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Layers of Communication: Forms of Talk on Twitter

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Paper presented at the Media Talk Symposium, Brisbane, 24 Apr. 2014.

Paper presented at the Media Talk Symposium, Brisbane, 24 Apr. 2014.

Published in: Social Media, Technology, Business
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  • 1. Layers of Communication: Forms of Talk on Twitter Associate Professor Axel Bruns ARC Future Fellow Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Australia @snurb_dot_info | http://mappingonlinepublics.net/
  • 2. WHY TWITTER? • Researching Twitter: – Significant world-wide social network – ~700 million accounts (but how many active?) • Australia: 2.5 to 3 million accounts (Twitter, Inc. claims 4 million) – Varied range of uses: from phatic communication to emergency coordination – Strong history of user innovation: @replies, #hashtags – Flat and open network structure: non-reciprocal following, public profiles by default – Good API for gathering (big) data for research – Ethical concerns comparatively limited
  • 3. TWITTER AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE(S) • New methodologies: – Empirical, large-scale, real-time investigation: ‘big (social) data’ – Data-led, comprehensive evaluation rather than small-scale sampling of public communication – But also: combined quantitative/qualitative approaches – Not studying the Internet, but studying society with the Internet (Richard Rogers) • New(ish) frameworks: – Public spherules, issue publics, personal publics (Jan Schmidt): multiple interlinked spaces in a complex media ecology
  • 4. TWITTER AND SOCIETY • Twitter and Society (New York: Peter Lang, 2014) – Jan Schmidt: Twitter followers as the personal public around each account – Axel Bruns and Hallvard Moe: three layers of communication on Twitter – Alex Halavais: structural evolution of Twitter as a platform for communication
  • 5. LAYERS OF TALK ON TWITTER • Key needs in Twitter research: – Understand how hashtags are situated in a wider communicative ecology on Twitter – Document the day-to-day uses of Twitter, beyond and outside hashtags – Trace the dynamics of Twitter as a platform for everyday quasi-private, interpersonal, and/or public communication – Track the impact of social and technological changes on these uses • ad hoc publics, often rapidly forming and dissolving macro: #hashtags • personal publics, accumulating slowly and relatively stable meso: follower networks • interpersonal communication, ephemeral micro: @replies (Bruns & Moe, 2014)
  • 6. MACRO: #ROYALWEDDING (29 APR. 2011)
  • 7. MESO: FOLLOWER NETWORKS Perth Marketing / PR Design Web Creative Farming Agriculture Hardline Conservatives Conservatives Journalists ALP Progressives Greens News Opinion News NGOs Social Policy IT Tech Social Media Tech PR Advertising Real Estate Property Jobs HR Business Business Property Parenting Mums Craft Arts Food Wine Beer Adelaide Social ICTs Creative Design Fashion Beauty Utilities Services Net Culture Books Literature Publishing Film Theatre Arts Radio TV Music Dance Hip Hop Triple J Talkback Breakfast TV CelebritiesCycling Union NRL Football Cricket AFL Swimming V8s Evangelicals Teaching e-Learning Schools Christians Hillsong Teens Jonas Bros. Beliebers @KRuddMP @JuliaGillard Follower/followee network: ~120,000 Australian Twitter users (of ~950,000 known accounts by early 2012) colour = outdegree, size = indegree
  • 8. MICRO: @MENTIONS (2013 ELECTION)
  • 9. INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN THE LAYERS • Micro + Meso + Macro: – Layers of communication do not exist in isolation – Information is transitioned from one layer to another – Key mechanism: retweets • Retweeting an @mention: micro  meso • Retweeting a hashtagged tweet: macro  meso • Retweeting (just by itself): meso1  meso2 • Retweeting while adding a hashtag: meso  macro • Retweeting while adding an @mention: meso  micro – These create intersections between different publics: • Between personal publics and issue publics (vertical) • Between different users’ personal publics (horizontal)
  • 10. #AUSPOL Follower/followee network: ~120,000 Australian Twitter users (of ~950,000 known accounts by early 2012) colour = #auspol tweets, size = indegree
  • 11. #ROYALWEDDING Follower/followee network: ~120,000 Australian Twitter users (of ~950,000 known accounts by early 2012) colour = #royalwedding tweets, size = indeg.
  • 12. 7.5 mins. elapsed @abcnews DISSEMINATION OF THE JULIA GILLARD ‘MISOGYNY SPEECH’ VIDEO, 9 OCT. 2012
  • 13. 30 mins. elapsed Journalists DISSEMINATION OF THE JULIA GILLARD ‘MISOGYNY SPEECH’ VIDEO, 9 OCT. 2012
  • 14. 1 hour elapsed Feminists DISSEMINATION OF THE JULIA GILLARD ‘MISOGYNY SPEECH’ VIDEO, 9 OCT. 2012
  • 15. 5 hours elapsed DISSEMINATION OF THE JULIA GILLARD ‘MISOGYNY SPEECH’ VIDEO, 9 OCT. 2012
  • 16. RESEARCH ON TALK IN TWITTER PUBLICS • #hashtags (macro): – Useful coordinating mechanism for discussion around key events – Relatively easy to capture and analyse – Fails to capture non-hashtagged tweets about the topic – Good case studies, but very little comparative work to date • @mentions (micro): – Backbone of everyday interpersonal communication on Twitter – Easy to track within a pre-defined population of accounts (e.g. politicians) – Studies on selected populations usually fail to examine everyday uses – Potential for significantly larger-scale studies yet to be realised • Follower/followee relations (meso): – Crucial contextual baseline for macro/micro-level studies – Slow and laborious data gathering process, never complete – Very long-term perspective, beyond the reach of most funded projects – But indispensable for study of Twitter as a public space
  • 17. NONE OF THIS IS NEW (BUT…) • Beyond ‘the’ public sphere: – Need to revisit and refashion existing theories for a post-mass media media ecology – Multiple overlapping publics at different levels, driven by network logics • Publics on Twitter: – What drives their formation and dissipation? – How do they interact and interweave? – How are they interleaved with the wider media ecology? – Twitter doesn’t contain publics: publics transcend Twitter • Twitter and society: – To what extent does Twitter mirror broader communicative patterns? – Can we apply ‘big social data’ research methods beyond Twitter itself?
  • 18. http://mappingonlinepublics.net/ @snurb_dot_info @jeanburgess @timhighfield @dpwoodford @tsadkowsky

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