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Exclusive: The Real Numbers Behind Those 'Racist Tweets From Bruins Fans'

CH Chart

The chart above breaks down the Tweets posted from 8 p.m. on May 1 through 7 p.m. on May 3 that referenced both the "n-word" and the name of Montreal's P.K. Subban.

Trevor Choleva grew up near Hartford Conn., but landed on the right side of the New York-Boston Sports Fault Line that bisects the Nutmeg State.

His dad was from Western Massachusetts. Suffering and celebrating Boston's teams was a birthright and/or punishment inherent in his sports DNA.

Choleva has lived in Boston for about four years and now works as a digital analyst for Boston-based social media monitoring and analytics firm Crimson [as in Harvard] Hexagon.

Like millions of Bruins fans, Choleva could not believe the culturally stereotypical narrative propagated across social, digital, print, and broadcast media in the hours following P.K. Subban's double-overtime goal in Montreal's Game 1 win of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bruins on May 1.

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The two big falsehoods - as you've probably figured out by now - reported on a local, national and international level were:

"The 'n-word' was a trending topic on Twitter in Boston."

"There were 17,000 Tweets mentioning the 'n-word' and Subban."

Here in this space we deconstructed those two "facts" in the days following Game 1, along with the unnecessary and over-reactive apology by the Bruins and the City of Boston, and Subban's brilliant words on the subject two days later. We attempted to provide some needed perspective on the situation and offered real examples of how this pejorative tale spread.

Choleva and his colleagues at Crimson Hexagon, however, wanted to know the real numbers behind these myths about Boston, Bruins fans, and humanity in general propagated across social media. Unlike the rest of us, they have access to what is called the "Twitter Fire Hose." That would be every single public Tweet posted on the social media site since July of 2010.

For Choleva, compiling this data was both professional and personal.

"It was hurtful," he told The OBF Blog on Thursday. "People were saying all the Bruins fans were racist. I take it personally. I'd like to think that most of the fans are like myself. Sure, there's name calling during the heat the of the battle, but it's all in good fun."

And for about 99.99 percent of both Bruins fans it was just that - heated hockey fun. That is unless you happened to check the internet or turn on a TV or radio the next day.

There, you saw how trillions of racist Bruins fans in their KKK hoods wanted to see Subban run out of North America. Or something like that.

Choleva and two Crimson Hexagon colleagues, senior content and digital marketing strategist Elizabeth Breese and product analyst Matthew Bemis, shared their company's data exclusively with The OBF Blog.

These numbers were in part compiled after a request to research the specifics of what exactly happened on Twitter in regard to the "n-word," Subban and the Bruins after Game 1.

Crimson Hexagon's research and analytics covers the period starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time on May 1 [shortly after Subban's first goal in Game 1]:

Here are the key findings:

* The number of Tweets that included both Subban and variations of the "n-word" in the first 24 hours was 2,617. It was not "about 17,000" as reported by CBC Montreal in the aftermath of the game. An additional 447 Tweets fitting this description were posted in the next 24 hours.

* 11 percent of those initial 2,617 posts were determined to contain "derogatory" usage of the "n-word," or variations of it.

* 77 percent of the 2,617 posts in the first 24 hours were re-Tweets about the phenomenon.

* 13 percent were classified as being "supportive" uses of a the "n-word" toward Subban.

* Canada produced 17 Tweets per 1,000,000 users that include Subban and variations of the "n-word" in the first 24 hours.

* The U.S. produced two Tweets per 1,000,000 users under the same exact parameters.

* 764 Tweets in the first 24 hours referenced "17,000" as the number of racist posts that existed.

* 1,157 of the 2,617 posts cited had an identifiable location.

* Only 68 of the Tweets that used Subban's name and "the n-word" were distinguishable as being from Massachusetts.

* Of 686,602 overall Tweets from users geo-located in Massachusetts in the first 24 hours, the top 10 trending topics were:

#bruins
#boston
#ff
#bucciovertimechallenge
#nblnabilavoto
#bruinstalk
#nowplaying
#nhlbruins
#redsox
#canadiens

* Of the top 10 retweets in the first 24 hours, eight used "the n-word" - or variations of it - and Subban's name. But they were only referencing the original racist Tweets. They showed no characteristics of being original on their own.

What these figures tell us is that there were 288 Tweets [give or take one] that used the "n-word" and Subban's name in a racist and derogatory manner after Game 1.

Not millions. Not thousands. Barely hundreds. A total of 288 "racist Tweets" in 24 hours. And as we documented two weeks ago, not all of the ones we examined were from Bruins fans. Crimson Hexagon's numbers show there were more than twice as many Tweets about the "17,000" number than there were actual "racist" Tweets.

There are about 440,000,000 public Tweets posted daily, according to Crimson Hexagon.

The world came apart over 288 of them after Game 1 against Montreal.

"Numerous attempts were made to recreate the 17,000 number," Bemis said. "And no set of accurate keywords produced results even close to the originally reported amount. There was lots of miscommunication that night."

The Canadian-based firm that cited the "17,000" number to CBC-Montreal did not respond to an email from The OBF Blog.

Of course, one racist Tweet is one too many. But this isn't about individual depravity. There is no cure for that. For each person who set their account to private after being "exposed" by the self-righteous Twitter police, there was another user emboldened by the social success they achieved without apology.

The fable of the "6 Million Racist Bruins Fans on Twitter," unfortunately, didn't go away after Game 1.

Last week, Sports Illustrated continued the false narrative by reporting that "Twitter was ablaze with racist Tweets" about Subban after his game-winner. That came complete with the not-so-subtle implication as being "racist" Tweets from Bruins fans.

288 out of 440,000,000.

A blaze? An inferno?

No, just plain infernal.

Billy Joel was right. We didn't start the fire, because there was no fire. There were a handful of matches flipped into the wind. They would have been snuffed out, had the hate not been sprayed with gasoline by overzealous media members and other would-be guardians of the good.

The "echo chamber" effect of social media was perhaps the main culprit as to why so many people were told this was a "trend" and felt compelled to share that misinformation themselves.

"People continued to retweet the word, not censoring themselves, which just served to fuel the fire instead of stomping it out," Bemis said in describing Crimson Hexagon's data.

Twitter offers an interesting journalistic paradox. Much of its content arrives anonymously and without accountability, but is so often cited as a source more honest and sincere than Forrest Gump. My batting average on Twitter - not counting Patriots predictions, the Celtics vs. the Heat in 2012 and the Bruins-Canadiens series - slipped to .9988 the other day. That's four errors in 21,000+ attempts. Xander Bogaerts should be so sure-handed. I heard about my latest Twitter gaffe immediately and with ferocity. A correction and apology quickly followed.

[Internet/snark disclaimer: This column was written under a pseudonym for some 31 months, but my identity was never a secret to my family, friends, colleagues or bosses. And I was held to account by you every day.]

There's magic in those 140 characters. Civilians and media types might not want to read or acknowledge those 850 words you write about Marc Fucarile, Sean Collier, Aaron Hernandez or Jared Remy.

But drop the ball once on Twitter and you're an affront to journalism.

Yet it's Twitter that manufactured and disseminated the biggest sports fabrication in Boston this side of "Bobby Valentine, Baseball Genius."

Of course, when it came to Bobby V., all Boston lost was a single baseball season.

In this instance, Boston, Massachusetts, New England, the Bruins and their fans all lost another piece of their collective character and reputation.

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist, Bay State native and Boston.Com columnist Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.


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