should not be underestimated. It helps identify some of the themes in discourse and with time could help to detect patterns of antisemitism and therefore to better direct resources to combat it’. [2]

In the intervening months between the report’s publication and the Winter reception, a progress review of the implementation of the APPG’s recommendations noted that ‘the CPS has pledged to review its guidance relating to communications sent via social media and review the handling of such cases within CPS Areas.’ [3]


[1] All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism (APPG) (2015) Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, London: APPG, page 51.

[2] All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism (APPG) (2015) Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, London: APPG, page 53.

[3] All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism (APPG) (2015) Implementation of the All-Party Parliamentary Report into Antisemitism: feedback and responses, London: APPG, page 4.


#CL2015 social media roundup: Using Corpus Linguistics to investigate Corpus Linguists talking about Corpus Linguistics


Corpus Linguistics 2015 – CL2015 – is the largest conference of its kind and this year drew over 250 attendees from all over the world to present work outlining the state of Corpus Linguistics (CL) at large, leading-edge technology and methods, and setting the agenda for years to come.

Of particular interest to me was a small but important streak of enquiry running through the conference, which is also becoming more prevalent in CL as a whole. That is, a focus on corpora collected from online source such as blogs and social media (Elgesem & Salway 2015; Grieve, et al. 2015; Hardaker & McGlashan 2015; Knight 2015; Longhi & Wigham 2015; McGlashan & Hardaker 2015; Statache, et al. 2015). The Internet now enables great opportunities for the collection and interrogation of large amounts of data – big data, even – and the rapid compilation of specialised corpora in ways previously impossible.

I focus here on social media data, specifically data collected from Twitter. Sampling data from Twitter, like a lot of other online sources, offers the opportunity to collect what people are saying (the content of their posts; tweets) but also a huge amount of metadata about the date, time, user, shared content (e.g. hyperlinks, retweets), interactional information, etc. relating to those posts. As Corpus Linguists, we therefore get the data we sample for – posts containing the thing(s) we are interested in – as well as other social information about the content creators and their social networks that we may or may not be interested in. Indeed, concerns about the kinds of metadata included and attached to online post is an issue that has sparked a great deal of debate about the ethics of collecting and using publicly posted online content, though these concerns are not discussed here. Instead, the potential for online ethnography is explored. In order to do this, I pair familiar CL research methods with methods from Social Network Analysis (SNA) that are more explicitly focussed on social networks and examining the myriad ways people affiliate with each other.

Theory & Methods: Corpus-assisted Community Analysis (CoCoA)

Corpus-assisted Community Analysis (CoCoA) is a multimethodological approach to the study of online discourse communities that combines methods from Discourse Analysis (DA), CL, and SNA.

Corpus-assisted Discourse Analysis

I predominantly draw on Baker (2006) in my approach to corpus-assisted DA, seeing discourse in a Foucauldian sense as, forms of social practice; “practices which systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault 1972: 49). Particularly, I am interested in the incremental effect of discourse. Baker suggests, “a single word, phrase or grammatical construction on its own may suggest the existence of a discourse” (2006: 13). However, in order to investigate how quantitatively typical or pervasive discourse is within a discourse community, numerous examples of linguistic instantiations of discourse are required to make a claim about its cumulative effect (ibid.). Following Baker, I argue here that corpora and CL techniques enable this kind of quantitative examination of discourse.

Social Network Analysis

SNA implements notions from graph theory for the formal modelling and describing the properties of relationships between objects of study such as people and institutions. A graph (or ‘sociogram’) is a representation of people or institutions of interest as ‘nodes’ and the relationships between them as a set of lines known as ‘edges’; a graph is built by representing “a set of lines [‘edges’] connecting points [‘nodes’]” (Scott 2013: 17). To interpret graphs, graph theory contributes “a body of mathematical axioms and formulae that describe the properties of the patterns formed by the lines [‘edges’]” (Scott 2013: 17). One of these axioms is ‘directionality’. Directed graphs can encode both symmetric and asymmetric relations (D’Andrea, et al. 2010: 12). Directed relationships are where nodes are connected by an edge that has a direction of flow from one node to another is known as asymmetric, as illustrated by the relations between A and C, and C and B in Fig. 1. Symmetric relationships are those in which an edge connects two nodes but is bidirectional – the direction of relation flows both ways – as illustrated by the relationship between A and B in Fig. 1. Directed relationships on Twitter include followership relations and the act of mentioning – i.e. including the handle (e.g. @CorpusSocialSci) – in tweets.


