Although gymnast Simone Biles’ medal count is slightly lower than in the sports world high expectations at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she topped American Olympians in the number of times her handle, @Simone_Biles, was mentioned on Twitter.
The Pew Research Center captured the Twitter IDs of every athlete who listed a profile on the official website USA Team Page and reviewed tweets from the wider audience on Twitter that directly mentioned these nicknames during the Games. Here are some key points on how the public engaged with Team USA on Twitter.
Most social media sites allow users to interact directly with other users by tagging their nicknames or pseudonyms in their posts. This analysis examines how users of a major social platform – Twitter – used the site to tag Team USA athletes during the just ended 2020 Olympics. To perform this analysis, we collected every athlete Twitter ID listed on the official website. USA Team Page until July 26, 2021. All athletes (including a small number of substitutes) who were on the list and who had a Twitter account at that time were included in the analysis.
The researchers collected all tweets posted between July 21 and August 9 that mentioned any of these 438 Twitter IDs using the Gnip’s historic PowerTrack API, a searchable archive of all publicly available tweets. This analysis focuses on direct mentions of US Olympians via their Twitter IDs (like @ KDTrey5 or @Simone_Biles) and not more generic references (like “Kevin Durant”, “KD” or “Biles”).
Read the methodology to learn more about how this analysis was conducted.
Twitter users directly mentioned U.S. Olympians’ accounts over 2.1 million times during the Games
A total of 598 athletes were listed on Team USA’s website at the start of the Games. And 438 of them (73% of the total) have included a Twitter account in their athlete profile. From July 21 to August 9, 2021 – the Games themselves, carried over from the previous year, were held from July 23 to August 8 – more than 900,000 different Twitter accounts directly mentioned the names of US Olympians in more than 2 years. , 1 million tweets. The vast majority (90%) of these athlete accounts were mentioned at least once during this period.
These mentions mainly focused on a few key dates. Almost a third (31%) of all athlete mentions took place over the three days of July 27-29, a period that included the team and individual gymnastics finals and swimmer Katie Ledecky winning the medal. gold in the 1,500-meter freestyle.
Simone Biles alone made up 31% of all U.S. Olympian mentions
One athlete in particular – gymnast Simone Biles – stood out for the number of times she was mentioned by the Twitter audience. Of the more than 2.1 million tweets mentioning the nickname of any American Olympian during the Games, @Simone_Biles was referenced in more than 650,000 tweets, or 31% of the total. Biles was even more ubiquitous from July 27-29, when his pseudonym made up 64% of all athlete mentions. (It should be noted that many individual tweets mentioned multiple athletes.)
Mentions of Biles included expressions of support as well as a discussion of his withdrawal from competition
The original tweets and replies mentioning Biles’ nickname during the Games tended to use certain terms and phrases disproportionately compared to tweets mentioning other Olympians. Many of these terms seem to refer to Biles’ decision to drop out of contest in some events.
Some of the more distinctive terms included supportive phrases like “love [and] support, ”“ courage ”and“ courageous. ”Other phrases (such as“ quitting ”or“ quitting ”) referred to withdrawing in a more negative light, while others referred to issues such as than “mental health” and “abuse”.
These terms were up to 52 times more prevalent in tweets mentioning Biles than in those mentioning other athletes. Even so, these “distinctive” terms were relatively rare. For example, only 4% of the original tweets that tagged @Simone_Biles directly used the terms “quit”, “quit” or “quit smoking”.
Almost 80% of athletes mention referenced members of gymnastics, basketball and track teams
Twitter IDs collected from Team USA’s website included athletes from 32 different sports. But only three of those sports – gymnastics, basketball and track and field – produced the vast majority of mentions of individual athletes on Twitter. Athletes from these three sports accounted for 79% of all mentions of US Olympians during the Games, while athletes from the other 29 sports accounted for only 21% of all mentions.
The majority of tweets mentioning US Olympians offered no original comment: 62% were direct retweets, often tweets posted by the athletes themselves. The remaining tweets included replies in which the poster included an athlete’s nickname (18%), original tweets (14%), and direct replies to tweets from Team USA member accounts (7%).
Other frequently mentioned athletes include Kevin Durant, Sunisa Lee
In addition to Biles, a small group of top athletes made up a significant portion of all American Olympian grips’ mentions during the Games. The top 10 grips accounted for 62% of all mentions of individual athletes. The most mentioned athletes were generally from the most mentioned sports, particularly gymnastics (Biles and Sunisa Lee), basketball (Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, A’ja Wilson and Devin Booker) and athletics (Allyson Félix). But they also included a footballer (Megan Rapinoe) and a swimmer (Ledecky).
The top 10 athletes included six women and four men. All four male athletes are professional NBA basketball players. But the most mentioned women come from a variety of sports: gymnastics, basketball, swimming, athletics, and soccer.
Note: Read the methodology to learn more about how this analysis was conducted.
Sono Shah is a social scientist in computer science specializing in data science at the Pew Research Center.