Which city tweets the most?

Jakarta University students during a visit from British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Image: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty.

Twitter is a pretty useful tool for city-dwellers. You can track transit hiccups. You can follow new bars that don’t even exist yet. You can exchange hilarious quips with friends, without actually venturing onto the busy streets to meet up with them.

In 2012, Semiocast, a market research company, decided to study over 1bn tweets sent in June that year, to find out which city tweets most and why. Many of its finding were pretty unsurprising: the US had the most Twitter accounts (over 140 million); English is the most widely-used language on Twitter.

When they looked at which cities tweet the most, however, things got more interesting. Second and third places went to Tokyo and London – but in the number one slot was Jakarta, Indonesia. Badung, another Indonesian city, was also in the top ten. Here's a chart, showing their top 20:

Perhaps excited by this unexpected victory, Brand24, an Indonesian social marketing company, conducted another study in 2013, this time looking at 10.3 billion tweets from January to March of that year. Jakarta made the top spot again. In fact, tweets from Jakarta, which contains 0.28 per cent of the world’s population, made up for 2.4 per cent of the world’s tweets during that period.

This meteroric rise is perhaps surprising for a different reason, too: it’s a relatively recent development. GNIP, another social media analysis company – there are, it seems, loads – found that in 2008, tweets in Indonesian accounted for 0 per cent of the total (we assume they rounded down). By 2013, it was the fifth most commonly tweeted language, accounting for 3.25 per cent of the world’s tweets.

So why are Jakartans so tweet-happy all of a sudden? Here are a few possibilities:

It’s the second largest city in the world.

Neither study on tweet locations adjusted for city size: instead of tweets per resident, they compared raw numbers. Depending on how you define the city limits, Jakarta has a population of somewhere between 10m and 30m; it might be the second largest city in the world; it’s certainly in the top 20. What’s more, half of its residents are under 30. In 2013, 79 per cent of the world’s tweets came from people under the age of 30. Do the maths.

It’s also one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

This is important, but not for the reasons you might expect. When the news broke of Jakara’s Twitter eminence in 2012, an official commented that it was probably because they spend so much time stuck in traffic. In 2010, a city governor even called on residents to tweet traffic news on Twitter, in order to ease congestion in the city. Lots of people in a small area means lots of waiting around, and lots of idle time to spend on your smartphone.

Jakartans “love to chat”.

Budi Putra, ex-editor of Indonesian Yahoo!, says that Twitter is huge in Jakarta because Indonesians love chatting to one another.  He also says many Jakartans use Twitter as a form of messenger, rather than a microblogging platform. This makes it likely that users tweet more often than the average user, as they’re having conversations rather than just airing their thoughts.

Blackberry and Yahoo! messenger are also popular in the city, which seems to back up Putra’s “Jakartans love to chat” thesis.

Tweeting pays.

In 2013, it emerged that Jakartans with over 2,000 followers can be paid upwards of US$21 per tweet to advertise products or events. Confusingly, these sponsored tweeters are called “buzzers”.

The influence of Twitter in Jakarta, and Indonesia as a whole, isn’t lost on those looking for influence.  In the recent presidential elections, one of the two candidates, Prabowo Subianto, had 75 young people running his social media campaign. Turns out, even that wasn’t enough: as of June, he had Twitter 750,000 followers to his opponent Joko Widodo’s 1,600,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Widodo (governor of Jakarta and also, incidentally, known for his love of Metallica) took home 53 per cent of the vote.

Joko Widodo: governor; president-elect; king of Twitter. Image: Getty.

Celebrities are taking advantage of Jakartans’ Twitter dominance, too. Agnes Monica, or Agnez Mo, the Indonesian singer and actress, has almost 11 million followers. That’s only a quarter of Lady Gaga’s , but Google trends data shows that Lady Gaga is searched on Google more than than twenty times as often, so Monica is reeling in a bigger following than her popularity would suggest. We can only imagine she’s followed by millions of Jakartans, stuck in traffic and avidly reading her every tweet.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.