Who ‘Tweets’ Where and When, and How Does it Help Understand Crime Rates at Places? Measuring the Presence of Tourists and Commuters in Ambient Populations


Objectives  Test the reliability of geotagged Twitter data for estimating block-level population metrics across place types. Evaluate whether the proportion of Twitter users on a block at a given time who are local residents, inter-metro commuters, or tourists is correlated with incidences of public violence and private conflict for four different time periods: weekday days, weekday nights, weekend days, and weekend nights. Methods  DBSCAN* machine learning technique is used to estimate the home clusters of 54,249 Twitter users who sent at least one geotagged tweet in Boston. Public violence and private conflict are measured using geocoded 911 dispatches. ANOVA models are used to evaluate how the presence of our three groups of interests varies across three types of block-level land usage. Hierarchical linear regression models are used to evaluate whether the proportion of commuters and tourists at census tract- and block-levels are predictive of crime events across the four time periods of interest. Results  We find evidence that Twitter data has limited reliability across residential blocks due to data sparseness. For non-residential blocks, we find that commuter and tourist presence at the block-level are positively associated with both public violence and private conflict, but that these effects are not stable across time periods. Commuters and tourists only effect violence during weekday days, and the effects of commuters and tourists on private conflict are only statistically significant during weekday days and weekend days. Conclusions  Consistent with routine activities and crime pattern theories, the influx of outsiders in a given location impacts the likelihood of crime occurring there. While we find that data from Twitter users can be valuable for measuring block-level ambient populations, it appears this is not true for residential blocks. Future research may further consider how the characteristics of Twitter users may inform spatial patterns in crime.