Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has been popularized as a space for the sharing of daily musing, #hottakes, and live-tweeting professional sports games and award shows. But the platform has also served as an effective environment for social activism and engagement around important topics. Though campaigns like #MeToo, the #IceBucketChallenge, and the #WomensMarch get a lot of air time, other lesser known initiatives have also made their rounds on the platform.
One campaign of interest to our research team, lead by Hernisa Kacorri, director of the Intelligent Assistive Machines Lab at the University of Maryland, was the #HandsOffMyADA campaign which launched to protest the proposed ADA Education and Reform (H.R. 620) in the U.S. in 2018.
The goals of the research project — which was presented at CHI 2019 — were to characterize the campaign in terms of hashtags, users, and characteristics like accessible media, explore communication tactics of the campaign, understand how the disability community engaged with the campaign, and compare this initiative to previous disability rights movements.
This research examined over 14,000 tweets from more than 6,500 users from February to March 2018. Though this extensive research project has many findings, there are especially interesting findings related to accessibility features (i.e. alt-text and captions) and user engagement related to the campaign.
We first examined the content of the tweets, taking note of hashtags use and inclusion of media like photos and videos. The top five hashtags used during the February to March 2018 time frame were #HR620, #ADA, #HandsOffMyADA, StopHR620, and #SaveTheADA. The majority (54.9 percent) of the tweets contained a link, with fewer (37.6 percent) being text-only tweets. Rich media were included less frequently: images were included in only 11 percent of the tweets and less than 1 percent of tweets included a video. Out of the 1,518 tweets containing at least one image, only 110 (or 7 percent) had alt text, which makes visual content accessible for visually-impaired users. Likewise, only one video in our dataset had captions, which would aid individuals with a disability, like a visual or hearing-impairment. This is a troubling finding, considering that the purpose of the campaign was to engage and mobilize members of the disability community, many of whom may rely on these elements (i.e. alt text, captions) to successfully navigate online environments.
Additionally, though photos and videos were used sparingly in the tweets analyzed, tweets containing these elements had higher rates of engagement. For example, the average retweet for a video was 63, whereas the retweet average for the entire dataset was 11.4. Images with alt text also had higher than average rates of engagement compared to the sample average.
There were also interesting findings related to the users involved in the Twitter campaign. We found that users fell into five main categories: organizations, advocates, people with disabilities, media and politicians. Though not many politicians were tweeting about the campaign, their tweets received the most engagement in terms of retweets, favorites and replies, likely because of their large followings.
We also analyzed, in part, tweets from the #CripTheVote campaign, which popularized in the months surrounding the 2016 election. This campaign encouraged people with disabilities to vote and participate in civic processes and publicized voting accessibility issues. We identified 17 Twitter users who engaged in both campaigns and found that across both campaigns, these accounts saw increased Twitter followership.
Our work reveals strategies relevant to organizers working to build effective advocacy campaigns. First, we found that images containing alt text were more engaging in terms of retweets and favorites than the sample overall. The same is true for tweets with rich media. This suggests that organizers should utilize photos, videos, and accessible features (like alt text and captions) when using Twitter as a campaign tool in order to increase tweet reach and be inclusive. Additionally, this research suggests that influencers are important. When attempting to gain traction and increase reach for a campaign, organizers should engage users with large followings, as well as users who have previously been involved in similar campaigns.
This analysis also brings attention to difficulty related to accessibility features on social media platforms like Twitter. These features are not often “on” by default, which limits their wide adoption and use, and decreases the inclusivity of the platform.
Read the full paper here:
- Brooke E. Auxier, Cody L. Buntain, Paul Jaeger, Jennifer Golbeck, Hernisa Kacorri. 2019. #HandsOffMyADA: A Twitter Response to the ADA Education and Reform Act. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. DOI: 10.1145/3290605.3300757