Amma canteens, power outages and protests against Sri Lanka were most widely discussed by internet users in city

It all starts with the internet these days. A photograph or news article, even a 140-character tweet can attract attention and spark debates.

See infographic at left.

Over the past five months, the topic most discussed by people in the city was Amma canteens — re-tweeted hundreds of times by users. The other issues that made it to the list are power outages, Sri Lankan protests, Vanniyar agitations and Kudankulam protests.

This was revealed by a study jointly undertaken by Aspire, a city-based company that carries out data analysis and undertakes research on social media usage patterns, and Serendio, also an analytics firm.

Swaminathan K., an IIM-Bangalore alumnus who heads Aspire, said the study was part of a project on profiling internet users in the city. Nearly 50,000 conversations of internet users from the city were analysed for this purpose.

According to the study, 83 per cent of the users in Chennai used Twitter to discuss socio-political issues. Hence, power outages and Amma canteens were hot topics.

What’s the tone?

The data analytics tool developed by Swaminathan and his team also categorised the conversations into different sentiments. So, while outages were called ‘negative’, Amma canteens were ‘hopeful’, and both issues raged on for prolonged periods.

“There is great curiosity about Amma canteens, the menu and sustainability issues, but overall people are very happy about them. But there is great resentment towards power outages, and some very scathing comments on them,” said Swaminathan.

The issue that had the most negative tone was the Vanniyar protest, with most tweeters posting about how badly they had affected every day life. Posts on Kudankulam, the study found, bore a neutral tone with most users being ambivalent about the issue.

But the action online shifted to Facebook when it came to talks on the recent Sri Lankan Tamil protests. It was found that people preferred Facebook to share information on activities and organise meetings.

“You have access to friends on Facebook and can rally support for causes. It is also possible to have long discussions,” said Thirumurugan, one of the anti-Lanka protesters from Presidency College, who manages a Facebook page that organised nearly 30 fasts during the agitation in March.

The study also revealed nearly 72 per cent of the users were men. A little more than half of the users were between the ages of 24 and 40 years.

Activism at work

“Interestingly, half of the users discussed issues online from their workplace, and most of them were users of smartphones,” said Swaminathan.

While 50 per cent of internet users discussed politics, 20 per cent each were into celebrities and debates on social issues. Legal issues, weather, business and technology topics were some of the other subjects discussed.

“A tweeter from Tiruchi, who is not a known face, has over 30,000 followers, simply because he constantly engages in political discussions. This goes to show that people today, especially youngsters, depend on the social media to form many of their opinions on various issues,” said Swaminathan.

Tapping youth power

There is much inference from this study, he said. “Every year, over 50 per cent of voters in elections comprises first timers or those who switch allegiances frequently. In 2014, there will be 110 million new voters. It will be interesting to see what social media strategy political parties adopt to attract youngsters who are active on social media,” Swaminathan said.

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