After winning the bid for the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar albeit a small country in both size and population, has spurred significant international interest not just in the professional media but also on social media. Many international press agencies have closely monitored Qatar, typically reporting many points of contention. In the media in countries like the US and the UK, the discussion, which tends to focus on the preparation for the 2022 World Cup, is generally led by a few major players including the Guardian, and the Washington Post. Most of the recent coverage related to Qatar in public news channels and media portrays Qatar in a negative light, especially focusing on issues regarding migrant workers and allegations regarding improprieties in the FIFA bid. This recent trend in “Qatar bashing” in the media is damaging to the image of Qatar internationally. However, looking beyond professional news coverage, these topics appear to have also entered public discussions through social media such as Twitter. Topics such as migrant workers' deaths, and recent controversies in the World Cup bid are being discussed by the general public around the world in such social media platforms.

However, the extent to which these and other topics about Qatar are discussed is unknown. Is the conversation on Twitter dominated by a few sources such as in the traditional media? Or is there more diversity between residents of different countries on social media? To help answer this question we used Twitter to analyze public opinion about Qatar. Twitter has been used on many occasions to garner insight into public opinion. Predictions of the winner in the recent UK elections and the 2012 US primaries provide two such examples. Twitter has the advantage of being a medium for many people to freely voice their opinion on very serious, political and/or controversial issues that matter to them. This may make Twitter a relatively better social media platform to analyze the public sentiment in comparison to Facebook or Instagram, which tend to have more multifaceted and personal content.

To evaluate the content of the discussion about Qatar across the world, we collected tweets along with their user-data in 35 widely spoken languages retrieved via the Twitter Streaming API to examine the topical content of tweets about Qatar. We collected a corpus of 1.1 million raw tweets across 2 months (May to July 2015) and parsed them. Because of our interest in similarities and differences in tweets in difference locales, we then filtered them to discard tweets without user-defined locations. The remaining 0.45 million tweets were then linked to user-defined locations and clustered by country. These tweets were then broken down into uni-grams and bi-grams, based on user-count, to form tag clouds to visually compare and contrast the topics about Qatar between countries. Furthermore, in our study we also incorporated cited domain names pertaining to different URLs in the tweets, to provide insights about the key domains and figures that may have formed or influenced that perception.

In our analysis, we found that largely similar topics such as “migrant workers”, “deaths” and “FIFA” are discussed around the world regarding Qatar, which is a surprising given linguistic and cultural differences. However, we did see some national differences.

The key insight of the data analyzed is how different public sentiment in different countries stack up against each other regarding issues relating to Qatar. For example, the tag clouds indicate that in Nepal, the leading sentiment on the issue of migrant workers is relatively grim since its tag cloud features uni-grams like “funerals”. On the other hand, the tag cloud for France does not show much attention to the migrant workers. Interestingly, by extracting top 10 domains per each country, we found that same players, especially the Guardian, the Washington Post and the BBC are key sources of information even in non-English speaking countries such as Germany. That is, few professional media sources dominate the international conversation on Twitter. With this new methodology we have identified, for the first time to our knowledge, that a relatively small number of news sources drive the conversation about Qatar around the world. Though our study revolves around Qatar specifically, we believe this methodology can be used to track “nation branding” via social media, providing key insights to stake holders about how their nation is discussed across the world.


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