Analysis Politics Twitter — Jean Burgess, 2 August 2010

I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the 10 or so most-tweeted links associated with the #ausvotes hashtag for last week (Sunday 25 July-Sunday 1 August). The idea is to use some quite basic data to gain some insights into the media mix associated with the election conversation on Twitter – not only from the perspective of our own individual experiences of that conversation, but far more broadly.

Here comes the technical bit – if this bores you, skip to the bottom for the discussion of the links themselves.

One thing to note: if you haven’t already found it, the Summarizr tool provided by eduserv already produces some nice summary stats of Twapperkeeper archives – here’s the Summarizr page for the #ausvotes hashtag. You can see the top 10 twitterers, top 10 ‘conversations’, and some overall patterns, as well as the top ten most tweeted links. However, the summarizr results are limited to 10000 tweets, which as of now is less than a sixth of the total archive. In any case, I want to go a bit deeper, and it makes more sense to look at links on a weekly (or even daily) basis, rather than for the #ausvotes hashtag overall. This matches the media-mandated ‘rhythm’ of the campaign, such as it is. So it’s back to the Twapperkeeper .csv for some more data-crunching.

Because in this instance we are interested in links that get passed around, I haven’t removed retweets; and since #ausvotes has been a trending topic at times, we have to wade through some spam. The first time I ran the link count, the top link (which resolves to the sign-up page for an Indian matrimonial service) is embedded in shortened form in at least 1000 spam tweets using two popular hashtags and the following bit of familiar junk:

Wow! Watch Satellite From Your PC #wordsthatleadtosex #ausvotes

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

By the way, I’ve had to fiddle around manually opening shortened URLs and then going hunting for the tweets associated with them in the original data – which is laborious and annoying, even for a relatively small number. Plus, these links disappear or go dead pretty quickly. We’re working on a script to batch-process shortened URLs, but they’re still going to be something of a pain in the butt. Because I’ve only gone through this process for the top 20 or so links as they appear without lengthening, this list is only a best guess.

Anyway, after cleaning out the most obvious spam, I’ve generated a top ten.

What immediately strikes me is how much of this activity is concerned with the meta-level of social media use around the election. This is unsurprising for two reasons: first because we know that a huge amount of communication in any emerging medium is concerned with the medium itself; second, because this is the one thing that the majority of Twitter users have in common. But at the same time, note that the major parties and mainstream media have a pretty decent presence, too – in particular, note the retweeting of links to live TV news feeds. It’s important to remember that for fans of political news and vampire gore alike, social media are an extension or remediation of television audience practices, not a replacement for them.

Here they are, in descending order.

1. The top link redirects to the (highly unofficial) Bob Brown 4 PM webpage. Australian Twitter and Facebook users are employing links to this page as a kind of anchor for their opinions on a range of issues, from the failure of the two-party system, to their disappointment on climate change policies and the triumph of what they perceive as ‘vote-chasing’ over values. Some of the most retweeted tweets using this link:

A senate majority can shift the political stage to make Bob Brown 4 PM a real possibility #ausvotes #BobBrown4PM

The environment is our primary resource it sustains us and our future generations #ausvotes #BobBrown4PM

and then there’s the inevitable…

Get real and go away. RT @BobBrown4PM: Shift the political stage #ausvotes

2. Next comes the not-altogether serious Facebook page for another alternative to the two-party system: the Peter Best 4 PM campaign – it’s worth noting that most of these links come from Peter himself ;)

3. Third most tweeted was this screenshot from the Twitter homepage, which works as the visual punchline to this quip:

“Oh dear. These people vote. #debate #ausvotes”.

4. In fourth place was a highly retweeted press release from the ALP about the National Broadband Network:

RT @AustralianLabor: NBN: Fibre for over 1000 Australian cities and towns #ausvotes #AusLabor

Interestingly, it seems to have been retweeted a lot more than similar @AustralianLabor tweets about disability services, proving once again that the internet is most interested in The Internet?

5. The link to the live Sky News feed on Bigpond comes next – mostly used by @SkyNewsAust to promote themselves, but retweeted a fair bit, too.

6. Next comes a webpage associating itself with the #ausvotes hashtag itself; it belongs to an account that seems to auto-retweet news headlines associated with the election, with several other Twitter users have retweeted (possibly without ever following the link)…

7. The live web feed for the ABC’s much-hyped 24-hour news channel ABC News 24 shows up associated with various press conferences held by both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

8. Finally, a YouTube video (but from an ABC source originally, it seems). Most retweeted comment:

RT @lapuntadelfin: Cop that Downer. JG in full flight. You Go Girl #ausvotes

9. But wait, there’s more: a YouTube video that is actually funny, and leverages the brilliance of one campaign to mock the pointless inanity of another (can you guess which is which?)

Tony Abbott: the man your PM should be

10. All the way to tenth spot before the newspapers get a look-in – with this story in The Age about (surprise, surprise) an accidental strategy leak in the Labor campaign, about which @annabelcrabb quips:

Hold the phone! There is a debate blooper after all: #ausvotes

So there we go. Once we have a better way to handle URLs we should be able to do something a bit more sophisticated and in-depth with links – stay tuned.

About the Author

Jean Burgess is a Professor of Digital Media and Director of the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) at Queensland University of Technology. She is @jeanburgess on Twitter.

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