Several noteworthy events related to chemical weapons occurred in 2018. Which of them were covered more extensively in the newspapers and sparked more discussion on Twitter? To answer this question, we conducted two parallel text-mining analyses. In the first one, we looked at peak days that saw a particularly high number of newspaper stories on chemical weapons. In the second one, we looked at peak days of tweeting activity related to chemical weapons.

Chemical weapons in the newspapers: 2018 in review

Chemical weapons on Twitter: 2018 in review

The two analyses largely captured the same events. Overwhelmingly, two separate events that occurred during the months of March and April had the most media coverage as well as the highest attention on Twitter. The first one is the use of a novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, UK, for the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal (newspapersTwitter). The second one is a reported chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, which was followed by a joint strike against Syrian targets (newspapersTwitter).

Despite the many similarities, as indicated below, there are some differences in the events captured by the two analyses, which appear to complement each other well. Importantly, the fact that one event was not captured by one – or even both – of our analyses does not mean that no news stories or tweets were written about it. It simply means that that event did not generate a high enough volume of news stories or tweets to be picked up by our analyses. For instance, there were certainly news articles written about the death of Dawn Sturgess. Similarly, there were indeed tweets on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Kashmir of which the AJK Prime Minister reportedly accused India. However, the two events did not spur a high enough volume of news and tweets, respectively, to be captured by one of the two analyses. 

Events captured by the newspaper analysis but not by the Twitter analysis

Events captured by the Twitter analysis but not by the newspaper analysis

  • January 23: a partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons is launched in Paris.
  • January 23: a truck carrying chemicals that could be used for explosives is stolen in Belgium.
  • February 4: an attack with chlorine gas reportedly occurred in Saraqib.
  • February 14: Macron states that France will attack Syria if chemical weapons use is confirmed.
  • July 9: a few days after accidentally coming in contact with a novichok nerve agent, Dawn Sturgess dies at the Salisbury hospital.
  • July 9: the OPCW releases its interim report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, Syria, in April 2018.