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Election days and social media practices: Tweeting as Australia decides

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Paper presented at the Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space conference, Amsterdam, June 2014.

Published in: News & Politics
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Election days and social media practices: Tweeting as Australia decides

  1. 1. Election Days and Social Media Practices: Tweeting as Australia decides Tim High!eld QUT and Curtin t.high!eld@qut.edu.au | @timhigh!eld | timhigh!eld.net
  2. 2. Politics and social media • Integration of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, into politics: – Election campaigns – Politician accounts – Citizens – Journalists and media organisations • Mediation of politics takes place over multiple platforms, involving diverse actors (who participate on more than one platform themselves)
  3. 3. Social media practices • Within political discussions and topics, social media have a variety of functions: – Campaigning and promotional channels – Activism organisation and information-sharing – Backchannel for broadcasts – "ird Space, where political talk arises from and within other topics – Platform for debate with political actors, journalists, and citizens all present (if not necessarily interacting)
  4. 4. "e Australian context • Australia has seen a dedicated audience for political discussion develop on social media, such as around hashtags such as #auspol and #qanda • While these speci!c markers may attract a particular group of Twitter users, political topics are still concerns for the wider population • Voting is compulsory for eligible citizens 18 and over in federal and state elections. – At elections, some engagement with politics is necessary, even if to criticise this necessity.
  5. 5. #ausvotes, et al. • Analysis built out of previous studies of national and state-level elections in Australia: – Federal (2010, 2013) – Queensland (2012) – Western Australia (2013) • Standardisation of election coverage: use of common hashtags for campaigns (#xvotes), although not universally employed
  6. 6. Election day tweeting • Australian election campaigns, as with other international votes, have seen peak activity on the election day itself • "is spike in tweeting is a result of several di#erent approaches which coincide with election day; they are all related to the vote, but also re$ect personal experiences as well as engaging with the results at large
  7. 7. 3000" 2500" 2000" 1500" 1000" 500" 0" Phases of election day tweeting #wavotes, tweets per hour: 9 March, 2013
  8. 8. Phases of election day tweeting 18000" 16000" 14000" 12000" 10000" 8000" 6000" 4000" 2000" 0" #ausvotes, tweets per hour: 7 September, 2013
  9. 9. 3000" 2500" 2000" 1500" 1000" 500" 0" Phases of election day tweeting #wavotes, tweets per hour: 5 April, 2014
  10. 10. Phases of election day tweeting 18000" 16000" 14000" 12000" 10000" 8000" 6000" 4000" 2000" 0" #ausvotes, tweets per hour: 7 September, 2013 3. Speeches 1. Voting period 2. Analysis, predictions, results
  11. 11. A model of election day tweeting 1. "e individual, the personal – the micro-level of the election 2. "e analytical – move away from personal to mix home electorates with wider results and predictions 3. "e reactionary – the live responses to media coverage, in particular the victory and concession speeches by the respective major party leaders
  12. 12. 1. "e personal, the participatory • Tweets about personal voting experiences • Partisan comments and mentions • Local candidates, leaders • Political rituals • Independent projects encouraging voter feedback and crowd-sourced information about polling places – the experience, the facilities – Booth Reviews, Democracy Sausage, SnagVotes, !e Hungry Voter – Promote further participation to improve the accuracy of information available, hook in to the standard election day experience
  13. 13. 2. "e analytical, the informative • As polling places close and votes are counted, the focus moves from the individual experience to the wider coverage • Local results still important, but become more linked to the overall narrative • Information $ows centred on established media and political actors – enhanced by broadcasters using common hashtags rather than their own, retweeting across their many accounts
  14. 14. 3. "e reactionary, the mass context • "e focus becomes narrower still, with responses to both the results and the speci!c media coverage • Live-tweeting of quotes and interpretations of the victory and concession speeches from the respective party leaders • "e shared focus of a mass audience on a few actors, rather than the distributed coverage of the voting experience phase
  15. 15. Personal to ‘popular’? • While the election commentary mixed political and personal views throughout – responses to the results include personal opinions as well as partisanship – the early tweets are more uniquely individual in their content: one person’s voting experience will not be exactly the same as another’s • By the time of the speeches, though, the individual context is subsumed by the shared response to the common topic (as featured in other media) – A further participatory aspect, as with other media events, where social media users comment on broadcasts as they happen, o#ering analysis, invective, and pithy one-liners
  16. 16. Trends • Because of the common context – the overall result, the coverage of the speeches, as well as the captive audience following the results rather than being out voting – more likely to receive retweets during phases 2 and 3? • During phase 1, popular accounts and common sentiments responsible for most RTed comments (e.g. “RT if you voted below the line”) • Memes and macros, humour (especially dry observations of the results) among the most RTed comments a%er polling closed
  17. 17. Casual contributors? • #ausvotes, 7 September 2013: – 34585 users contributing 111987 tweets • Phase one (to 6pm): – 17549 users contributing 43089 tweets (2.45 per user) • Phases two and three (post-6pm): – 23939 users contributing 68898 tweets (2.87 per user) – 6903 users contributing 60967 tweets to both periods (25871, 35096) – 20% users, 54.4% tweets overall • 39.3% users, 60% tweets pre-6pm • 28.8% users, 50.9% tweets post-6pm
  18. 18. Political gatekeepers old and new • "e model also demonstrates that some aspects of the traditional politics-media dynamic are reinforced on social media – "e role of traditional media sources for both providing and amplifying information is central – even if other users do not mention media accounts, they are responding to elections as media events – "e use of Twitter handles rather than proper names also accounts for high numbers of @mentions for politicians and commentators even if not tweeting themselves – Newer/alternative voices can achieve prominence, and this is a mixed space of old and new, but the old and established bodies remain central here.
  19. 19. Political gatekeepers old and new • Inconsistent use by politicians and parties – Mentioned by other users, but not contributing (to hashtagged comments) during election day • Last minute social media campaigning not necessarily a common strategy • Resisting comments during count until results con!rmed?
  20. 20. Factors and limits • Compulsory and ritualised nature of elections in Australia invites certain kinds of participation on social media, which secondary hashtags hook into (barbecues, cake stalls) • Even with increased activity on election day, though, this is still not a representative sample of the Australian population at large. • Although #ausvotes an established marker, it is not the only election hashtag, nor are any required in related tweets
  21. 21. Further directions • "is paper outlines a preliminary model of how election day unfolds on social media; the political and social contexts of other nations will determine its adaptability beyond Australia • "e transition from personal voting experience to analysis to reactions and commentary demonstrates a number of Twitter’s uses across the same context • Further research would look beyond the single platform and hashtag to examine further election day practices and the mix of the personal and the political.

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