Figure 1: A simple directed graph

Undirected graphs represent identical, symmetric relationships between nodes which might be the result of nodes sharing reciprocal attitudes or “because they have a common involvement in the same activity” (Scott 2013: 17). Fig. 2 contains gives a graphical representation of an undirected graph.


Figure 2: A simple undirected graph

Directed and undirected (‘ambient’) kinds of affiliation are both understood here as being distinct forms of discursively constructed social practices. Furthermore, I adopt the term ‘ambient affiliation’ from the work of Zappavigna on the use of social media in the formation of community and identity (Zappagigna 2012; Zappagigna 2013). Ambient affiliation is about the functionalities of social media platforms that enable users “to commune with others without necessarily engaging in direct conversational exchanges” (Zappagigna 2013: 223-4). Therefore, ambient affiliation is about people exhibiting the same behaviours or sharing the same qualities but without directly interacting with each other. This notion closely approximates to the notion of an ‘undirected’ graph. In developing the theory of ambient affiliation Zappavigna draws on Page’s work on hashtags. Page refers to hashtags as “a search term” (2012: 183). Hashtags – a string of characters (usually a word or short phrase) unbroken by spaces or non-alphabetic/non-numeric characters (excl. underscores ‘_’) preceded by ‘#’ (e.g. #YOLO) – are used a metadiscursive markers of the topic of a tweet. Page goes onto argue that, “the kind of talk which aggregate around hashtags […] involve multiple participants talking simultaneously about the same topic, rather than individuals necessarily talking with each other in dyadic exchanges that resemble a conversation” (2012: 196). As such, Page suggests that hashtags destabilise conventional adjacency pairs characteristic of many forms of human dialogue and give a new way for humans to interact on a topic of mutual interest.


I collected all tweets and retweets including the official hashtag of the Corpus Linguistics 2015 conference – #CL2015 – posted from the date of the first pre-conference workshop (20/07/2015) through until the final day of the conference (24/07/2015). To do this, I used the R based Twitter client ‘twitteR’ to access the Twitter API. The resulting data amounted to:

  Total number
Tweets 671
Retweets 1025


  Tweets Retweets
20/07/2015 57 76
21/07/2015 128 169
22/07/2015 152 370
23/07/2015 176 241
24/07/2015 158 169
Totals 671 1025

The tweets corpus contained around ~10,000 words in total.


The data contained some ‘noise’ mainly caused by other people using the same #CL2015 hashtag to talk about another event occurring during the period of the conference. However, as I will show in the analysis, the methods enable researchers to focus only on the communities they are interested in.


Tweets – what was being talked about?

To find out what people were talking about day-to-day, I created daily tweet corpora. With each of these daily corpora, I performed a keyword analysis using a reference corpus compiled using the remaining other days. So, for the tweets sent during the pre-conference workshop day (20/07/2015) I used the tweets sent during the rest of the conference (21/07/2015-24/07/2015) as a reference corpus, and so on. The resulting top 10 keywords for each day are given in the table below.

  20/07/2015 21/07/2015 22/07/2015 23/07/2015 24/07/2015
1 CL2015 change sealey partington illness
2 workshop fireant granger duguid mental
3 pre biber animals gala news
4 workshops climate sylviane class literature
5 conference doom campaign dinner yahoo
6 main misogyny heforshe please dickens
7 starting academic collocation poster csr
8 historian assist eeg legal health
9 day biber’s handford alan incelli
10 lancaster bnc learner mock jaworska

The keywords shown in each column outline the most distinctive topics tweeted about during the conference. Italics used here relate back to keywords in the table.

On day 1, the pre-conference workshops, including @antlab‘s pre-conference corpus tools brainstorming session and @stgries’s pre-conference #R workshop were popular topics of conversation in the smallest subsample of tweets for the week.

Top favourited tweet from day 1:

On day 2, more diverse topics start to emerge. Change became a theme, relating to Andrew Salway’s talk on discourse surrounding climate change but also relates to a talk given by Doug Biber on historical linguistic change in ‘uptight’ academic texts. Fireant, a new user-friendly tool for efficiently dealing with large databases developed by Laurence Anthony, was also unveiled to the CL masses on day 2, which prompted a flurry of excited tweets [keep track of Laruence’s Twitter page for release]. DOOM and misogyny also became topical following talks by Claire Hardaker and Mark McGlashan on the Discourse of Online Misogyny project. Finally, some excitement followed a paper given by Robbie Love and Claire Dembry about the new Spoken BNC2014. For those interested, keep track of the CASS website for spoken data grants later in the year.

