Although gymnast Simone Biles’ medal count fell slightly short of the sports world’s lofty expectations in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, she dominated among U.S. Olympians in the number of times her handle, @Simone_Biles, was mentioned on Twitter.
Pew Research Center captured the Twitter handles of every athlete who listed a profile on the official Team USA page and looked at tweets from the broader Twitter audience that directly mentioned those handles during the Games. Here are some key takeaways for how the public engaged with Team USA on Twitter.
Most social media sites allow users to directly engage with other users by tagging their handles or screen names in their posts. This analysis looks at how users of one major social platform – Twitter – used the site to tag Team USA athletes during the recently completed 2020 Olympic Games. To conduct this analysis, we collected every athlete Twitter handle listed on the official Team USA page as of approximately July 26, 2021. All athletes (including a small number of alternates) who were listed and had a Twitter handle at that time were included in the analysis.
Researchers collected all tweets posted between July 21 and Aug. 9 that mentioned any of these 438 Twitter handles using the Gnip Historical PowerTrack API, a searchable archive of all publicly available tweets. This analysis focuses on direct mentions of U.S. Olympians via their Twitter handles (such as @KDTrey5 or @Simone_Biles) and not more generic references (such as “Kevin Durant,” “KD” or “Biles”).
Read the methodology for more on how this analysis was conducted.
Twitter users directly mentioned the accounts of U.S. Olympians more than 2.1 million times during the Games
All told, 598 athletes were listed on the Team USA website at the start of the Games. And 438 of them (73% of the total) included a Twitter handle in their athlete profile. From July 21 through Aug. 9, 2021 – the Games themselves, postponed from the year before, were held July 23 to Aug. 8 – more than 900,000 different Twitter accounts directly mentioned the handles of U.S. Olympians in more than 2.1 million tweets. The vast majority (90%) of those athlete accounts were mentioned at least once during that time.
These mentions were especially concentrated on a few key dates. Nearly a third (31%) of all athlete mentions occurred during the three days of July 27-29, a period that included the women’s team and individual gymnastics finals and swimmer Katie Ledecky winning the gold medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle.