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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
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)
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)
"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.
#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
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
3000" 
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0" 
Phases of election day tweeting 
#wavotes, tweets per hour: 9 March, 2013
Phases of election day tweeting 
18000" 
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12000" 
10000" 
8000" 
6000" 
4000" 
2000" 
0" 
#ausvotes, tweets per hour: 7 September, 2013
3000" 
2500" 
2000" 
1500" 
1000" 
500" 
0" 
Phases of election day tweeting 
#wavotes, tweets per hour: 5 April, 2014
Phases of election day tweeting 
18000" 
16000" 
14000" 
12000" 
10000" 
8000" 
6000" 
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0" 
#ausvotes, tweets per hour: 7 September, 2013 3. Speeches 
1. Voting period 
2. Analysis, 
predictions, 
results
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
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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Election days and social media practices: Tweeting as Australia decides

  • 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. 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. 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. "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. #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. 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. 3000" 2500" 2000" 1500" 1000" 500" 0" Phases of election day tweeting #wavotes, tweets per hour: 9 March, 2013
  • 8. Phases of election day tweeting 18000" 16000" 14000" 12000" 10000" 8000" 6000" 4000" 2000" 0" #ausvotes, tweets per hour: 7 September, 2013
  • 9. 3000" 2500" 2000" 1500" 1000" 500" 0" Phases of election day tweeting #wavotes, tweets per hour: 5 April, 2014
  • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.