Twitter, Public Communication and the Media Ecology: The Case of the Queensland Floods


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Presented by Axel Bruns and Jean Burgess at the ATN-DAAD workshop The World According to Twitter, Brisbane, 27 June 2011.

Part of an ongoing collaboration between the Mapping Online Publics project ( at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, QUT, Australia (, and the Nachwuchsforschergruppe Wissenschaft und Internet, Universität Düsseldorf, Germany (

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Twitter, Public Communication and the Media Ecology: The Case of the Queensland Floods

  1. 1. Twitter, Public Communication and the Media Ecology:The Case of the Queensland Floods<br />Assoc. Prof. Axel Bruns / Dr. Jean BurgessARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation<br />Queensland University of Technology<br />
  2. 2. Social Media Research in the CCI<br />ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation (national, based at QUT)<br />Project: Media Ecologies & Methodological Innovation<br />With Journalism & Media Research Centre (JMRC) @ UNSW<br />Aims to implement new methods to understand the changing media environment;<br />Focusing on the relationship between social media and traditional media and communication platforms;<br />Combining large-scale computer-assisted techniques with qualitative social research and close textual analysis<br />Focus on Crisis Communication<br />Natural disasters<br />Other ‘acute events’<br />
  3. 3. New Media and Public Communication: Mapping Australian User-Created Content in Online Social Networks<br />Bruns, Burgess, Kirchhoff & Nicolai<br /><br />Australian Research Council (ARC): Discovery Project (2010-13) – $410,000<br />QUT (Brisbane), Sociomantic Labs (Berlin)<br />First comprehensive study of Australian social media use.<br />Computer-assisted cultural analysis: tracking, mapping, analysing blogs, twitter, flickr, youtube as ‘networked publics’<br />Builds on previous work of the research team (UCC, YouTube, blogosphere mapping)<br />Advances beyond established approaches - beyond political blogospheres, beyond snapshots<br />Addressing the problem of scale (‘Big Data’) and disciplinary change in media, cultural and communication studies.<br />
  4. 4. theoretical framework <br /><ul><li> changing media ecology (UCC and ‘mainstream’ media)
  5. 5. dynamics of public communication (emergent, event-based, affective)</li></ul>baseline empirical questions <br /><ul><li> levels of activity?
  6. 6. topics of interest?
  7. 7. clusters and communities?
  8. 8. changes over time? </li></ul>methods<br /><ul><li> large-scale data gathering
  9. 9. development of computer-assisted techniques for both broad and recursively focused analysis
  10. 10. identification of key events, clusters and communities
  11. 11. close qualitative analysis</li></ul>advanced questions: cultural implications<br /><ul><li> do matters of shared concern activate new connections among different communities/networks?
  12. 12. how do acute media ‘events’ transform the media ecology?</li></li></ul><li>Data Gathering<br />Blogs: In-house crawler & database + export tools<br />Twitter: YourTwapperkeeper + in-house crawler<br />Data Processing<br />Gawk – open source, multiplatform, programmable command-line tool for processing CSV documents<br />Textual Analysis<br />Leximancer – commercial (University of Queensland), multiplatform: extracts key concepts from large corpora of text, examines and visualises concept co-occurrence<br />WordStat – commercial, PC-only text analysis tool; generates concept co-occurrence data that can be exported for visualisation<br />Visualisation<br />Gephi – open source, multiplatform network visualisation tool<br />Tools<br />
  13. 13. Analysis – Twapperkeeper (#hashtags)<br />
