Post 6: Scraping Twitter to create a data set

Molly Grover

Functioning at its most basic level as an online messaging service, Twitter provides users from all over the world with a platform to communicate, engage with one another and express ideas. Limiting posts to 140 characters or less, the platform encourages quick-fire exchanges of dialogue and conversation about a endlessly wide range of topics, such as news, current affairs, popular culture, humour, beliefs and personal matters.

Trending topic categories, hashtag and re-tweet functions all reinforce the platform’s emphasis on the rapid public dissemination of thought and opinion. A single user’s post has the power to spark a large-scale international debate in a number of minutes, gaining momentum every time the message is re-tweeted, engaged with or replied to by another user.

The sidebar of a user’s Twitter browser displays a constantly updated list of trending topics (Twitter 2016).

Encompassing 313 million active users worldwide, it can be argued that the Twitter community is primarily comprised of people who value the right to express their opinion. More than a profile picture or a one-line biography, identity in the Twittersphere is primarily constructed by the opinions, interests and ideas which one chooses to align with. Due to the inevitably polarising nature of this kind of open discussion, expressions of outrage are as common as positive affirmation in the ‘platform where all voices can be heard’ (Twitter 2016).

For an issue as complex and controversial as the Australian refugee and asylum seeker influx, it can thus be argued that Twitter is the perfect platform from which to scrape and analyse direct, passionate public sentiment.

Scraping Attempt 1

For my first scraping exercise, I used Google’s Twitter Archiver to collect tweets containing the hashtag #Refugees or #Asylumseekers or #Auspol.


Unfortunately, the breadth of these topics resulted in an extremely large, and not particularly relevant data set. Collecting almost 25,000 tweets from a period of only one week, a skim through the first few tweets in the data set revealed that many were unrelated to Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. For example, the #Auspol hashtag collected sentiments regarding other areas of Australian politics, whilst the #Refugees and #AsylumSeekers hashtags collected discussion on refugee crises in other parts of the world.

My first attempt at scraping Twitter provided me with results which were not particularly relevant (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).

Scraping Attempt 2

In order to refine my search to collect data of greater relevance, I decided to conduct a preliminary search on Twitter to gauge which terms and hashtags were likely to return the most interesting information. I created an advanced search for the words “Nauru” or “Manus” or “Detention”, and the hashtags #Nauru or #Manus or #Detention.


Reading through a handful of the tweets collected by this search, I was pleasantly surprised by the increased relevance of the results. By hashtagging the locations of Australia’s detention centres, I had successfully narrowed the topic from all those seeking asylum to only those seeking asylum in Australia. Furthermore, upon reading these tweets I was amazed by the number of users from other countries who were engaging in discussion surrounding Australia’s offshore detention policies.


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Tweets posted by users in London and New Zealand about Australia’s detention centres in Nauru (El-Enany & RNZ International 2016). 

Scraping Attempt 3

Fascinated by this, I returned to the Twitter Archiver and replicated this search, collecting nearly 9,000 tweets containing #Nauru or #Manus or #Detention from the last ten days. Interested in capturing the sentiment and discourse coming from outside Australia, I looked to the locations specified in each user’s Twitter profile, using conditional formatting to hide all those that contained an Australian location, such as Sydney, QLD, or Gippsland.

Combing through the tweets, I used conditional formatting with light coloured text to hide all Australian locations (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).

Excluding users who listed non-specific or even fictional locations (e.g. Global Citizen or Gaia), I combed through the leftover results, copying and pasting the first 100 tweets into a separate spreadsheet.

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The new data set of 100 tweets from non-Australian locations (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).

Process Flowchart

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A summary of my scraping processes (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).


Upon reading the contents of these 100 tweets, I found 29 to be irrelevant, containing the hashtag #Detention yet not relating specifically to the Australian issue. From the remaining 71 tweets, I manually compiled a list of user locations, in order to gauge the pervasiveness of the issue from an international context.

