How people shared pictures relating to the death and funeral of Margaret Thatcher on Twitter and Facebook is to be examined by a team from Sheffield University.
The project is the world’s first academic research into the impact of social media and how images explode across different platforms and apps.
Researchers have collected nearly 150,000 tweets from April last year containing 17,000 different images circulated at the time.
Thanks to smartphones, many people now carry a camera with them at all times and use it to document different aspects of their lives – sharing more than 750 million social media images daily.
The Thatcher material shows people shared a variety of images showing events in real time, specifically on the day of the funeral, but also used already existing images sourced from elsewhere online to express their opinion.
The most shared example is a picture of a public screen in Leeds, where only two people can be seen watching the funeral live, highlighting the emptiness of the rest of the square.
Other popular images include old news material, spoof images, references to popular culture, cartoons and screenshots of discussions, especially among younger users who were unsure who Thatcher was.
Dr Farida Vis said: “Images tend to be trickier to study than words. With the rise in techniques that focus on large volumes of text, images tend to get forgotten. They are not easy to ‘mine’ for content and even harder to interpret.”
The Sheffield project aims to develop a free research tool for academics which will allow the capture of such visual data from social media.