Americans tweeted a lot in 2015 — but they really focused on Donald Trump, mass shootings, and, earlier in the year, Freddie Gray, a black man in Baltimore who was fatally wounded while in police custody.
In a new analysis, Echelon Insights charted the year in tweets, finding that Trump was consistently one of the most discussed topics on Twitter during the second half of the year:
It's not exactly surprising that Trump dominated Twitter toward the end of the year, given his ridiculous campaign and the focus on the 2016 race. Still, for Trump, this is probably seen as a big victory: Even though a lot of the publicity is negative, his campaign appears to view any attention as good, as Vox's Andrew Prokop explained.
The chart also shows there was a big focus on mass shootings and terrorist attacks in Charleston, Paris, and San Bernardino. As Vox previously covered, there have been a lot of these types of attacks in the US in the past year: In 2015, there were more days with mass shootings — events in which four or more people were shot — than without.
The attention paid to Freddie Gray's case in April and May, meanwhile, speaks to another big trend in the US: This was the second year in a row in which Twitter conversations focused heavily on police shootings and brutality following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 — a testament to how much of a role social media has played in bringing attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The social media dialogue seems to be having an effect. A June survey by Gallup found confidence in police was at a 22-year low. Another survey by Gallup from June and July found that Americans are more likely to say black people are unfairly treated in all aspects of society, including police encounters. And a July survey by the Pew Research Center found a 20-year high in the percentage of Americans calling racism a "big problem" in society.
As Athena Mutua, a civil rights scholar at SUNY Buffalo Law School, previously told me, there's a good reason to think the social media and public opinion trends are linked: Minority communities have been complaining for decades about how they're treated by police. But social media, along with the proliferation of video, has made it much easier for activists to reach out to people and journalists who may not have paid much attention to policing issues in the past.
The Gray story, then, shows how much of an impact all these tweets have on our views and lives.