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The 25 countries from which users in the sample tweeted (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).

The 71 tweets in the sample were posted from a total of 25 different countries. Dominating the sample were England and the United States, with totals of 15 and 11 tweets respectively. After these followed New Zealand and Ireland, with a total 5 tweets each. These results are not surprising due to the active relationships between these countries and Australia, as a result of cultural similarities and the shared English language.

The remaining 21 countries were spread across Europe, Asia, Polynesia and the Middle East, revealing a much greater level of global pervasiveness than I had expected. Interestingly, whilst coming from such a diverse range of locations, the vast majority of these tweets were actually re-tweets of popular statements regarding only a select few issues. These included the recent incident of Danish politicians being denied access to Nauru, the 169 consecutive days of peaceful asylum seeker protests on the island, the leaking of the Nauru files, and a message of support to male detainees on Father’s Day.

Such similarity within this group of tweets does much to highlight the power of the re-tweet function as a disseminator of knowledge within the platform, echoing and spreading ideas at a rapid pace throughout the international Twitter community.

Furthermore, all of these tweets were positioned in objection to Australia’s current systems of offshore detention, echoing the dissatisfaction that is increasingly expressed within Australia, by both the public and the media, regarding the inhumane treatment of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru.

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The four main tweets which were re-tweeted by the sample of non-Australian users (Bochenek, Karapanagiotidis, Insurrection News & TheDetentionForum 2016).

5 Point Summary

  • Australia’s detainment of refugees is a topic of international discussion within the Twitter platform, evidenced by tweets posted by many users who identify themselves as being outside Australia.
  • Tweets were sampled from 25 countries in total, spread across Europe, Asia, Polynesia and the Middle East.
  • Only a small handful of statements were re-tweeted and echoed between this large spread of users and locations.
  • From the sample taken, England and The United States of America were the two countries most involved in the conversation, attributable to their active relationships with Australia.
  • The overwhelming consensus from international users was a dissatisfaction with Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

Possible visual responses

From these exercises came a number of rich possibilities for a design response. Immediately, I imagined a data visualisation in the form of a world map, in which all tweets about the Australian refugee and asylum seeker issue could be plotted according to the locations of their users. Illuminating both the geographical and proportional spread of discussion surrounding the issue, this visualisation could include interactive functionality, allowing the user to click on a particular country to see the range of opinions expressed there.

My first idea for a design response: a world map of tweets related to the Australian issue (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).

Another form of data visualisation could involve the chronological plotting of related tweets along a timeline, categorized by country of origin. Visualisation temporal frequency in the same manner as a heart rate monitor, this design response would communicate the constant spreading and shifting of conversation over time and place.

My next idea for a design response: a temporal visualisation of international tweets (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).

Lastly, a design response could visualize the geographical trajectory of a single tweet as it is re-tweeted over and over again by users of different origins. Inspired by the small handful of recurring statements present in the data sample I collected, this response would comment on the methods with which information related to the issue is disseminated throughout the global Twitter platform.

My final idea for a design response: A visualisation of a single tweet’s global trajectory (Copyright 2016 Molly Grover).


Bochenek, M. 2016, Tweet, Twitter, London, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

Cooper, E. 2016, Millennials respond excellently to #HowToConfuseAMillenial Hashtag, Australia, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

El-Enany, N. 2016, Tweet, Twitter, London, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

Google 2016, Twitter Archiver, California, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

Insurrection News 2016, Tweet, Twitter, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

Karapanagiotidis, K. 2016, Tweet, Twitter, Wurundjeri Land, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

RNZ International 2016, Tweet, Twitter, New Zealand, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

The Detention Forum 2016, Tweet, Twitter, London, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

Twitter 2016, Careers, San Francisco, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.

Twitter 2016, Twitter, San Francisco, viewed 5 September 2016, <>.