Top favourited tweet from day 2:

 Day 3 saw another topic change focussing most prominently on Alison Sealey’s talk on the discursive construction of animals in the media, Sylviane Granger’s plenary on learner corpora, a talk on the public’s online reactin to the #HeForShe campaign given by Rosie Knight, and Jen Hughes’ talk on the application of EEG (‘Electroencephalography’) to the study of collocation as a cognitive phenomenon.

Top favourited tweet from day 3:

After 3 days of incredibly interesting talks, corpus linguists were about ready for their gala dinner on day 4. But before all the cheesecake, the CL2015 were excitedly tweeting about the all important poster session, Alison Duguid’s talk on class, the Geoffrey Leech tribute panel which included Charlotte Taylor’s paper on mock politeness and ‘bitchiness’ as well as Lynne Murphy and Rachele de Felice’s talk on the differential use of please in BrE and AmE, Alan Partington’s plenary speech on CADS; and papers given by Ruth Breeze, Amanda Potts, and Alex Trklja, on the application of CL methods to the study of a broad range of legal language.

Top favourited tweet from day 4:

Day 5 brought #CL2015 to a close but the number of tweets remained steady with health on the agenda with talks from Ersilia Incelli and Gillian Smith who both focussed partly on the construction of mental illness/health in the news. News also featured Monika Bednarek’s talk on news discourse and Antonio Fruttaldo’s analysis of news tickers. Other key topics related to Sylvia Jaworska and Anupam Nanda’s paper on the Corpus Linguistic analysis of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Michaela Mahlberg’s work on the literature of Charles Dickens, and discussion of a corpus of Yahoo answers in the week’s penultimate panel on triangulating methodological approaches.

Top favourited tweet from day 5:

Approaching tweets in this way, it was possible to find out the most salient topics of each day. However, I was also interested in the retweeting behaviour of attendees.

Retweets – what was being talked about?

I looked at the top 10 most frequently retweeted tweets during the conference. Due to the intertextual nature of retweets – they are simply identical reposts of the same content – methods familiar to CL such as word frequency lists may not be as useful in their study. For example, if a few retweets are particularly frequently reposted, the most frequent words will be skewed by the content of the most frequent retweets. Instead, I suggest that retweets themselves should be conceptualised as being individual types in and of themselves that require more qualitative approaches to their interpretations (at least in this context). The top 10 most frequently retweeted tweets including the #CL2015 hashtag are given below:

  Retweet Date Freq
1 RT @EstrategiasEc: Concluimos este viernes con exitoso proceso de postulación @ECLideres VI Prom. #CL2015 con auspicio de @ucatolicagye. ht… 22/07/2015 218
2 RT @perayson: To access the new HT semantic tagger from the @SAMUELSProject see and #CL2015 23/07/2015 15
3 RT @UCREL_Lancaster: The #CL2015 abstract book is now available to download from the conference website 21/07/2015 13
4 RT @duygucandarli: Important take-away messages about corpus research in Biber’s plenary talk at #CL2015! 21/07/2015 11
5 RT @lynneguist: Alan Partington looking at how quickly language changes in White House Press Briefings… #CL2015 23/07/2015 10
6 RT @CorpusSocialSci: .@_paulbaker_ reflecting on a number of approaches to the same data at the Triangulation panel at #CL2015… 24/07/2015 10
7 RT @CorpusSocialSci: .@vaclavbrezina introduces Graphcoll, a new visualisation tool for collocational networks #CL2015… 22/07/2015 9
8 RT @_ctaylor_: It’s a myth that reference corpora have to larger than target corpus says @antlabjp  #cl2015 22/07/2015 7
9 RT @Loopy63: #CL2015 Call for papers for Intl. Conference on  statistical analysis of textual data 2016 in Nice, France:… 23/07/2015 7
10 RT @vaclavbrezina: A great use of #GraphColl by @violawiegand – #CL2015 poster presentation @TonyMcEnery @StephenWattam… 24/07/2015 7

The most frequent retweet was regarding a Latin American Youth Leadership programme that shared the same #CL2015 hashtag [nb. For next year, Corpus Linguistics conference organisers…]. As you will notice, this retweet occurred on 22/07/2015 but as retweets and tweets are dealt with exclusively, the retweet does not interfere with the keyword analysis done for the same day on the tweets.

What do the most frequent retweets highlight? Free tools (GraphColl, HT semantic tagger), free resources (abstract book), plenary talks and more conferences.


