The Australian Twitter News Index has been on hold for the past few months as we’ve adjusted our data gathering approach to address some changes to Twitter’s data gathering frameworks, and unfortunately this period has also included the U.S. election and its immediate aftermath. But we’re back in time to the inauguration of President Trump, and the first stirrings of the Australian parliamentary year.
It is not Trump’s inauguration on 20 January that is causing a pronounced increase in the Age and Herald Sun links being shared on that day, however, but a tragic event much closer to home: links to both Melburnian news sites are shared in a significant number of tweets as they cover the killing of several pedestrians by a deranged driver in Bourke Street in the city’s CBD. Twitter users posted more than 1,800 tweets sharing The Age articles about this incident in the immediate aftermath.
That the Trump inauguration did not generate a substantial number of link-sharing tweets by comparison is relatively unsurprising – a widely televised event generally produces few tweets sharing links to its coverage, and the fact that it took place in the early hours of the Australian morning and would have been covered more exhaustively by US than Australian media also worked against it.
This is not to say that Australians were generally disinterested in the Trump Presidency and its first steps in office, even before Trump’s tetchy phone call with Malcolm Turnbull; subsequent days show a substantial growth in the number of Trump-related stories from Australian media sources being shared on Twitter.
A somewhat surprising beneficiary of these links is SBS News, which records unusually strong attention in the period of 25 to 27 January: its article on the Netherlands’ funding support for aid organisations promoting birth control, in response to the Trump administration’s ban on such funding, is shared in more than 6,800 tweets during these three days; another article on official translators’ troubles with interpreting Trump’s statements receives 2,200 shares. It is quite likely, given these extraordinary numbers, that those articles would have been shared well beyond the Australian Twittersphere itself.
More generally, six of the top ten most widely shared ABC News stories since inauguration day were related to Trump and his policies; as were five of the Sydney Morning Herald’s and five from news.com.au. The next weeks and months will show whether Twitter users – and news audiences more generally – will continue to pay such attention to the new administration, or whether a kind of ‘Trump fatigue’ will mean that their attention gradually diverts elsewhere. (Note, though, that the Trump-Turnbull phone call took place on 29 January and that rumours about its belligerent tone appeared only a few days later – so we should expect that controversy to feature in next month’s ATNIX data.)
In terms of total visits to Australian news and opinion Websites, too, January 2017 has been a particularly active month. Ordinarily, the holiday month of January is not exactly a time when Australians spend exceptionally much time visiting news sites; in both January 2015 and January 2016, for instance, the combined total for news.com.au, the Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC News was stable at around 114 million site visits. 2017 exceeded that measure by a considerable margin: together, the three sites received just over 139 million site visits. This undoubtedly reflects the increased attention to the news in a destabilising geopolitical environment, as well as the impact of the Bourke Street tragedy.
Unsurprisingly, the major spike in visits to Australian news sites occurs on 20 January, the day of the Bourke Street incident. While a number of sites receive increased user attention on that day, the numbers for The Age and Nine News are particularly elevated: The Age all but doubles its usual number of Friday visits, and Nine News records a similar boost. ABC News, news.com.au, the Herald Sun, and Yahoo! News also gain additional visitors, though to a lesser extent. Here, too, the Sydney Morning Herald fails to match the influx recorded by its Fairfax stablemate, confirming our observations from the Twitter data that audiences naturally gravitate to the leading news source in Melbourne, close to the scene of the tragedy.
With the unfolding phone call controversy, widespread protests against the Trump administration’s ban on travellers from several majority-Muslim countries, and the commencement of the Australian parliamentary year, we should expect elevated levels of interest in the news to persist for some time to come. If January was unusual for its comparative lack of a holiday lull, the coming months will no doubt turn out to be even busier.
Standard background information: ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). Data on Australian Internet users’ news browsing patterns are provided courtesy of Hitwise, a division of Connexity. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.