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Twitter and Australian
political debates
Tim Highfield
ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Australia
t.highfield @ qut.edu.au
@timhighfield
http://mappingonlinepublics.net/ | http://timhighfield.net/
POLITICAL DEBATE ONLINE
• The potential for online platforms (individually and
collectively) to reshape and/or revitalise political debate
is a long-standing question
• An evolving continuum of online political discussions,
developed through blogs, citizen journalism projects,
social media
• Platforms not used in isolation; people discussing politics
online tweet about it, blog, share links, comment on
statuses…
TWITTER AND POLITICAL DEBATE
• While not used in isolation, Twitter is a particularly
noteworthy platform for political discussion online:
– Public medium (mostly)
– Brevity of messages
– Associated features: retweets, hashtags, @mentions
• Adoption of Twitter as a popular and primary medium for
live commentary accompanying (media) events,
breaking news, activism (and combinations of these
approaches, taking place in same space).
POLITICAL DISCUSSION ON TWITTER
• Potential for political debate to involve wider population
than just journalists and politicians?
• New gatekeepers?
• Follow and respond directly to people creating news/shaping
politics
• To what extent, though, are these different participants in
political discussions interacting – or even contributing to
the same conversations?
METHODS
• Comparative analysis of three
Australian political hashtags; data
collected between January and
December 2012
– #auspol – Federal
– #qldpol – Queensland
– #wapol – Western Australia
• Methods
– yourTwapperkeeper captures
tweets with specified hashtags from
Twitter API
– Gawk scripts for processing large
datasets (Bruns & Burgess, 2011),
Gephi for network visualisation
AUSTRALIAN POLITICS
• Federal politics: currently led by centre-left Australian
Labor Party (ALP), Prime Minister Julia Gillard; next
election due in September 2013, expected to be won by
centre-right (conservative) Liberal/National coalition, led
by Tony Abbott. Voting is compulsory (93% turnout in
2010).
• State politics:
– Six states, all bicameral systems except Queensland
(unicameral)
– Start of 2012: three states ALP in power, three Liberal.
(Liberal-National Party took power in Queensland in March
2012).
AUSTRALIAN POLITICS AND TWITTER
• Twitter more widely taken up – by politicians and general
public – than previous technologies such as blogging.
• Accounts established for sitting politicians
– At Federal level, 146 of 226 members of Lower and Upper
Houses present on Twitter (July 2012)
• Hashtags for different political events/broadcasts:
– #ausvotes, #ausdecides, #qldvotes – election campaigns
– #qt, #waqt – Parliamentary Question Time
– #qanda, #insiders – Q & A, Insiders political panel shows
#AUSPOL
• Popularised around 2010 Federal election (alongside election-
specific hashtags such as #ausvotes) as overarching label for
Australian political topics
• Endured post-election; however, rather than a space for
political debate, seen as increasingly polarised and
frequented by trolls:
Viewing and participating in 'discussions' on the Twitter stream of
#auspol is to immerse yourself in a political cesspit. It is the dark
alley in Twitter you walk down when you wonder if you have told
anyone where you were going that night.
(Jericho, 2012)
• State-based hashtags less afflicted by this development (in
general)?
#AUSPOL
– 1,002,451 tweets (15/01-04/07), 50,622 users
– 19.8 tweets per user, 5,828 tweets per day
0
2000
4000
6000
8000
10000
12000
14000
2012-Jan-15
2012-Jan-19
2012-Jan-23
2012-Jan-27
2012-Jan-31
2012-Feb-04
2012-Feb-08
2012-Feb-12
2012-Feb-16
2012-Feb-20
2012-Feb-24
2012-Feb-28
2012-Mar-03
2012-Mar-07
2012-Mar-11
2012-Mar-15
2012-Mar-19
2012-Mar-23
2012-Mar-27
2012-Mar-31
2012-Apr-04
2012-Apr-08
2012-Apr-12
2012-Apr-16
2012-Apr-20
2012-Apr-24
2012-Apr-28
2012-May-02
2012-May-06
2012-May-10
2012-May-14
2012-May-18
2012-May-22
2012-May-26
2012-May-30
2012-Jun-03
2012-Jun-07
2012-Jun-11
2012-Jun-15
2012-Jun-19
2012-Jun-23
2012-Jun-27
2012-Jul-01Carbontax
Asylumseekerdebate
ALPleadershipspill
Budget
CraigThomson
CraigThomson
#QLDPOL
– 49,300 tweets (15/01-04/07), 5,668 users
– 8.7 tweets per user, 286.6 tweets per day
State election Civil partnerships bill amended
0
200
400
600
800
1000
1200
1400
1600
1800
2012-Jan-15
2012-Jan-19
2012-Jan-23
2012-Jan-27
2012-Jan-31
2012-Feb-04
2012-Feb-08
2012-Feb-12
2012-Feb-16
2012-Feb-20
2012-Feb-24
2012-Feb-28
2012-Mar-03
2012-Mar-07
2012-Mar-11
2012-Mar-15
2012-Mar-19
2012-Mar-23
2012-Mar-27
2012-Mar-31
2012-Apr-04
2012-Apr-08
2012-Apr-12
2012-Apr-16
2012-Apr-20
2012-Apr-24
2012-Apr-28
2012-May-02
2012-May-06
2012-May-10
2012-May-14
2012-May-18
2012-May-22
2012-May-26
2012-May-30
2012-Jun-03
2012-Jun-07
2012-Jun-11
2012-Jun-15
2012-Jun-19
2012-Jun-23
2012-Jun-27
2012-Jul-01
Tweets
Date
#WAPOL
– 21,261 tweets (15/01-26/12), 2,855 users
– 7.4 tweets per user, 61 tweets per day
Opposition leadership change
Treasurer resigns
Cabinet reshuffle
Budget
0
50
100
150
200
250
300
350
400
2012/01/15
2012/01/22
2012/01/29
2012/02/05
2012/02/12
2012/02/19
2012/02/26
2012/03/04
2012/03/11
2012/03/18
2012/03/25
2012/04/01
2012/04/08
2012/04/15
2012/04/22
2012/04/29
2012/05/06
2012/05/13
2012/05/20
2012/05/27
2012/06/03
2012/06/10
2012/06/17
2012/06/24
2012/07/01
2012/07/08
2012/07/15
2012/07/22
2012/07/29
2012/08/05
2012/08/12
2012/08/19
2012/08/26
2012/09/02
2012/09/09
2012/09/16
2012/09/23
2012/09/30
2012/10/07
2012/10/14
2012/10/21
2012/10/28
2012/11/04
2012/11/11
2012/11/18
2012/11/25
2012/12/02
2012/12/09
2012/12/16
2012/12/23
Tweets
Date
Pre-election
WHO IS TWEETING?
– Highly active group of users within #auspol hashtag:
• Top 1% users contribute 64% of tweets
• 6 users responsible for 87,696 tweets
0
200000
400000
600000
800000
1000000
1200000
all 50662 users users > 0% (>= 0
tweets; 45514 of
50662 users)
users > 90% (>= 14
tweets; 4639 of 50662
users)
users > 99% (>= 297
tweets; 510 of 50662
users)
Sum of original tweets
Sum of genuine @replies
Sum of retweets
WHO IS TWEETING? #AUSPOL
– Highly active group of users within #auspol hashtag:
• These especially active users not elected parliamentarians or
journalists
• Instead, politically engaged citizens (or automated accounts)
– Fit Coleman’s (2006) description of “political junkies”,
who treat political issues as major topics of interest and
actively seek out relevant news and opinion pieces?
– MPs, journalists, media organisations mentioned often in
tweets
• However, these accounts (especially politicians) do not
contribute many tweets to the #auspol discussion
WHO IS TWEETING? #QLDPOL
– Tweeting patterns also show a core group of users
contributing the majority of hashtagged tweets
• Some overlap with the prominent #auspol users.
– The users that are most mentioned are a mixture of these
frequent contributors and key state political actors, who do
not necessarily participate in these discussions
themselves.
• Limits to this analysis due to election in first half of 2012; user
names, and affiliations, changed (including
@TheQldPremier)
• Further analysis required to establish on-going patterns
beyond the election context.
WHO IS TWEETING? #WAPOL
– A lower level of activity, but greater representation
amongst most mentioned and also most active accounts
by journalists and politicians
• A more even spread of – and comparable contributions from
– citizens (including the “political junkies”), journalists, and
politicians alike.
– Changing patterns towards end of year as election
campaigns are readied
• Party strategies regarding social media have some impact on
the developing shape of tweeted political debates
WHO IS TWEETING?
– Politicians in particular often mentioned a lot, but rarely
contribute to hashtagged debates
• @mentions as a shorthand for discussing politicians, creating
a link to their account, rather than necessarily expecting
conversation
– Presence of core group of “political junkies” leading (in
volume if not in topic) these discussions
• Framing of politics around personalities (individual
politicians) rather than parties?
• Tweeting patterns still follow major news stories, debates
around party leaders (particularly in hung parliament
situation, in build-up to election).
LIMITATIONS AND FURTHER OUTLOOK
• Caveats:
– Not all voters on Twitter - not representative of entire electorate
– No requirement to use hashtag/engage with others using it
• Active choice by user to connect to wider discussion
• Users replying to hashtagged comments might not include it in their
tweets
• Intentions of hashtags, functions of use
• Future directions
– Case studies within the different political contexts
– Replies and retweets, information flows, across party affiliation,
between different user groups (journalists, politicians), regions,
themes
• Ongoing tracking, comparing non-election and election periods
(QLD 2012; WA and AUS 2013).

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Twitter and Australian political debates

  • 1. Twitter and Australian political debates Tim Highfield ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Australia t.highfield @ qut.edu.au @timhighfield http://mappingonlinepublics.net/ | http://timhighfield.net/
  • 2. POLITICAL DEBATE ONLINE • The potential for online platforms (individually and collectively) to reshape and/or revitalise political debate is a long-standing question • An evolving continuum of online political discussions, developed through blogs, citizen journalism projects, social media • Platforms not used in isolation; people discussing politics online tweet about it, blog, share links, comment on statuses…
  • 3. TWITTER AND POLITICAL DEBATE • While not used in isolation, Twitter is a particularly noteworthy platform for political discussion online: – Public medium (mostly) – Brevity of messages – Associated features: retweets, hashtags, @mentions • Adoption of Twitter as a popular and primary medium for live commentary accompanying (media) events, breaking news, activism (and combinations of these approaches, taking place in same space).
  • 4. POLITICAL DISCUSSION ON TWITTER • Potential for political debate to involve wider population than just journalists and politicians? • New gatekeepers? • Follow and respond directly to people creating news/shaping politics • To what extent, though, are these different participants in political discussions interacting – or even contributing to the same conversations?
  • 5. METHODS • Comparative analysis of three Australian political hashtags; data collected between January and December 2012 – #auspol – Federal – #qldpol – Queensland – #wapol – Western Australia • Methods – yourTwapperkeeper captures tweets with specified hashtags from Twitter API – Gawk scripts for processing large datasets (Bruns & Burgess, 2011), Gephi for network visualisation
  • 6. AUSTRALIAN POLITICS • Federal politics: currently led by centre-left Australian Labor Party (ALP), Prime Minister Julia Gillard; next election due in September 2013, expected to be won by centre-right (conservative) Liberal/National coalition, led by Tony Abbott. Voting is compulsory (93% turnout in 2010). • State politics: – Six states, all bicameral systems except Queensland (unicameral) – Start of 2012: three states ALP in power, three Liberal. (Liberal-National Party took power in Queensland in March 2012).
  • 7. AUSTRALIAN POLITICS AND TWITTER • Twitter more widely taken up – by politicians and general public – than previous technologies such as blogging. • Accounts established for sitting politicians – At Federal level, 146 of 226 members of Lower and Upper Houses present on Twitter (July 2012) • Hashtags for different political events/broadcasts: – #ausvotes, #ausdecides, #qldvotes – election campaigns – #qt, #waqt – Parliamentary Question Time – #qanda, #insiders – Q & A, Insiders political panel shows
  • 8. #AUSPOL • Popularised around 2010 Federal election (alongside election- specific hashtags such as #ausvotes) as overarching label for Australian political topics • Endured post-election; however, rather than a space for political debate, seen as increasingly polarised and frequented by trolls: Viewing and participating in 'discussions' on the Twitter stream of #auspol is to immerse yourself in a political cesspit. It is the dark alley in Twitter you walk down when you wonder if you have told anyone where you were going that night. (Jericho, 2012) • State-based hashtags less afflicted by this development (in general)?
  • 9. #AUSPOL – 1,002,451 tweets (15/01-04/07), 50,622 users – 19.8 tweets per user, 5,828 tweets per day 0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000 12000 14000 2012-Jan-15 2012-Jan-19 2012-Jan-23 2012-Jan-27 2012-Jan-31 2012-Feb-04 2012-Feb-08 2012-Feb-12 2012-Feb-16 2012-Feb-20 2012-Feb-24 2012-Feb-28 2012-Mar-03 2012-Mar-07 2012-Mar-11 2012-Mar-15 2012-Mar-19 2012-Mar-23 2012-Mar-27 2012-Mar-31 2012-Apr-04 2012-Apr-08 2012-Apr-12 2012-Apr-16 2012-Apr-20 2012-Apr-24 2012-Apr-28 2012-May-02 2012-May-06 2012-May-10 2012-May-14 2012-May-18 2012-May-22 2012-May-26 2012-May-30 2012-Jun-03 2012-Jun-07 2012-Jun-11 2012-Jun-15 2012-Jun-19 2012-Jun-23 2012-Jun-27 2012-Jul-01Carbontax Asylumseekerdebate ALPleadershipspill Budget CraigThomson CraigThomson
  • 10. #QLDPOL – 49,300 tweets (15/01-04/07), 5,668 users – 8.7 tweets per user, 286.6 tweets per day State election Civil partnerships bill amended 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2012-Jan-15 2012-Jan-19 2012-Jan-23 2012-Jan-27 2012-Jan-31 2012-Feb-04 2012-Feb-08 2012-Feb-12 2012-Feb-16 2012-Feb-20 2012-Feb-24 2012-Feb-28 2012-Mar-03 2012-Mar-07 2012-Mar-11 2012-Mar-15 2012-Mar-19 2012-Mar-23 2012-Mar-27 2012-Mar-31 2012-Apr-04 2012-Apr-08 2012-Apr-12 2012-Apr-16 2012-Apr-20 2012-Apr-24 2012-Apr-28 2012-May-02 2012-May-06 2012-May-10 2012-May-14 2012-May-18 2012-May-22 2012-May-26 2012-May-30 2012-Jun-03 2012-Jun-07 2012-Jun-11 2012-Jun-15 2012-Jun-19 2012-Jun-23 2012-Jun-27 2012-Jul-01 Tweets Date
  • 11. #WAPOL – 21,261 tweets (15/01-26/12), 2,855 users – 7.4 tweets per user, 61 tweets per day Opposition leadership change Treasurer resigns Cabinet reshuffle Budget 0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 2012/01/15 2012/01/22 2012/01/29 2012/02/05 2012/02/12 2012/02/19 2012/02/26 2012/03/04 2012/03/11 2012/03/18 2012/03/25 2012/04/01 2012/04/08 2012/04/15 2012/04/22 2012/04/29 2012/05/06 2012/05/13 2012/05/20 2012/05/27 2012/06/03 2012/06/10 2012/06/17 2012/06/24 2012/07/01 2012/07/08 2012/07/15 2012/07/22 2012/07/29 2012/08/05 2012/08/12 2012/08/19 2012/08/26 2012/09/02 2012/09/09 2012/09/16 2012/09/23 2012/09/30 2012/10/07 2012/10/14 2012/10/21 2012/10/28 2012/11/04 2012/11/11 2012/11/18 2012/11/25 2012/12/02 2012/12/09 2012/12/16 2012/12/23 Tweets Date Pre-election
  • 12. WHO IS TWEETING? – Highly active group of users within #auspol hashtag: • Top 1% users contribute 64% of tweets • 6 users responsible for 87,696 tweets 0 200000 400000 600000 800000 1000000 1200000 all 50662 users users > 0% (>= 0 tweets; 45514 of 50662 users) users > 90% (>= 14 tweets; 4639 of 50662 users) users > 99% (>= 297 tweets; 510 of 50662 users) Sum of original tweets Sum of genuine @replies Sum of retweets
  • 13. WHO IS TWEETING? #AUSPOL – Highly active group of users within #auspol hashtag: • These especially active users not elected parliamentarians or journalists • Instead, politically engaged citizens (or automated accounts) – Fit Coleman’s (2006) description of “political junkies”, who treat political issues as major topics of interest and actively seek out relevant news and opinion pieces? – MPs, journalists, media organisations mentioned often in tweets • However, these accounts (especially politicians) do not contribute many tweets to the #auspol discussion
  • 14. WHO IS TWEETING? #QLDPOL – Tweeting patterns also show a core group of users contributing the majority of hashtagged tweets • Some overlap with the prominent #auspol users. – The users that are most mentioned are a mixture of these frequent contributors and key state political actors, who do not necessarily participate in these discussions themselves. • Limits to this analysis due to election in first half of 2012; user names, and affiliations, changed (including @TheQldPremier) • Further analysis required to establish on-going patterns beyond the election context.
  • 15. WHO IS TWEETING? #WAPOL – A lower level of activity, but greater representation amongst most mentioned and also most active accounts by journalists and politicians • A more even spread of – and comparable contributions from – citizens (including the “political junkies”), journalists, and politicians alike. – Changing patterns towards end of year as election campaigns are readied • Party strategies regarding social media have some impact on the developing shape of tweeted political debates
  • 16. WHO IS TWEETING? – Politicians in particular often mentioned a lot, but rarely contribute to hashtagged debates • @mentions as a shorthand for discussing politicians, creating a link to their account, rather than necessarily expecting conversation – Presence of core group of “political junkies” leading (in volume if not in topic) these discussions • Framing of politics around personalities (individual politicians) rather than parties? • Tweeting patterns still follow major news stories, debates around party leaders (particularly in hung parliament situation, in build-up to election).
  • 17. LIMITATIONS AND FURTHER OUTLOOK • Caveats: – Not all voters on Twitter - not representative of entire electorate – No requirement to use hashtag/engage with others using it • Active choice by user to connect to wider discussion • Users replying to hashtagged comments might not include it in their tweets • Intentions of hashtags, functions of use • Future directions – Case studies within the different political contexts – Replies and retweets, information flows, across party affiliation, between different user groups (journalists, politicians), regions, themes • Ongoing tracking, comparing non-election and election periods (QLD 2012; WA and AUS 2013).