  14. 14. Crisis Communication Research in the CCI<br />Jan.-June 2011<br />Focus on uses of social media during the Qld Floods<br />Archive of tweets using #qldfloodshashtag<br />Analysis<br />Volume of tweets over time<br />@replies and retweets: key actors and their networks<br />URLs: key media resources, user-uploaded images and videos<br />Emergence and uptake of hashtags and other user conventions<br />Content analysis: themes and purposes over time<br />
  15. 15. Twitter and the Queensland Floods: #qldfloods tweets<br />10 Jan. 2011 11 Jan. 2011 12 Jan. 2011 13 Jan. 2011 14 Jan. 2011 15 Jan. 2011<br />
  16. 16. Local Focus: #qldfloods from Toowoomba to Brisbane<br />Toowoomba vs. Lockyer/Grantham vs. Ipswich vs. Brisbane slide<br />10 Jan. 2011 11 Jan. 2011 12 Jan. 2011 13 Jan. 2011 14 Jan. 2011 15 Jan. 2011<br />
  17. 17. Twitter and the Queensland Floods: #qldfloods posters<br />retweet feeds<br />mainstream media<br />Qld Police<br />
  18. 18. Twitter and the Queensland Floods: #qldfloods @replies<br />authorities<br />mainstream media<br />
  19. 19. Twitter and the Christchurch Earthquake: #eqnz @replies<br />mainstream media<br />authorities<br />utilities<br />
  20. 20. Key Accounts over Time<br />
  21. 21. @QPSmedia as Central #qldfloods Information Source<br />
  22. 22. Case study: @QPSMedia<br />
  23. 23. #qldfloods Network Map – Most Active Accounts Only(Degree >= 15 / Node size: indegree / node colour: outdegree)<br />
  24. 24. Twitter and the Queensland Floods<br />First lessons:<br />#qldfloods as coordinating tool – one central hashtag<br />Go where the users are – and help establish hashtag<br />Plus inventive additions – e.g. @QPSmedia #Mythbuster tweets<br />Most activity by individuals – but key official accounts cut through<br />Enable easy retweeting and sharing of messages<br />Respond and engage – value voluntary contributions from ‘average’ users<br />Mainstream media are important in social media environments, too<br />Twitter as an amplifier of key messages<br />Twitter vs. Facebook – which works when?<br />
  25. 25. Twitter and the Japanese Tsunami: Beyond the #Hashtag<br />
  26. 26. Twitter Events in Perspective: Comparing the Main 24h<br />
  27. 27. Next Steps in Crisis Communication Research<br />More forensics: successes and failures, especially rumours and misinformation<br />Further comparison with other recent natural disasters<br />Comparing mainstream and social media coverage<br />Social context: in-depth interviews with residents<br />Direct engagement with emergency services, government and media<br />
  28. 28. Beyond Crises<br />Where to from here? Further applications:<br />Identifying overall Twitter participation patterns – key themes, key users<br />How does information travel across the Twittersphere?<br />How can we ensure and enhance the distribution of important messages?<br />What is the structure of the Twitter community?<br />Mapping online publics: network structure, clusters, interconnections, themes<br />Identifying key participants: opinion leaders, information hubs, connectors<br />Change over time: fluidity of network structures, response to stimuli<br />How does Twitter sit in the wider media ecology?<br />Use of materials from elsewhere: distribution of attention through links<br />Interconnections between Twitter and other media: tweets about TV, newspapers, ...<br />
  29. 29. Understanding Australian Twitter Use<br />What is the Australian Twitteruserbase?<br />Large-scale snowballing project<br />Starting from selected hashtag communities (e.g. #ausvotes, #qldfloods, #masterchef)<br />Identifying participating users, testing for ‘Australianness’:<br />Timezone setting, location information, profile information<br />Retrieving follower/followee information for each account (very slow)<br />Progress update:<br />~550,000 Australian users identified so far<br />
  30. 30.
  31. 31. Football (rugby)<br />Sports<br />Football (soccer)<br />Twitter Celebrities<br />South Australia<br />Wine<br />Media, Journalism, Politics<br />Music<br />Follower/followee network:~40,000 Australian Twitter users(of ~440,000 known accounts so far) in-degree 20+, dark lines = mutual,colour = indegree, size = outdegree<br />
  32. 32.<br />Image by campoalto<br />@snurb_dot_info<br />@jeanburgess<br />