Forensics Analysis of #Westgate Tweets (Updated)

Update 1: Our original Twitter collection of Westgate-related tweets included the following hashtags: #Kenya, #Nairobi #WestgateAttack, #WestagateMall, #WestgatemallAttack, #Westgateshootout & #Westgate. While we overlooked #Westlands and Westlands, we have just fixed the oversight. This explains why the original results below differed from the iHub’s analysis which was based on tweets with the keywords Westgate and Westlands.

Update 2: The list below of first tweets to report the attack has been updated to include tweets referring to Westlands. These are denoted by an asterisk (*). 

I’m carrying out some preliminary “information forensics” research on the 740,000+ tweets posted during the Westgate attack. More specifically, I’m looking for any clues in the hours leading up to the attack that may reveal something out of the ordinary prior to the siege. Other questions I’m hoping to answer: Were any tweets posted during the crisis actionable? Did they add situational awareness? What kind of multimedia content was shared? Which tweets were posted by eyewitnesses? Were any tweets posted by the attackers or their supporters? If so, did these carry tactical information?

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 4.20.23 AM

If you have additional suggestions on what else to search for, please feel free to post them in the comments section below, thank you very much. I’ll be working with QCRI research assistants over the next few weeks to dive deeper into the first 24 hours of the attack as reported on Twitter. This research would not be possible where it not for my colleagues at GNIP who very kindly granted me access their platform to download all the tweets. I’ve just reviewed the first hour of tweets (which proved to be highly emotional, as expected). Below are the very first tweets posted about the attack.

[12:38:20 local time]*
gun shots in westlands? wtf??

Weird gunshot like sounds in westlands : (

Explosions and gunfight ongoing in #nairobi 

Something really bad goin on at #Westgate. Gunshots!!!! Everyone’s fled. 

[12:43:17] *
Somewhere behind Westlands? What’s up RT @[username]: Explosions and gunfight ongoing in #nairobi

Are these gunshots at #Westgate? Just heard shooting from the road behind sarit, sounded like it was coming from westgate 

@[username] shoot out at westgate westlands mall. going on for the last 10 min

Heavily armed thugs have taken over #WestGate shopping mall. Al occupants and shoppers are on the floor. Few gunshots heard…more to follow 

did anyone else in westlands hear that? #KOT #Nairobi 

Seems like explosions and small arms fire are coming from Westlands or Gigiri #nairobi 

Gun fight #westgate… @ntvkenya @KTNKenya @citizentvkenya any news… 

Several explosions followed by 10 minutes of running gunfight in Nairobi westlands

Small arms fire is continuing to be exchanged intermittently. #nairobi

Something’s going on around #Westgate #UkayCentre area. Keep away if you can

Gunshots and explosions heard around #Westgate anybody nearby? #Westlands

@KenyaRedCross explosions and gunshots heard near Westgate Mall in Westlands. Fierce shoot out..casualties probable

Shoot to kill order #westgate

See also:

  • We Are Kenya: Global Map of #Westgate Tweets [Link]
  • Did Terrorists Use Twitter to Increase Situational Awareness? [Link]
  • Analyzing Tweets Posted During Mumbai Terrorist Attacks [Link]
  • Web 2.0 Tracks Attacks on Mumbai [Link]


16 responses to “Forensics Analysis of #Westgate Tweets (Updated)

  1. Pingback: We Are Kenya: Global Map of #Westgate Tweets | iRevolution

  2. Patrick is it possible to sort the tweets on the basis of its location. I was wondering whether it would make a difference in getting some realtime information that might be valuable. For instance: Any tweets from inside Westgate Mall.

    • Hi Azrak, many thanks for the suggestion. Yes the data format for the tweets is:

      username // tweet // time stamp // region // country // latitude // longitude

      So we’ll try to figure out which tweets came from nearby and within Westgate. Thanks again for your suggestion.

  3. Nothing tweeted about power glitches shortly before noon? A friend was in WGate Nakumatt and the power kept going on and off. Not unprecedented in NBO of course, but there were reports of the attackers taking control of the main power box in Westgate. The suggestion here is presence of collaborators in the mall before the armed assault. But I guess we knew that much because of the shop they allegedly rented. Any tweets about lights being off *during* the attack?

    • Many thanks for reading and for your question, Anthony. I’ll share this with my research assistants. We just got started analyzing all tweets on September 21st from 00:01 to 12:40. If we find anything that may be relevant, we’ll be sure to share via a post on the iRevolution blog. Thanks again

  4. Pingback: How Useful Is A Tweet?: A review of the first tweets of the Westgate Attack

  5. my brother’s friend was there and ran for his life, after he found himself alone at a corner, though he got shot on both arms and buttocks. he also says there was a power black out at the mall at some point.

  6. It would be interesting to know which accounts tweeted from multiple locations, whether eyewitnesses fled and tweeted from elsewhere later or perhaps the perpetrators using an account that had been set up for them elsewhere then used on scene. Did any tweets foreshadow events? Is it possible to identify perpetrators who escaped, via tweets this way?

  7. It may be difficult but certain cryptic keywords may have been used to marhal the attackers into place and signal the beginning of the attack…e.g. Wedding begins at noon, all groomsmen in place. Do you have access to direct tweets for that timeframe and geo loc? Perhaps looking at accounts opened prior to and recently (post-attack) inactive. No doubt and sadly many of those will be victims but some may be attackers and idicate a TTP used in large-scal attack planning.

    • Good point re code words, this will be harder to identify. We only have access to public tweets, not DMs. For the former, we do have a timestamp but geo-loc not always available since this is a setting that the Twitter user decides on. Could look into new and inactive accounts. Thanks for your suggestions.

  8. Are you also looking at revisions after the fact? The Star, in its gossipy and generally poorly-sourced Corridors of Power column reported today that several official bodies were sanitizing their social media feeds, removing the most outrageous tweets (are Kimaiyo’s “pastries” still there?) and posts, perhaps to expunge from the record evidence of the squabbles that took place. On 24/9 for example, three different agencies claimed, within a very short time, to be in control of the mall. See

  9. Pingback: Hashtag Analysis of #Westgate Crisis Tweets | iRevolution

  10. Pingback: #Westgate Tweets: A Detailed Study in Information Forensics | iRevolution

  11. Link exchange is nothing else but it is only placing the other person’s web site link on your page at suitable
    place and other person will also do same in support of you.

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