Twitter Humour in the US Election Debates

Well, with our Twitter and Society book officially launched, I'm now in a final AoIR 2013 session on politics and Twitter. First off, Kevin Driscoll is presenting on the role of Twitter in the US presidential election, noting how much "Twitter's opinion" was used as a yardstick for overall public opinion. There is some slippage here: "Twitter" as the Twitter community, "Twitter" as Twitter, Inc., and "Twitter" as a source of opinion data.

Kevin and his colleagues examined the Twitter activity around the three US presidential debates, following the live Twitter streams as the debates happened and dynamically adding more and more keywords to track on Twitter. They divided these tweets into retweets and original tweets. Some 0.01% of all users accounted for around 25% of all retweeted posts - and these users included politicians, pundits, journalists, comedians, and a variety of other accounts; 62 comic accounts were the source of 4% of all retweets.

Twitter and Society Has Been Launched

I'll be writing much more about this very soon, but for now just a quick note to say that one of the major events at AoIR 2013 was the launch of Twitter and Society, the new collection edited by Katrin Weller, Jean Burgess, Merja Mahrt, Cornelius Puschmann and me which will be published by Peter Lang in the coming days. The book contains more than 30 chapters by a stellar line-up of Internet scholars, and should be listed on Amazon and the Peter Lang site within the next week - I'll post an update then. For a preview of what's covered, and for further updates, check the @twitsocbook Twitter account - and for now, here's a group shot of some of our contributors and editors, with the very first copies of the book.

#aufschrei: Germany's First Major Twitter Debate

The final presentation in our AoIR 2013 panel is Stine Eckert, whose focus is on the #aufschrei hashtag in the German-language Twittersphere that reacted to the issue of sexual harassment, in January 2013. It was prompted by a number of mainstream media articles about sexism and sexual harassment, from a prominent German politician as well as in other public spaces; as more such examples came to light, the Twitter hashtag #aufschrei was suggested as a means to compile and curate such stories! continuing over several days. The hashtag itself received further mainstream media attention.

How did the #aufschrei debate evolve, then, what links were being shared, and what format did the tweets take? Stine coded some 9,000 #aufschrei tweets, especially finding tweets about the debate, tweets supporting the women reporting these cases, and tweets moving the discussion into other, sometimes off-topic areas as key categories of tweet topics. Tweets about the debate often engaged in meta-discussion about the #aufschrei phenomenon itself, while support tweets expressed their sympathy with the stories shared; at the same time, there were also some misogynist statements, jokes, and other types of responses. Overall, some 44% engaged in debate, media, and political discussion; 33% offered examples and support; 23% contained misogynistic statements and jokes.

How Partisan and Polarised Is #auspol?

This AoIR 2013 also contains a paper by Theresa Sauter and me, on the tone of debate in the #auspol hashtag for the discussion of Australian politics. Here are the slides - audio to follow now online as well...

Exploring Emotions on #auspol: Polarity and Public Performance in the Twitter Debate on Australian Politics from Axel Bruns


Symbolic Violence in the Brazilian Facebook Community

The next panellist at AoIR 2013 is Raquel Recuero, whose interest is in symbolic violence in online spaces: violence which emerges from words, from discourse (and which is therefore caught up with humour and stigma). Networked publics, in which such violence circulates, are persistent and replicable.

When Wikipedians Go Wrong

The final day at AoIR 2013 starts for me with a panel on conflict, controversy and aggression in online spaces in which Theresa Sauter and I also have a paper - but the first presenter is Heather Ford, whose focus is on Wikipedia. She has been involved with Wikipedia for some time, and has seen a substantial level of conflict (leading to article deletions and user bannings) during that time. Her paper here focusses on the specific case of a Wikipedian being stalked and banned.

Being a Wikipedian means being part of a peer-production community, which Benkler and Nissenbaum have claimed fosters virtue. But more recent research has exposed some of the darker sides of Wikipedia - as experienced especially to newcomers to the community. Entering the now-mature project at a late stage is difficult, and many contributions from newbie users are reverted by established participants; this has been seen as contribution to Wikipedia's decline and the slow-down of new user sign-ups.

Critical Questions for Research into the Uses of Social Media in Crisis Communication

The third speaker on our AoIR 2013 crisis communication panel is Megan Finn. She begins by noting that the US Geological Survey is now using Twitter data to detect earthquakes - but more generally, there are also limits to the use of Twitter and other social media data, as not all groups in society are equally represented in such data, and in social media as such.

A disaster is traditionally defined as an event, concentrated in time and space, in which society undergoes severe data and essential functions of society are interrupted. But the components of this definition are problematic - a crisis is more a reflection of the ability or otherwise of the socioeconomic system to cope with unusual conditions in a current situation, and this needs to be better recognised; for one, the recovery period also emerges as an important point of focus here.

Social Media in the Mexican Drug Wars

The next speaker in our AoIR 2013 panel on crisis communication is Andres Monroy-Hernandes, who focusses on emergency responses in the current Mexican drug war. Traditionally, emergency information has been disseminated by government officials and the media, but this is not necessarily the case in Mexico, due to the scale of civil disorder in the country: journalists and government organisations in northern Mexico are essentially operating under a self-imposed news blackout due to the pressure they feel from the druglords.

Instead, social media are increasingly adopted for information: citizens in lawless areas are warning each other of "risky situations" (shootings, bombs, etc.), with hashtags like #mtyfollow emerging as the mechanisms to collate such warnings. A kind of "narco language" is also emerging - for example for kidnappings, dead bodies, etc. - and the occurrence of such language is correlated with the murder rate in specific areas, and with the magnitude of specific events.

The Changing Shape of Emergency Responses

The next panel at AoIR 2013 is on crisis communication, and we have a paper in this one, too... We start, however, with Leysia Palen from the fabulous Project EPIC in Boulder, who begins with a general overview. Disasters are disruptive, unpredicted events which mean that normal daily routines cannot continue; emergencies become disasters when they overtax available local resources.

One aspect of disasters is mass convergence: a slower-motion convergence of people either in local locations or in spaces immediately outside the disaster zone - including affected residents, support staff, and curious onlookers. These groups are often organised around available items of information about the disaster.


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