Post 3



The map shown above depicts a variety of stakeholders in regards to the asylum seeker and refugee issues, specifically in Australia. It shows how different entities vary in their level of influence on how the situation is handled, solved, worsened and also perceived.

The influence of each party varies from high to low;  the media, Government, refugees and the Australian population are the primary influencers whereas smaller groups such as churches, doctors and local communities have less impact on the situation. I found that there are so many aspects to consider when approaching this complex issue. As the map shows, it is not just people and organisations that play an important role in how attitudes form and how the situation is handled, but systems and values too.


  1. Boat Carrying Hundreds of Migrant Capsizes (Anadolu Agency, 2016)
    This photo shows the perilous journey that many asylum seekers face in their search for safety. The boats that many refugees travel on are badly damaged, over crowded and close to sinking. Over the past decade, thousands of asylum seekers travelling by boat have died as many of the boats have capsized, been destroyed by rough waters or sank before naval rescue boats were able to intercept them. The photograph indirectly suggests the desperate situation they must be in as there is a high chance of them or a loved one drowning in the middle of the ocean, however, they still consider this is the more favourable option for finding refuge.
  2. Nauru Riots (ABC, 2011)
    This photograph depicts the Nauru detention centre aflame and in chaos; the result from enraged detainees rioting and protesting against their imprisonment behind barbed wire fencing. It is interesting that the photograph even exists as no cameras are allowed on the premises, yet there is no sign of authorities to enforce these strict regulations or to control the situation. The photograph reflects many of the issues presented in the previously posted text sources. Obviously the first implication is a broken system, where prisoners are making a stand against the terrible conditions and treatment within the camps. This notion is heard in echoed in Jacinda Woodhead’s article ‘We, A Nation of Torturers’, condemning the current offshore processing policies. In contrast, the mayhem and destruction created from the rioters is highlighted in Piers Akerman’s article, ‘Left’s Refugee Wails are a Boatload of Lies’, where he blames the increase of violence and crime in European countries with the increase of refugees.
  3.  Anti-Refugee Protestors (ABC, 2016)
    As opposed to the #LetThemStay Protests in Australia, there have also been several rallies held in Australia who oppose the idea of allowing asylum seekers to be processed in the country. This photo focuses on two particular people from the protests, creating a negative representation of those who are against open border policies. The majority of the protesters, who aren’t wearing Islamic religious attire in an offensive manner, are not in view. The xenophobic pair seem to believe they are speaking on behalf of the nation as they claim “Australia says no” and wear the national flag around their shoulders, as though they are defenders of the country.
  4.  Man dies on Manus Island (Dan Paled, 2014)
    This photo depicts a candlelight vigil held for Reza Barati, an Iranian asylum seeker  who lost his life during the Manus Island riots. The memorial suggests that many Australians do have a great level of empathy for those who have suffered in incarceration. The photo does not present information regarding who killed him nor the details were regarding his death. However, much like Woodhead’s article in Post 1 (‘We, A Nation of Torturers’), the memorial signs do imply that the system and current Government policies are to blame as they call for the detention centres be closed down.
  1. Propaganda in War-torn Pakistan (Unknown, 2010)
    This graphic image depicts the deadly situations that many asylum seekers are fleeing from. Blood stains and bodies are seen in the foreground after a car bomb was detonated. In the background, the viewer can see propaganda signs that ironically warns people about the dangers of seeking asylum in Australia via boat. This presents the idea that Western politicians dismiss the extreme dangers that exist in war-torn countries and naively or cruelly believe that nothing could be worse than being smuggled into Australia by a broken-down boat, when in reality, they face bomb threats on a daily basis if they do not leave.
  2.  Child’s drawing in Detention (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014)
