For those unfamiliar, Twitter is a social media platform that allows users to post statements consisting of 140 characters or less. Because of its immediacy and length constraint, it has become increasingly popular platform for sharing real-time reactions to things, giving rise to the phenomenon of “live-tweeting” events.

General Conference is no exception, and I was curious if I could find some way to analyze the aggregate reaction among Twitter users to conference as it occurred. So, I registered as a “developer” with Twitter, which gave me access to the pipeline of tweet streaming. I then downloaded all the tweets that included the #ldsconf hashtag that were posted during the session. While I did this for all of conference (well, almost all. I missed the Sunday afternoon session), this will only include analysis from the Priesthood session.

The analysis I did wasn’t very sophisticated. After some basic text transformations (put everything in lowercase, strip out punctuation, etc.), I filtered out trivial words and created the following word-network visualization out of the remaining most common words used. The size of each circle and its associated label represents the frequency of that word among all tweets. The weight of the line between words is proportionate to the number of times those words appeared in the same tweet. Based on those relationships, the software I used ran an algorithm to group certain words into separate word clusters, which is indicated by the color of the circles. (As a sidebar, many of the common words were links or hashtags–i.e. PresEyring, etc.–which is why some of the words may seem a little wonky.)

Anyway, take a look:

priesthood session

There’s a lot I could say about this image, but one idea keeps floating around my head: for all the talk of how the priesthood is really a tool of inclusion rather than exclusion and it’s really about service and love and expanding the body of Christ, where the rubber really meets the road is the overall message people are getting–doubly so from the meeting specially set aside for leaders to speak to priesthood holders. And while we can argue about whether tweets are really a good measure of how the general membership interpret conference messages (or how much blame falls on imperfect individuals highlighting the seemingly exclusionary parts of what was meant to be an inclusive message), I have to wonder: what does this analysis indicate about the message people took away from this meeting?

To me, it indicates that the message of love and service and Christlike love (bonus question: can you find the word “Christ” in there?) that we purport the priesthood to be about wasn’t what stuck out in the minds of listeners. The red cluster, which I’m affectionately calling the “Oaks Appendage”, includes over 1/3 of the most frequent, non-trivial terms mentioned in people’s real-time reaction to the session, despite being only 1 of 6 discourses given. At the end of the day, it seems as if the “smackdown” on defining the boundaries of who could and could not hold the priesthood talk dominated the conversation, at the expense of things that are (in my opinion) more important.

Here’s what I take away from all of this: if you’re going to argue that the priesthood structure isn’t a tool of exclusion and it’s the fault of agitated members (i.e. Ordain Women) for misinterpreting the “true” meaning, maybe you should reevaluate the message you’re sending about it. Maybe you should take a good, long look at the text and subtext of what you’re saying and really try and gauge how those statements are being interpreted. Because when one guy gives one 15 minute talk during a 2 hour meeting addressing the exclusive nature of the priesthood and then leaves such a disproportionately large impression on listeners, maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe it’s yours.


P.S. I have other visualizations/metrics that I can put up here on request. Let me know if there’s anything else you want to see, and I’ll see if I can make it happen!