With a general idea of what people are talking about and sharing using the #CL2015 hashtag, I was interested to examine the overall activity around #CL2015 and the emergence of discourse communities.

In terms of tweets the gif below shows how relationships developed over the course of the conference. Every node represents a Twitter account that posted a tweet containing #CL2015 during the period of data collection. The size of these nodes is dictated by their ‘degree’, or its number of edges. More edges = larger node. The colour of the nodes is determined by ‘betweenness centrality’, which indicates how central a node is in a network. Nodes with high betweenness centrality help the speed of transfer of information through networks as they help create the shortest distance between other nodes in the network. Nodes with high betweenness centrality are coloured red, a medium betweenness centrality is yellow, and low betweenness centrality is blue. Nodes with intermediary colours (orange, green) represent those that have a betweenness centrality somewhere between low and medium or between medium and high. Finally, the colour and size of edges is dictated by ‘weight’. In this example, weight is dictated by the frequency of tweets that exist between nodes. Thick red edges between nodes represent nodes that send tweets to each other frequently, or one node mentions another frequently. Thin blue edges represent low frequency mentioning relationships. Yellow are medium. Again, blended colours represent intermediary frequencies and thus, in this case, weight.

CL2015 tweets

The tweets network shows that @CorpusSocialSci was – perhaps unsurprisingly – the most prolific and central account in the #CL2015 network. It had the most connections and joined the most individual accounts together. But other users were very active in helping to disseminate information more widely, which are shown by those nodes in yellow and orange. The accounts on the periphery of the network are good examples of ambient affiliation. They use #CL2015 to affiliate but do not directly engage with others by mentioning other users. Moreover, the gif attempts to show the evolution and growth of the network over time but also shows that each day new topics and networks of interaction relating to those new topics emerged daily. As talks (and news of talks in the network) became topical, people tweeted and shared ideas and notes relevant to those talks. An example of this is the emergence of fireant on 21/07/2015. When introduced to delegates, an ad hoc online discourse community formed to spread the news of a new tool, add new information and to channel their enthusiasm back to source.

User Date Tweet
RachelleVessey 2015-07-21 16:50:43 Excellent end to the first day of #CL2015- FireAnt looks like a fantastic programme @antlabjp @DrClaireH can’t wait to try it out!
SLGlaas 2015-07-21 16:54:13 Stupidly excited about #Fireant from @antlabjp  #CL2015
CorpusSocialSci 2015-07-21 16:54:43 Everyone is eagerly wondering when FireAnt will be available. @antlabjp’s answer is hopefully within the next few months. #CL2015
Rosie_Knight 2015-07-21 16:56:40 Amazing talk about FireAnt- can’t wait to use this on my #HeForShe data! @DrClaireH @antlabjp @Mark_McGlashan #CL2015

CL2015 retweets

The retweets network again shows that @CorpusSocialSci was – and, again perhaps unsurprisingly – at the centre of #CL2015 retweeting activity. The retweet network gif shows 2 discrete networks. The right hand network shows activity at the CL conference, the left hand network shows the retweeting behaviour of the Latin American Youth Leadership programme mentioned above. Avid conference tweeters may have noticed when keeping track of the #CL2015 hashtag. The left hand network – a graphic representation of the most retweeted tweet containing #CL2015 shown above – shows 218 users retweeting a single central account. In this network there is no interaction between the users engaged in retweeting this user. This kind of network formation is extremely typical of users retweeting news stories on Twitter. The right hand network, however, shows a great deal of mutual retweeting, whereby users are engaged on a prolonged basis in sharing each others’ tweets and forming a network of sharing and resharing.


Integrating methods from CL and SNA offers some really interesting possibilities for the analysis of large amounts of social data. Here, I have used keyword analysis to find the most salient topics for each day of the conference, used those topics to find and visualise small but coherent discourse communities, and situated those communities within the wider #CL2015 social network.


m.mcglashan(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)



Baker, P. (2006) Using Corpora in Discourse Analysis. London: Continuum.

D’Andrea, A., Ferri, F. & Grifoni, P. (2010). An overview of methods for virtual social network analysis. In: A. Abraham, A.-E. Hassanien, & V. Sná el (eds.). Computational Social Network Analysis. London: Springer London, pp. 3–26.

Elgesem, D. & Salway, A. (2015) Traitor, whistleblower or hero? Moral evaluations of the Snowden affair in the blogosphere. In Formato, F. & Hardie, A. (Eds.) Corpus Linguistics 2015 Abstract Book. Paper presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015, Lancaster. Lancaster University. pp 99-101

Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock.

