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Online Trends

Published August 27th 2019

Area 51: The Raid, The Jokes, The Theories, and The Data

Area 51 hit the headlines recently after a million people signed up to a Facebook event inviting them to storm the United States Air Force facility to "see them aliens". The React team went on a data-driven exploration to see what people believe resides in Area 51.

When the US Air Force heard that people were planning to raid the facility known as Area 51 in order to find aliens, they responded with a heavy hand:

“We would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces. The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets,” they told the Washington Post.

But that didn’t stop a million people signing up to the Facebook event which detailed a plan to storm the place at 3am on 20 September this year.

Of course, the Facebook event is tongue-in-cheek. But that doesn’t mean people don’t think there are odd things hidden in the facility.

We know this because we asked 2,000 people what they thought using mobile survey tool Qriously.

16% of respondents said they think Area 51 contains aliens.

The raid date is approaching. Lives could be at stake if anyone actually attempts it. The internet gave birth to this wild idea, and the React team wanted to find out more about how Area 51 is discussed online. Here’s what we found from 545,000 social media posts, split out by key platforms.

Reddit

Let’s start with Reddit, an enormous community where people share comments, pictures, videos, and lengthy posts with mini-communities that relate to their interests.

The theories

When we looked at the top 50 most used words and phrases, things looked very different in comparison to Twitter.

While on Twitter people talked about catching and keeping their own alien (which we’ll get to soon), Reddit conversation was much more focused on the conspiracy theory itself.

“Government”, “hiding”, and “secret” were big parts of the conversation, all discussing what kinds of things were being kept inside the walls of Area 51, as well as how the US government were reacting to the growing interest in the raid.

Meanwhile, “alien technology” was a phrase present in many posts and comments.

The memes

While the above might sound pretty serious, a lot of the content we saw was jokey in nature.

In fact, 22% of the posts about aliens and Area 51 on Reddit in the time period we studied were posted on r/Memes or r/DankMemes.

Twitter:

The jokes

Some of the biggest themes on Twitter (and the overall social conversation) around Area 51 are about capturing your own alien introducing them to life on Earth.

Musical and culinary delicacies ranked highly.

Envisioning life with a new Area 51 alien were particularly popular.

The verifieds

It’s not just fast food brands that benefitted from a boost in mentions in relation to the recent Area 51 interest.

Bud Light got involved in the conversation directly, with a very successful tweet that offered free beer to any alien that made it out alive.

Other big accounts also got involved in the Area 51 conversation recently.

@LisNasX was into it, with this Old Town Road pun:

The news

Baffled headlines

An important part of online conversation is how the established media report on things.

The news reports on Area 51 in the last couple of months have parroted the language in the Facebook event that invited people to storm the place.

 

Baffled journalists quoted the page, especially when it came to this part:

“If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets”

Many outlets have helpfully explained what Naruto running is for any readers who don’t get it.

Serious raiders?

We searched for news outlets with a high MozRank to see how the most popular sites were discussing the issue.

Journalists have been able to confirm that while many of those who’ve indicated they are attending the Facebook event are joking, others are taking it quite seriously. The New York Times interviewed an inn owner in the area, who has reported a high number of reservations on 20 September.

She [Connie West, co-owner of a nearby inn] added that many people had mentioned the Facebook post when they called to reserve the inn’s rooms and recreational vehicles, all of which are now booked for that date.

YouTube

EVIDENCE

Videos are the second biggest page type in the Area 51 conversation we captured using Brandwatch Analytics (behind Twitter).

The conversation looks very similar to that on Reddit, as shown above – there are lots of comments featuring words like “government”, “military”, and “technology.”

We also found lots of mentions of UFOs, as well as conversation about escaped aliens. Clicking into these mentions, we found a whole bunch of videos that contain unexplained images, and many of them are compilation videos of potential alien sightings or videos purporting to be from inside Area 51.

Its a real rabbit hole, and, we should note, a huge number of the mentions here are humorous – the laugh-crying emoji is very present in the conversation.

So, what have we learned?

We know that the internet is full of jokers, and Area 51 has opened a whole new can of worms. The memes and gags are everywhere, and even brands and celebrities are treating it as a subject worth wading in on and making jokes about.

But, we also know that there are serious conversations happening about whether Area 51 actually contains aliens, that a surprising number of people believe aliens are being held in Area 51, and that some people (however few) are planning to head to the area in September. 😬👽

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