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A New Map of the Australian Twittersphere

Together with some of my colleagues from the QUT Digital Media Research Centre, I’ve just released a new, detailed analysis of the structure of the Australian Twittersphere. Covering some 3.72 million Australian Twitter accounts, the 167 million follower/followee connections between them, and the 118 million tweets posted by these accounts during the first quarter of 2017, the new article with Brenda Moon, Felix Münch, and Troy Sadkowsky, published in December 2017 in the open-access journal Social Media + Society, maps the structure of the best-connected core of the Australian Twittersphere network:

The Australian Twittersphere in 2016: Mapping the Follower/Followee Network

Twitter is now a key platform for public communication between a diverse range of participants, but the overall shape of the communication network it provides remains largely unknown. This article provides a detailed overview of the network structure of the Australian Twittersphere and identifies the thematic drivers of the key clusters within the network. We identify some 3.72 million Australian Twitter accounts and map the follower/followee connections between the 255,000 most connected accounts; we utilize community detection algorithms to identify the major clusters within this network and examine their account populations to identify their constitutive themes; we examine account creation dates and reconstruct a timeline for the Twitter adoption process among different communities; and we examine lifetime and recent tweeting patterns to determine the historically and currently most active clusters in the network. In combination, this offers the first rigorous and comprehensive study of the network structure of an entire national Twittersphere.

I published a preview of some of the study’s key findings in The Conversation in May 2017. Meanwhile, my paper at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff in September 2017 built on this new Twittersphere map to test for the existence of echo chambers and filter bubbles in Australian Twitter – and found little evidence to support the thesis:

Some Thoughts about Internet Research and Networked Publics

Also in connection with the AoIR 2017 conference last week, I answered a few questions about the field of Internet research, and the conference, for the University of Tartu magazine. Here is what I had to say:

What are the major challenges in Internet research?

The central challenge is the object of research itself. The nature of the platforms, content, communities, and practices that constitute 'the' Internet is constantly and rapidly in flux – we are dealing with platforms like Snapchat that didn't exist ten years ago, and with practices like 'fake news' that were nowhere near as prominent even two years ago as they are now. This necessarily means that research methods, approaches, frameworks, and concepts must change with them, and that the toolkits we used to understand a particular phenomenon a few years ago may no longer produce meaningful results today. But at the same time we must beware a sense of ahistoricity: 'fake news', for example, does have precedents that reach back to way before the digital age, and we can certainly still learn a lot from the research that studied propaganda and misinformation in past decades and centuries.

Talking Internet Research at AoIR 2017

Before the AoIR 2017 conference last week, in my role as the incoming President of the Association of Internet Researchers I also participated in a Webinar at the University of Tartu to discuss the field of Internet research, alongside AoIR co-founder Steve Jones and AoIR Vice-President Lynn Schofield-Clark. Here's the full video:

Twitter Bots and Hate Speech in Persian Gulf Countries

The next speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Mark Owen Jones, whose focus is on social media propaganda in Persian Gulf states. Overall, there is still a considerable lack of research into social media propaganda in Arabic; in Gulf states, there is a long history of 'fake news' in social media, and hate speech towards particular groups, ethnicities, and countries is not uncommon. Hate speech may be operationalised by ruling autocrats as a tool to divide and rule the population; different religious groups are allowed to attack each other, to keep them from uniting and toppling the government.

Connective 'Alt-Right' Action on Reddit

The next speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Alex Hogan, whose focus is on the impact of online political communities in politics. There is still considerable debate on whether online action promotes or retards other forms of collective action offline; the recent rise of the 'alt-right' adds another chapter to this discussion.

Computational Propaganda around the World

I arrived late to the final AoIR 2017 session on computational propaganda, and I think it's Samantha Bradshaw speaking at the moment. She's presenting the overall Computational Propaganda project at the University of Oxford, which from secondary source research identified some 23 countries that were known to be using some kind of informational warfare online at this stage.

Media Framing of WikiLeaks

The final speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Catherine Maggs, whose focus is on WikiLeaks. When it first emerged to mainstream media attention, the site was a spectacle, collaborating with some mainstream media at first but also already receiving substantial criticism from many established media organisations for its conduct.

Media Coverage of the Port Arthur and Lindt Café Shootings

The next speaker at AoIR 2017 is Catherine Son, who examines the role of digital publics in Australian print media practices. In 1996, for instance, when the Port Arthur massacre took place, many of the digital publics that were in evidence during the 2015 Lindt Café siege in Sydney, and a review of these two events of national significance serves to highlight the evolution of the Australian media ecology over these twenty years.

The Critical Media Theory of Byung-chul Han

The second speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Wolfgang Suetzl, whose focus is on Byung-chul Han, an enormously prolific Korean philosopher working in Germany (he has five books coming out in 2017 alone). Han is influenced by Hegel and Heidegger, but also by Zen Buddhism; he has also drawn on Foucault, Baudrillard, Flusser, and Handke.

Understanding Trust in Journalistic Media

The last day at AoIR 2017 starts with Marita Lüders, who begin by highlighting the crucial role of the news media in democracy, and also of citizen trust in the news media as a requirement for the media to exercise that crucial role. But such trust has declined, while citizen choices of older and newer news media have multiplied, with a growth especially in lower-credibility news channels.

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