Grieve, J., Nini, A., Guo, D, & Kasakoff, A. (2015) Recent changes in word formation strategies in American social media. In Formato, F. & Hardie, A. (Eds.) Corpus Linguistics 2015 Abstract Book. Paper presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015, Lancaster. Lancaster University. pp 140-3

Knight, R. (2015) Tweet all about it: public views on the UN’s HeForShe campaign. In Formato, F. & Hardie, A. (Eds.) Corpus Linguistics 2015 Abstract Book. Paper presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015, Lancaster. Lancaster University. pp 201-3

Longhi, J. & Wigham, C. R. (2015) Structuring a CMC corpus of political tweets in TEI: corpus features, ethics and workflow. In Formato, F. & Hardie, A. (Eds.) Corpus Linguistics 2015 Abstract Book. Paper presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015, Lancaster. Lancaster University. pp. 408-9

Hardaker, C. & McGlashan, M. (2015) Twitter rape threats and the discourse of online misogyny (DOOM): from discourses to networks. In Formato, F. & Hardie, A. (Eds.) Corpus Linguistics 2015 Abstract Book. Paper presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015, Lancaster. Lancaster University. pp. 154-6

McGlashan, M. & Hardaker, C. (2015) Twitter rape threats and the discourse of online misogyny (DOOM): using corpus-assisted community analysis (COCOA) to detect abusive online discourse communities. In Formato, F. & Hardie, A. (Eds.) Corpus Linguistics 2015 Abstract Book. Paper presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015, Lancaster. Lancaster University. pp. 234-5

Page, R. (2012). The linguistics of self-branding and micro-celebrity in Twitter: The role of hashtags. Discourse & Communication. 6 (2). p.pp. 181–201.

Scott, J. (2013). Social Network Analysis. 3rd Ed. London: Sage.

Statache, R., Adolphs, S., Carter, C. J., Koene, A., McAuley, D., O’Malley, C., Perez, E. & Rodden, T. (2015) Descriptive ethics on social media from the perspective of ideology as defined within systemic functional linguistics. In Formato, F. & Hardie, A. (Eds.) Corpus Linguistics 2015 Abstract Book. Paper presented at Corpus Linguistics 2015, Lancaster. Lancaster University. p. 433

Zappavigna, M. (2012). Discourse of Twitter and social media. London: Continuum.

Zappavigna, M. (2013). Enacting identity in microblogging through ambient affiliation. Discourse & Communication. 8 (2). pp. 209–228.

New CASS Partnership to Work on Mapping Online Far-Right Networks

Research staff from the ESRC-Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), Lancaster University and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), King’s College London begin 2015 by undertaking a joint research project which aims to map the networks in which UK-based far-right Twitter accounts operate.

The research team is Joseph Carter – Research Fellow at ICSR, Mark McGlashan – Senior Research Associate at CASS, and; Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens – Head of Research and Information at ICSR. The collaborative research partnership is facilitated by the VOX-Pol Researcher Exchange Programme and CASS, and aims to establish a long-term relationship between the centres and staff.

The partnership brings together complementary research interests that have been explored extensively at both research centres, namely behaviours associated with, amongst others,  extremist political ideologies, nationalism, and (cultural) racism. However, the ways in which these phenomena have been explored at both centres are widely different. The primary focus of the research done at CASS is on the (quantitative) linguistic aspects of, for example, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and explores these primarily through corpus linguistic methods. Whereas, the research at ICSR has centred on examining the political radicalisation with a wider methodological remit, which includes social network analysis, media analysis, and discourse analysis.

The partnership brings together these different research interests on a project which combines aspects of Corpus Linguistics with Social Network Analysis to give both qualitative and quantitative analyses of the online UK far-right as it exists on Twitter. The research will give an overall snapshot of the online behaviour of those who affiliate with the far-right in an online context with findings being channelled towards policy makers, academic and non-academic audiences and into further collaborative research.

Sweepyface: a linguistic profile

This morning brought news of the suicide of a media-branded ‘troll’[1]. Brenda Leyland, the 63 year-old woman behind the @sweepyface Twitter account, a self-proclaimed “researcher” and “anti-McCann” advocate was found dead at a Marriott hotel on Saturday 4th October in Leicester. She was recently contacted by a reporter at Sky News regarding her Twitter activity which frequently suggested that the disappearance of Madeline ‘Maddie’ McCann in May 2007 was being covered up to the profit of her parents Kate and Gerry McCann.

