Using Twitter to Track Eclipse Visitors to the Midlands

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) – It’s the event of a lifetime; one you don’t want to miss. When the total solar eclipse happens Monday (8/18), get outside.

You’ll want to look up and all around you through the duration. While that’s happening though, there’ll be a team at USC looking down at a computer screen tracking just how many people are taking the event in with you in the Midlands.

Zhen Long Li, Assistant Professor of Geography, has worked with a student using a software developed in his department that will give us a new perspective of just how big of a deal this event really is.

He said, “There will be a lot of people across the world coming to the totality path including South Carolina.”

That’s no surprise; without questioning every person though, it would be hard to see where they’re coming from.

The software makes it possible by analyzing Twitter data.

“Each line here indicates a user moving from one place to another place,” Li pointed to a map tracking movement of Twitter users. It analyzes when someone posts in one location but moves to another.

He expects that in the days leading up to the eclipse, more travel will light up leading to the Midlands.

The program also tracks when words like eclipse and totality are used and where.

It’ll show which cities along the path are attracting the most people and where the eclipse is discussed the most based on social media.

“So far w are seeing some pretty interesting patterns,” Li added.

They have a super computer powered by 13 servers to make it all possible.

The data already collected shows a path of Tweets talking totality stretching across the country, clearly along the same path the moon will block the sun.

Li said, “We want to see which day people actually start coming in and which day people are going to leave.”

He understands the project uses a bias, only analyzing Twitter data but Li hopes to be able to use the same program in other significant events like natural disasters.

The program would have the ability to track when people are leaving and where they’re going when something significant happens.

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