    This drawing shows how young children that are seeking asylum with their families are not exempt from refugee processing policies and are locked up like prisoners. They are detained for an indefinite period of time where many suffer mental and physical health issues. The drawing shows a little girl feeling isolated and scared. It provokes an emotional response from the viewer as it is a child’s desperate plea to unlock her from the prison she is held in.
  3. Government propaganda discourages refugees coming to Australia (Lauren Gianoli, 2014)
    In ‘Millions Spent on Anti-Refugee Propaganda’ , a previously mentioned article published in GreenLeft Weekly, Zebedee Parkes heavily criticises the Liberal Government for spending millions on ‘anti-refugee’ propaganda. However, the photograph here shows how both Liberal and Labour are responsible for discouraging asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat. This image shows a full-page newspaper advertisement from Labour’s asylum seeker campaign in 2013, telling asylum seekers that “the law’s changed, please don’t come by boat because you’ll get resettled to Papua New Guinea,” as Chris Bowen explained to Sky News.
  4. Toddler’s body washed up onto Turkish beach (Nilufer Demir, 2015)
    The photograph shows a tiny lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach. It reveals only one out of the thousands of deaths that have occurred at sea as millions seek asylum via boat. Within hours of taking the photo, it had gone viral along with the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore). This little boys family obviously took the risk of fleeing their war-torn country because they thought it would be the safest option, and hoped for a new life that promised safety and security. Unfortunately their journey and lives ended too soon when their boat was destroyed by rough waters.
  5. Migrants refused entry to Hungary (Armend Nimani, 2015)
    This photograph shows migrants reacting aggressively when confronted by Hungarian police who were ordered to seal the borders from human traffickers travelling through Serbia. They had just broken through Hungary’s newly built razor wire fence at the Southern border and began rioting, throwing rocks, sticks and bottles, when they were stopped by police. Police responded by firing tear gas and water canons, forcing the crowd back into Serbia. The photo shows the anguish and anger in the faces of the refugees, as they had been traveling for days, only to be locked out of a country that they only intended to pass through.
  6. Refugees sew lips in protest of Australia’s offshore processing policies (The Nation, 2014)
    This photo shows how many asylum seekers have been protesting against Australia’s offshore processing policies, lengthy detentions, poor conditions and the prospect of resettling in Papua New Guinea. Hundreds have committed acts of self-harm such as sewing their lips together, swallowing razor blades and detergent and going on hunger strikes. Tension has escalated within the camps, with one asylum seeker claiming “we didn’t come to PNG, we didn’t enter PNG soil and we haven’t done anything in this country, so we shouldn’t be jailed in this country” (SBS, 2015). Photos like this are a desperate plea for attention from the public and media. The subject’s devastated expression and mutilated face is also a reflection of their experience in detention camps, as well as their mental and physical state. The photo certainly evokes concerns regarding how asylum seekers are treated and how this affects their mental health.



  1. Anadolu Agency, 2016, Horrifying Moment a Boat Carrying Hundreds of Migrants Capsized in the Middle of the Ocean, [online].
  2. ABC, 2011, There were violent protests and fires at Sydney’s Villawood detention cention in April this year, [online].
  3. ABC News, 2016, Hundreds of anti-Islam demonstrators rallied in Martin Place as pat of a national day protests, [online].
  4. Dan Paled, 2014, Reza Barati died during a riot at the Manus Island detention centre in February, [online].
  5. Australian Government’s deterrence campaign ad seen in background of suicide attack, 2010, [online].
  6. Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014, A drawing by an asylum seeker child from the Christmas Island detention centre, [online].×2-940×627.jpg
  7. Lauren Gianoli, 2014, Rudd Government’s national print advertisements in 2013, [online].
  8. Nilufer Demir, 2015, A young Syrian boy lies in the surf near Bodrum, Turkey, [online]
  9. Armend Nimani, 2015, Serbia Hungary Europe Migrants, [online].
  10. The Nation, 2014, Asylum Seekers sew lips in Australian protest, [online].

SBS, 2015, A hunger strike and self-harm have occurred at Manus Island detention centre, 15.01.2015