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Studying the NRA on Twitter

Our next speaker at ASMC14, Christian Christensen, takes a slightly different approach, focussing on the political role of the United States' National Rifle Association (NRA) rather than on a conventional party – and in the US, the NRA is considered to be a very powerful political organisation; it describes itself as the country's "longest-standing civil rights organisation", in fact.

The NRA in its current, rabidly pro-guns form is a product of the 1970s, and surprisingly it is not a very rich organisation – but its strength comes from its 4 million members. It rates and ranks political candidates on a scale from A to F in relation to their opposition to non-insane gun laws. The organisation runs a variety of Twitter accounts, which are largely used to cover its own conferences and to promote its statements – not really to advocate direct action and conduct grassroots lobbying.

Social Media and Scandinavian Politics

The next speaker in our ASMC14 panel is Anders Larsson, whose interest is in the professionalisation of politics – especially in the context of the increasing use of social media and other ICTs. Campaigns now regularly use social media for political marketing, and Anders's study focusses on the use of Facebook for such purposes – using Netvizz, he gathered activity around the Facebook pages of Swedish and Norwegian parties, party leaders, and other politicians.

Social Media and Australian Politics

The first session at ASMC14 is one I'm in, and focusses on social media and politics – and my QUT colleague Tim Highfield is the first speaker. His interest is in how diverse social media platforms have been integrated into election campaigns and related aspects. This involves a range of new and established actors, and a range of platforms which are used for various purposes from campaigning, activism, and backchannel discussions for televised events, through to being a third space for public discussion and engagement with established voices including journalists and politicians.

In Australia, a number of established Twitter hashtags exist for various purposes – including #auspol for explicitly political debate, and #qanda as a backchannel for a well-known political talkshow, as well as #[state]votes hashtags for specific state and federal elections. But there is plenty more political discussion, especially during election campaigns, outside of such explicit spaces. This tends to spike in volume on and around election day, for a range of reasons, and on that day especially around the time that first results of the vote begin to emerge.

Social Media as Public Spaces

After the excitements of our research collaborations in Germany I've made my way to Amsterdam for the Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space conference (ASMC14 for short). We begin with a keynote by José van Dijck and Thomas Poell, which sets the theme for the conference. José begins by noting the growth of user-generated content platforms and social media over the past decade, replacing some intermediary organisations (from commercial industries to state institutions).

While some of this has been received very positively, this also raises issues of privacy and publicness – is the social Web a public space, and are social media users a new kind of public(s)? What is the role of social media in transforming public institutions, and in transforming public space?

Conference Blogging Coming Up

I’m currently on the road again, as part of a trip which has already taken me through Hamburg (for a meeting with our research partners at the Hans-Bredow-Institut) and Göttingen (for the inaugural workshop of our new ATN-DAAD-funded research collaboration with colleagues at the Göttingen Digital Humanities Centre. The latter will focus especially on developing new methods for analysing and visualising social media networks, building on the considerable work we’ve already done in this area – and at the workshop last week we’ve already made good progress towards a few new ideas for what we can do. With my colleagues Jean Burgess and Darryl Woodford I also participated in a public symposium at the GCDH, and I’ll make the slides and audio from our talk available here soon.

A Mid-Year Update of Recent Publications

I’ve continued to update my lists of publications and presentations over the past months, but I think it’s time to do another quick round-up of recent work before all the new projects start in earnest.

First off, my colleagues Darryl Woodford, Troy Sadkowsky and I have been making some good progress developing further methodological approaches to Twitter research – focussing this time especially on examining how accounts gain their followers (for some of the outcomes from that research, also see our coverage at Mapping Online Publics):

Axel Bruns, Darryl Woodford, and Troy Sadkowsky. “Towards a Methodology for Examining Twitter Follower Accession.First Monday 19.4 (2014).

Axel Bruns and Darryl Woodford. “Identifying the Events That Connect Social Media Users: Charting Follower Accession on Twitter.” In SAGE Research Methods Cases. London: Sage, 2013.

More generally, I’ve also been involved in a couple of related publications led by Stefan Stieglitz from the University of Münster (one in English,  one in German) which highlight the contribution which the emerging field of social media analytics will be able to make to the disciplines of business informatics and information systems:

Busy-ness as Usual

This blog has been somewhat slow again since the last round of conferences, and I'm hoping to do more in the future to change this. In the first place, I'm planning to post more regular updates again as I publish new articles and book chapters (watch out for a round-up of recent work soon, most of which already appear in my list of publications). There are also a number of new research projects which have started this year – and while more detailed updates about the day-to-day work of some of these will appear on Mapping Online Publics and the Website of the QUT Social Media Research Group, I'm planning to flag the most important outcomes from these projects here as well. And as always, updates are also available on Twitter through my own account @snurb_dot_info as well as @socialmediaQUT.

New Projects

Most importantly, I've just commenced my ARC Future Fellowship – a major four-year project which builds on my social media work and connects it with a number of other important data sources which shed light on the way Australian Internet users are engaging with news and current affairs. We'll continue to draw on large Twitter data (as well as, eventually, data from other social networks) which show the patterns of day-to-day activity around current events, and we'll correlate these patterns with data from Experian Hitwise, which track (anonymously and at very large scale) how Australian users search and browse the Web. Further, I'm also going to be able to incorporate some internal server data from Fairfax Digital (including its flagship mastheads Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) to investigate in more depth what articles users read and engage with on these sites.

Different Forms of Talk on Twitter

It’s been a little quiet again here, as I’ve taken February and March off on Long Service Leave. That’s all about to change, though, because two major new research projects are about to start now – more of these soon.

For the moment, here’s my first conference presentation for 2014, from the Media Talk symposium at Griffith University in Brisbane. I used this to work through the three layers of communication on Twitter which Hallvard Moe and I have identified in our chapter in Twitter and Society, and to provide some examples for how these layers operate in practice.

This is also the first time I’m trying Penxy as a tool for archiving my slides with audio recordings, since Slideshare has made the unfortunate decision to discontinue its slidecasts and remove any audio recordings from its site. Most of my past slidecasts are therefore also on the Penxy site now, and I’ll try to update the existing links to recorded presentations on this site when I get a chance.

Here’s my talk:

Layers of Communication: Forms of Talk on Twitter

Presenting Our Social Media Work at the 2013 IBM Research Colloquium

Now that I’m back in Australia from my extended conference trip, I immediately got back on a plane to travel to a freezing Melbourne, to present our social media research in crisis communication and beyond at the 2013 IBM Research Colloquium. Below are my slides and audio – many thanks again to Jennifer Lai and her team at IBM Research Australia for the invitation!

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