Part of an online community of “antis” – people who challenge the McCann’s account of Maddie’s disappearance – Leyland frequently posted under the @sweepyface Twitter handle tagging her posts with #mccann. “Antis” distinguish themselves from “pros”, or “pro-mccann” advocates, who believe the McCann’s account of their daughter’s disappearance.

Here, we offer a brief and broad analysis of the content flowing to and from the @sweepyface Twitter account during the entirety of 2014, including the language use and online networks in which @sweepyface operated.

Please note that our analysis does not attempt to validate any claims made by any party with regard to the disappearance of Madeline McCann.

Who is sweepyface?

As presented on analysis of the @sweepyface Twitter account

  • Description: researcher
  • Location: London/Los Angeles

What was sweepyface talking about?

  • Number of tweets sent between Jan-Oct 2014: 2,136
  • Tweets by sweepyface which contained the ‘#mccann’ hashtag: 1,992 (93.26% of all tweets in 2014)
  • Frequency
    • We looked at the most frequent words used by @sweepyface in all the tweets sent during 2014. After cutting out frequent grammatical words (like to, the, is, of, and, etc.) which don’t typically reveal much about content, it was found that the most frequent things talked about were:
    • “K & G” – freq 222
      • K & G was used as shorthand to refer to Kate and Gerry McCann, Madeline McCann’s mother and father. They were one of the most frequent topics of interest
      • ‘Kate’ and ‘Gerry’ also appeared, but less frequently (60 times and 39 times, respectively) and were never referred to using their full names, Kate McCann/Gerry McCann
  • “shills”
    • ‘Shills’ was the most frequent lexical word used(unlike grammatical/functional words, lexical words have clear semantic meaning – they are word classes like nouns and verbs).
    • It was almost unique to sweepyface – it was characteristic of her particular way of framing “pros”
    • Shills was used as a catch all term to talk about:
      • Those who would express “pro-mccann” opinions – “pros” and “shills” appear to be interchangeable
      • those who would opposed the opinions of “antis”
    • used as an in-/out-group identifier
  • “police”
    • mostly used to question police practices as in the following Tweet from sweepyface:
      • “#mccann  Rarely a month goes by when our police force are not highlighted as having flawed investigations, PJ is no worse than any other”
    • Tweeted the police, as in the following examples:





19/03/2014 15:32

@metpoliceuk  This is becoming farcical Why will you not consider McCanns as suspects, plenty of clues

08/08/2014 15:31

@gracey52marl @metpoliceuk  #mccann  Not me, I wd like to see Gerrie Nell, prosecute the Mcanns, he wd tear them to shreds

Who did sweepyface affiliate with and what did they say?

Examined only the top 10 accounts with whom @sweepyface had most interaction with. These accounts were:

Rank Account name # of interactions Group
2 TrulyJudy73 456 pro
3 martin_liz 445 anti
4 siamesey 417 anti
5 RothleyPillow 393 anti
6 AdirenM 323 anti
7 1matthewwright1 314 anti
8 ModNrodder 309 pro
9 B_balou 256 anti
10 basilandmanuel 250 pro

Sweepyface most frequently associated directly with others who were actively engaged in talk about the disappearance of Madeline McCann, whether as a “pro” or as an “anti”. Moreover, contact between these accounts was evident and many more accounts were frequently interacting with sweepyface on the same topic.

 [more to follow]

[1] We argue that ‘troll’ as used by the media is defined too broadly – it captures behaviours from low level insults to rape and death threats – and is thus harmful. We adhere instead to the definition of ‘troll’ given here:

Discourses of Online Misogyny

Indexing reporting and conversations about rape in online social media: India after the 2012 Delhi gang rape


New partners: CASS, Lancaster University and Fields of View, India (Left to right: Onkar Hoysala, Fields of View; Mark McGlashan, CASS; Sruthi Krishnan, Fields of View)

The reporting of incidents of rape of women by (typically groups of) men in India appear to be on the rise. A key incident leading to an increased number of reports occurred in Delhi in December 2012 where a woman and a male friend were kidnapped by a group of six men (including a male legal minor) driving what appeared to be an average passenger bus.

Once on board, the male victim was beaten unconscious and gagged by the attackers who then proceeded to violently rape the female victim which included using what was thought to be a rusted car wheel jack handle. So severe were the injuries this caused to her internal organs that she died only days later in a specialist organ transplant hospital in Singapore.

The attack occurred on December 16th; she passed away on December 29th.

All five adult attackers received a death sentence (one died as a result of injuries sustained from beatings by prison inmates) and the child minor received a three-year custodial sentence.

