There seems to be no end in sight to the barrage of breaking, critical news from home and abroad these days, and Australians might be forgiven for trying to switch off during the Easter and ANZAC holidays. Even if they did attempt to do so, however, the Australian Twitter News Index for April 2017 shows little evidence that they successfully managed to tear themselves away from their online and social media newsfeeds.
Overall news sharing patterns on Twitter largely continue to follow their weekly patterns; there is no sign of an extended Easter holiday away from the news, and the weekend before ANZAC Day even seems unusually active. Perhaps there is simply too much going on today that we can afford to disconnect for long.
ATNIX for April 2017 is dominated, however, by a very substantial spike in sharing Sydney Morning Herald content on 10 April. This is due in large part to the 5,900 tweets sharing news of the arrest of a Russian programmer suspected of hacking the U.S. election, and given the topic it is very likely that a substantial number of those tweets were posted by Twitter users outside Australia. We have seen this pattern with other international stories in the past: articles in Australian news sites that address key international stories occasionally go viral well beyond Australia.
On the same day, Twitter users’ attention is also drawn to news of beloved Australian comedian John Clarke’s sudden death, further increasing the volume of news-sharing tweets that day. A first piece in the SMH is shared some 1,400 times, while ABC News’ coverage receives 1,200 shares.
Over the course of the entire month, our data show again that a diverse range of unrelated topics sought to draw our attention. At the Sydney Morning Herald, in addition to its coverage of the Russian hacker’s arrest (7,200 tweets in total for the month) and of John Clarke’s death (1,400 tweets), articles on Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed changes to the citizenship test (1,500 tweets), the Australian Federal Police’s illegal access to a journalist’s communications metadata (1,300 tweets), and a commentary piece in defence of Yassmin Abdel-Magied (1,000 tweets) round out the top five.
For ABC News, its coverage of the Australian March for Science events was most widely shared in April (1,700 tweets), along with pieces on North Korea’s warning that Australia should not blindly follow the United States (1,500 tweets), John Clarke’s death (1,300 tweets), an investigation into federal politicians’ property portfolios (1,000 tweets), and a controversial video by an Islamic group that seemed to condone violence against women (900 tweets).
As they are so often, meanwhile, our Hitwise data on the total number of visits to the leading Australian news and opinion sites are only very loosely correlated with news sharing activities on Twitter. There is no sign of the substantial spike in interest in the SMH’s Russian hacker story on 10 April, suggesting again that much of this sharing was by non-Australian readers whose visits to the Sydney Morning Herald site would not be captured by Hitwise. We do see some small increases in traffic to the SMH, ABC News, and The Age that day, however, which might be attributed to audience engagement with coverage of John Clarke’s passing.
Overall, too, there is very little sign of a substantially flagging news interest during the Easter long weekend (14-17 April) or on ANZAC Day (on Tuesday 25 April). With so many simultaneous major developments, domestically as well as internationally, perhaps we just can’t afford to switch off from the news any more.
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”.