The first indication of the murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo broke at 9:53amET, October 22 — on Twitter. The Wire Report’s Peter Henderson tweeted “Gunfire at the war memorial in downtown #ottawa.” As if to make clear the shock and confusion, his next two tweets were “One man down. Another ran. I heard four shots #ottawa” followed by “Not a drill or a joke. A man was just shot at the war memorial in #ottawa. Lying beside the tomb.”

The normally subdued Twitter topic of Ottawa attracts an average of about 11,000 tweets each day. This includes mentions of Ottawa in reference to politics, travel, sports (Ottawa Senators, Ottawa RedBlacks, Ottawa 67s), festivals, etc… That changed in a big way last Wednesday. Suddenly, the capital city very few people around the world knew about became a global trending topic with over 1M relevant tweets, as well as news, forum, blog, Facebook and YouTube mentions.

Our analysis using Sysomos MAP reveals a prompt return to business as usual. Relevant Twitter traffic fell more than 50% the day after the attack and continued to decline heading in to the weekend. By the time of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s funeral, Twitter activity had re-concentrated in Canada, gradually heading towards normal levels of activity.

Twitter activity and geographic heatmap, Oct 20-29 (using Sysomos MAP)

Twitter activity and geographic heatmap, Oct 20-29 (using Sysomos MAP)

Breakdown of activity on prominent channels

We tracked 2.1M relevant mentions using a complex boolean search query (see the end of this post). Just over 1.9M of those mentions were on Twitter (92%) followed, distantly, by nearly 110K online news mentions (5%), 43K forum mentions (2%) and 18K blog mentions (1%). We did not include Facebook in our analysis since individual privacy settings restricts access to publicly available content, only. We would not be able to consider content shared between friends or to private lists.

Oct 20-29 analysis (using Sysomos MAP)

Oct 20-29 online mentions (using Sysomos MAP)

News cycles, Twitter spikes and falls, blogs wax and wane

The news cycle tends to swell around specific events. Specifically, we observed a significant swell of activity the day of the shooting, a gently drop the following day and a more dramatic fall on day three. By day three, international news organizations started packing up and there was less meta-media coverage (Canadian media wasn’t reporting as much on international media interest in the events). Things were quiet on the weekend and picked up on Monday with coverage of public visitation of Cpl. Cirillo and the next day with the funeral.

Oct 20-29 online news mentions (using Sysomos MAP)

Oct 20-29 online news (using Sysomos MAP)

Twitter, on the other hand, saw an incredible spike the day of the shooting, then fell dramatically. Over the course of the nine days, Twitter saw an average of 8,079 tweets/hour related to Ottawa and the shootings. Twitter participation skewed male (57%). A more detailed analysis of Twitter geography is available in our post Geographical analysis of Ottawa shooting related Twitter traffic.


Oct 20-29 Twitter breakdown (using Sysomos MAP)

Blog mentions were higher the day after the shooting than the day of. This is not entirely surprising. Bloggers tend to be more reflective and put more time and energy in to their posts. They often write about events after the fact rather than while events are happening since the story would be otherwise incomplete. While blog activity fell roughly 50% from day two to day three, then fell again, blog mentions stayed fairly strong for the next five days.

Oct 20-29 blog breakdown (using Sysomos MAP)

Oct 20-29 blog breakdown (using Sysomos MAP)

Twitter served as a powerful amplifier

Most of the Twitter activity was retweets (70%) issued from single-time contributors (96%). This means that, in Spinal Tap parlance, the Twitter amplifier goes to 11. While there were a great number of engaged participants, those who issued five or more or even eight or more (or event twenty or more) tweets, their numbers were small enough to not even register. We estimate roughly 582K Twitter accounts participated in the chatter over the course of the nine days.

Oct 20-29 tweet analysis (using Sysomos MAP)

Oct 20-29 tweet analysis (using Sysomos MAP)

Top 5 tweets

The following five tweets are the most retweeted and favourited tweets associated with the Ottawa attack (as of the time this post was prepared):

  1. Megan Underwood’s October 22 tweet “On Sunday, we asked a very handsome guard for a picture with my friend visiting from Cali – RIP Nathan Cirillo”, including a photo of Cpl. Cirillo, has been retweeted 30,207 times and favourited 29,831 times.
  2. Cause We’re Canadian’s October 22 tweet “Rest in Peace Nathan Cirillo, the solider who sacrificed his life to protect and serve our country. He was only 24.” including two photos of Cpl. Cirillo, has been retweeted 21,488 times and favourited 20,088 times.
  3. Cause We’re Canadian’s October 24 tweet “So proud to be Canadian. RIP Nathan Cirillo. #highwayofheroes”, which includes four photos of crowds on the Highway of Heroes, has been retweeted 10,838 times and favourited 10,749 times.
  4. RNC’s October 22 tweet “RIP Cpl. Nathan Cirillo! Let’s make sure that it’s his name that echoes throughout social media tonight #OttawaStrong”, including a photo of Cpl. Cirillo, has been retweeted 8,742 times and favourited 4,292 times.
  5. Cause We’re Canadian’s October 22 tweet “True North, strong and free. To hell with those who try to make us think differently. #PrayForOttawa” has been retweeted 3,850 times and favourited 3,659 times.

Sysomos MAP boolean search string

ottawa OR ottawashooting OR ottawashootings OR prayforottawa OR ottawastrong OR canadastrong OR (cirillo AND (cpl OR nathan)) OR NathanCirillo OR ripnathancirillo OR cplnathancirillo OR cplcirillo OR “Zehaf-Bibeau” OR “chateau laurier” OR (parliament AND (hill OR shooting OR lockdown)) OR “centre block” OR “rideau centre” OR “Major’s Hill Park” OR “Kevin Vickers” OR ((canada OR canadian) AND (“war memorial” OR cenotaph)) OR josh_wingrove OR ottawapolice OR prayforottawa OR highwayofheroes OR “highway of heroes” OR “patrice vincent” OR patricevincent OR “wo vincent” OR rippatricevincent

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