Visualizing the War on Women Debate

A look at how the most popular cover story in Foreign Policy's history ricocheted across Twitter.


With some 70,000 Facebook "likes" and 3,000-plus comments, Mona Eltahawy’s article became the most popular cover story in Foreign Policy‘s history. It unleashed a torrent of reactions online — so many, in fact, that the essay was the fourth-most discussed topic on Internet blogs during the week it was published, according to the Pew Research Center.

Some reactions were critical, others complimentary, and still others conflicted. "I found myself bristling, yet simultaneously felt guilty for doing so," Nesrine Malik mused in the Guardian. But there was no denying the intensity of the discussion. "Never before has the Arab American, particularly Muslim American, social activist community been given access to multiple media platforms simultaneously to openly debate a topic that for many has been on the back burner for some time," Nadia S. Mohammad wrote on WashingtonPost.com.

The essay also took Twitter by storm. Above is a visualization of Twitter users linking to the original Foreign Policy article within roughly 24 hours of its publication. The graph, created by Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Foundation and posted by Alex Hanna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows follower relationships (green lines) and replies to or mentions of other users (blue lines). The network analysis produced 169 groups, with Eltahawy’s Twitter account at the center of Group 2 (the red lines highlight her connections) and Foreign Policy’s account at the center of Group 5. The image doesn’t track the tweets’ sentiments, but according to Hanna, it shows strongly polarized reader groups, including Egyptians, female American journalists, feminists, and academics.

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