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Twitter as an Arena for Public Debate

The next speaker in our social media mapping panel at AoIR 2010 is Hallvard Moe, whose focus is on Twitter as an arena for public debate in Norway, around the data retention policy debate in that country. Norway is traditionally a social-democratic state with relatively advanced use of ICTs, apparently including some 160,000 Twitter users; this also meant that there was substantial debate about the adoption of the EU data retention directive (for regularly archiving phone and network data).

Hallvard archived tweets on the #dld hashtag using Twapperkeeper, between April and early August 2010, resulting in some 12,000 tweets (though not all relevant tweets in Norway may have used the #dld hashtag, of course). Activity on the topic was spread across the entire time period, at relatively low but persistent levels. There are a number of key peaks, especially around 9 May (the conservative party’s congress); tweets around that day anticipated party decisions as well as commenting on the day’s events.

Some tweets also reacted to mainstream media coverage, while others were entirely internally generated. Hallvard identified five different user types, according to their patterns of activity: activists (opposed to DLD, tweeting mostly about DLD, and spreading info to mobilise – mainly highly educated males, sometimes with anti-DLD twibbons or profile links to external interest groups), pundits (opposed to DLD, tweeting about ICTs, offering opinions to mobilise and market – interested in wider communication, for professional purposes), conversationists (opposed to DLD, mainly @replying about DLD amidst a range of conversations about other topics), resource providers (opposed to DLD, with high numbers of retweets of their messages, tweeting about their field of expertise, with authoritative opinions), and dissidents (in favour of DLD, with high numbers of @replies, tweeting about politics, discussing and defending DLD – and usually male, including two high-profile politicians).

This points to a range of motivations. In some cases Twitter use resembles broadcasting patterns; for others it is also an issue touching on their professional lives, while for other still it is about engagement with opposing viewpoints. In some of these cases, Twitter provides an arena for public communication.