The attack was reported on internationally and led to a wave of protests throughout India which were instrumental in bringing about legal reform with relation to rape and some social changes with respect to securing ‘safe spaces’ for women, including women-only buses. Since the incident, Delhi has become known as the ‘rape capital’ of India and reported incidents are rising. The latest figures show that official reports of rape and sexual assault have risen across India from 16,373 cases in 2002 to 24,206 in 2011 (an increase of 67.6%).

Although an increased journalistic focus on the issue has led to a greater scrutiny of legal practices and public awareness of rape in India, there remain some significant issues. For instance, marital rape is not a criminal offence and the treatment of rape by India’s politicians is of particular concern, with several top officials making troubling and controversial public statements damaging any belief that the Indian government is taking what appear to be endemic cases of rape and sexual assault seriously. As recently as this month, rape has been described as ‘sometimes right, sometimes wrong’ by cabinet minister of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Babulal Gaur. Another BJP minister, Ramsevak Paikra, has suggested that incidents such as rapes and sexual assaults, rather than being deliberate, “happen accidentally”.

In the wake of these incidents, this research aims to examine a number of important and practical issues in relation to rape in India, including:

  • Legal understandings of acts of rape and sexual assault
  • Social attitudes and understandings in relation to rape and sexual assault
  • Media discourses in relation to rape and sexual assaultS

CASS partnering with Fields of View, India

In order to investigate the social impact of increased reporting about rape in India since the Delhi gang rape incident, as well as the social influence of controversial statements from institutionally influential individuals, CASS are teaming up Fields of View based in India. Fields of view are a research outfit aimed at studying complex social phenomena (e.g. city planning, infrastructure development) and developing intuitive ways to collaborate and engage with the public.

The project will take twitter data and chart the changes over time regarding conversations and reporting of rape in India. The collaborative effort will implement analytical methods developed at CASS to analyse the data which will be interpreted into visual and interactive digital outputs by Fields of View.



Reflections from the Front Line: Sarah Russell on MELC and Twitter

Sarah Russell (Director of Education and Research, Peace Hospice Care and the Hospice of St Francis) attended this month’s Language in End-of Life-Care event, where an audience of approximately 40 healthcare professionals and researchers specialising in palliative and end-of-life care gathered to share their perspectives.

In a new blog post on eHospice, she reflects on this experience, as well as sharing some insight into a tweet chat with @WeNurses, where 128 participants came together to discuss individual experiences, symptom control, communication, recognising dying, family and patient needs, caring, and denial as a coping mechanism.

Read more to learn about Sarah’s experience, and to hear her challenge for everyone (including researchers and health care professionals) by visiting eHospice now.

The Twitter reaction to the sentencing of the Lee Rigby murderers – 26th February 2014

by Love, R., McEnery, T. & Wattam, S.


The ESRC-funded Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) at Lancaster University has undertaken some preliminary research into the immediate reaction on Twitter to the sentencing of the Lee Rigby murderers on Wednesday 26th February 2014. This document summarises our findings.


On the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd May 2013, British soldier Lee Rigby was murdered by two men, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, London. The attack, which was carried out in broad daylight, quickly became a major national news story. In December 2013 the perpetrators were found guilty of murder and were sentenced on Wednesday 26th February 2014. Adebolajo received a whole-life sentence (meaning he will never be released) and Adebowale received a life sentence with a minimum term of 45 years imprisonment.

How the research was carried out

We carried out our research by using the Twitter API to collect a large amount of tweets[1] that referred to the Rigby case, in some way, between 00.00 and 23.59 on Wednesday 26th February 2014. All tweets containing one or more of the following terms were included in our search:

rigby, adebolajo, adebowale, woolwich trial, woolwich sentence, woolwich      sentencing, justice Sweeney, #leerigby, #rigbytrial, #rigbysentence, #woolwich, #woolwichmurder, #woolwichattack, #woolwichtrial

Using these search terms we collected a total of 57,097 tweets over the 24 hour period, which included retweets (RTs), quotes etc. This amounted to a total of 1,109,136 words of Twitter discussion about the case. We then used a set of tools and methods developed in corpus linguistics to find out the ways in which Twitter users discussed the sentencing on the day of the decision.


The following is a selection of preliminary findings based on the analysis of the tweets.

