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.
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 (newspapers – Twitter). The second one is a reported chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, which was followed by a joint strike against Syrian targets (newspapers – Twitter).
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
- January 23: a guard is attacked with ammonia in England
- March 26: U.S. expel Russian Diplomats
- May 3-5: AJK Prime Minister accuses India of using chemical weapons in Kashmir.
- May 16: OPCW confirms that chlorine was used in Saraqib, Syria, on February 4.
- June 27-28: member states assign new powers to OPCW.
- September 5: Woodward’s book claims that Trump said he wanted to kill Assad in reaction to the alleged April, 2017, chemical weapons attack.
- September 14: Dutch authorities expel Russians.
- September 14: the press comments on a televised interview of the two Salisbury attack suspects.
- September 17: Drones and robots that could detect hazardous chemical and biological substances are tested in the UK.
- November 27: the UK government asks schools to conduct emergency drills.
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.