Listening to the American populace involves knowing where to look. And when it comes to one of our nation’s most hotly contested issues — gun legislation — Americans are taking to a rather surprising medium to express their feelings. Instagram has become an incredible tool for social listening, and thanks to new research for Net Quote, we have quite the picture of what the conversation around guns looks like across the United States.
A series of novel infographics from Net Quote show the frequency of 12 gun-related hashtags and their likes, and with over 6 million Instagram pictures ultimately analyzed, Net Quote has discovered “the who, what, and where of firearm fanaticism.”
Unsurprisingly, the states with the most gun-related hashtag use were also those with some of the most high-profile and tragic cases of related violence. Nevada, Florida, Arizona, and Oregon all saw over 200 gun-related posts per 100,000 residents. Nevada is the site of Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management; Florida is where unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman; Arizona saw a 2011 mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of six people and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically injured; and in Oregon last year, a shooter killed nine people at Umpqua Community College before using the weapon on himself.
In related news, Oregon also holds the top spot for likes for gun-related posts. Much of this, Net Quote surmises, may be due to the extensive debate in the state over the more recent armed standoff between the feds and local ranchers. And while Vermont boasts rather high rates of gun ownership, its residents aren’t liking one another’s Instagram posts about guns. This, apparently, is a private matter.
In terms of talking about guns, Gainesville, Florida accounts for 2.61 percent of the gun-related hashtags in the whole country, and the state of Florida as a whole seems pretty intent on bringing firearms into the social media conversation. Texas, unsurprisingly, is also a popular place to talking about guns, as is California — six of the top 20 cities with the highest proportion of gun-related hashtags are located in the Golden State.
But what are they actually saying when talking about guns? Floridians and Texans are speaking pretty extensively about the NRA, which is unsurprising given the ongoing debate in both states over concealed carry laws. Texans are also particularly fond of talking about their #2a.
This gun-related conversation is a relatively new phenomenon for Instagram, as Net Quote notes “a very obvious uptick” in gun talk between December 2014 and December 2015. There was a particularly pronounced period of increased activity following the Charleston church shooting, and given the frequent occurrence of mass shootings in 2015 as a whole, it’s no surprise that guns were a hot topic no matter where you went. Ultimately, Net Quote concluded, “where violent gun incidents are relatively low, #gun social media mentions mirror the nation’s views for better or worse.”