  • Nearly two thirds of the tweets were retweets[2]

Nearly 35,000 tweets (60.1% of tweets) included the retweet abbreviation RT. This confirms that Twitter discussion of the Lee Rigby case was highly retweeted and shared by Twitter users. The top ten most frequently retweeted Twitter handles appear to have been:

Rank Handle Description
1 @bbcbreaking Breaking news account for BBC News
2 @skymarkwhite Home Affairs Correspondent for Sky News
3 @skynewsbreak Breaking news account for Sky News
4 @poppypride1 An “independent account supporting all troop charities”
5 @jakeleonardx Young footballer at Crewe Alexandra Academy
6 @itvnews Main account for ITV News
7 @courtnewsuk News reports account for the Old Bailey
8 @thesunnewspaper Main account for The Sun newspaper
9 @bbcnews Main account for BBC News
10 @unnamedinsider Satirical commentator

Based on these it seems that the most popular form of Twitter interaction relating to the Rigby sentencing was to retweet news updates from well-known news providers including the BBC News, Sky News, ITV News and The Sun. @jakeleonardx is not a celebrity (he has less than 1,000 followers), but when he tweeted a photo of Lee Rigby’s son with the caption “Poor little lad, RIP Lee Rigby”, it was retweeted nearly 1,000 times. @unnamedinsider appears to be better known (with over 34,000 followers), and posted two tweets ridiculing the BNP and EDL protesters who had gathered outside of the Old Bailey for the sentencing.

  • The most salient word (apart from names and Twitter terms) was life

Twitter users were very concerned with the nature of the sentence being delivered in the sentencing, using the word ‘life’ 19,498 times (34.1% of tweets). The most common three-word phrase this was used in was life in prison (4,369 times, 7.7% of tweets), confirming that Twitter users were not concerned about the loss of life but rather the restriction of those of the perpetrators.

  • Some Twitter users wanted more than whole-life terms for the perpetrators

As well as whole-life terms, Twitter users strongly expressed their opinion about other punishments they deemed suitable for the perpetrators. In particular, highly salient words like rot, deserve, should and hang indicate this. The most popular three-word expression relating to such desired punishments is rot in hell. Furthermore the word deserve occurred 1,295 times (2.3% of tweets), an indication of a clear evaluation of the sanction proposed: popular four-word phrases containing deserve included deserve a life sentence, deserve to be hung, and deserve the death penalty. Likewise the word should is almost exclusively used to wish death upon the perpetrators of the murder, while hang relates to the most popular way in which Twitter users wanted capital punishment to be undertaken upon the killers.

  • Michael Adebolajo was discussed more than Michael Adebowale

The surname ‘Adebolajo’ was tweeted 15,092 times (26.4% of tweets) compared to ‘Adebowale’ being tweeted only 11,729 times (20.5% of tweets). This indicates that the perpetrator, who received the whole-life sentence was of more concern for tweeters than the perpetrator who received the less severe punishment.

  • The most salient word used to describe Adebolajo and Adebowale was scum, and the most salient swear word was cunts

Twitter’s word of choice for the perpetrators was scum, which occurred 1,466 times (2.6% of tweets). Popular phrases included ‘the scum’, ‘this scum’, ‘two scum’, ‘them scum’ and ‘those scum’, and popular words that combined with scum include absolute, fucking, murdering and jihadi. Furthermore, the swear word cunts was used 800 times in tweets about the Rigby sentencing (1.4% of tweets). This further indicates that, as expected, there was considerable disapproval and anger expressed towards the perpetrators. Words that combined with cunts to describe the perpetrators included dirty, sick, horrible, fucking, evil, scummy, vile, muslim, murdering and filthy.

  • In terms of religion, Twitter users were most concerned about Islam

The three most salient religious words were islamistas, Islam and Muslim. Islamistas (Spanish for Islamists) occurred in Spanish language tweets reporting the result of the sentencing (though most tweets were produced in English, and by users from the UK, there appears to have been activity from all over the world).  The other terms mostly occur in retweets and discussions about the judge’s statement that the perpetrators had betrayed Islam by murdering Rigby. The general opinion appears to be that the murder was nothing to do with the religion of Islam.


This preliminary analysis, using tools and methods from corpus linguistics, has captured a general impression of the Twitter reaction to the sentencing of the Lee Rigby murderers. It seems that the main reaction centred around the nature of the sentencing and the Twitter users’ wishes for both Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale to receive at least a whole-life sentence but preferably death. Furthermore some Twitter users appeared unrestrained in their willingness to use offensive language to describe the killers.

[1] As many as possible were collected, but given the immediacy of the event and the nature of the search method, we acknowledge that Twitter users may have tweeted about the Rigby trial without using any of these terms.

[2] This may have been even higher than this if we take into account retweets that do not contain the letters ‘RT’.