Twitter use in scientific communication revealed by visualization of information spreading by influencers within half a year after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident

PLoS One. 2018 Sep 7;13(9):e0203594. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203594. eCollection 2018.


Scientific communication through social media, particularly Twitter has been gaining importance in recent years. As such, it is critical to understand how information is transmitted and dispersed through outlets such as Twitter, particularly in emergency situations where there is an urgent need to relay scientific information. The purpose of this study is to examine how original tweets and retweets on Twitter were used to diffuse radiation related information after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. Out of the Twitter database, we purchased all tweets (including replies) and retweets related to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident and or radiation sent from March 2nd, 2011 to September 15th, 2011. This time frame represents the first six months after the East Japan earthquake, which occurred on March 11th, 2011. Using the obtained data, we examined the number of tweets and retweets and found that only a small number of Twitter users were the source of the original posts that were retweeted during the study period. We have termed these specific accounts as "influencers". We identified the top 100 influencers and classified the contents of their tweets into 3 groups by analyzing the document vectors of the text. Then, we examined the number of retweets for each of the 3 groups of influencers, and created a retweet network diagram to assess how the contents of their tweets were being spread. The keyword "radiation" was mentioned in over 24 million tweets and retweets during the study period. Retweets accounted for roughly half (49.7%) of this number, and the top 2% of Twitter accounts defined as "influencers" were the source of the original posts that accounted for 80.3% of the total retweets. The majority of the top 100 influencers had individual Twitter accounts bearing real names. While retweets were intensively diffused within a fixed population, especially within the same groups with similar document vectors, a group of influencers accounted for the majority of retweets one month after the disaster, and the share of each group did not change even after proven scientific information became more available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communications Media / statistics & numerical data
  • Fukushima Nuclear Accident*
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data*

Grant support

This work was supported by Research on the Health Effects of Radiation organized by Ministry of the Environment, Japan (HT, KU).