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Australian Political Discussion on Twitter

The next session at AoIR 2012 starts with a paper by my colleague Tim Highfield that Stephen Harrington and I contributed to as well – he's focussing on Australian politics on Twitter. (Slides and audio to follow.) Here are the slides and audio; my notes on the presentation are below.

Australian politics has been online for some time, in various forms – political blogs played a role in discussion around the 2007 federal election, for example, but the people blogging were mainly interested citizens following politics, and the occasional journalist; often, there was a highly antagonistic relationship between bloggers and journalists. Similar tendencies have been observed for Twitter: when Twitter users criticise journalistic coverage of politics, there is often still a backlash from the political columnists.

But there is also a diversity of users here: in the blogosphere between domain specialists, A-list bloggers, and regular bloggers, for example; on Twitter, similar divisions exist. Tim's focus here is on Australian political hashtags on Twitter, and politicians, journalists, domain experts, and regular users participate in these hashtags. Some 146 of the 226 members of the lower and upper houses of the Australian parliament are on Twitter by now.

Various hashtags accompany Australian politics: #auspol for federal politics, #wapol, #qldpol and others for for state politics, #qt for question time, etc. #auspol is central for ongoing discussion of politics, and has been increasingly dominated by a handful of highly active, highly vocal users; Greg Jericho has called it a cesspit of political discussion. #qldpol or #wapol are less prominent, due to the more limited interest in state politics.

Tim's analysis is for these hashtags from January to July this year, and show #auspol spikes around key events in Australian politics. There are some 4,000 tweets per day on average, and a small handful of users dominate discussion – the top 1% of users generate 64% of all tweets. There is also substantial discussion about Australian politics outside of #auspol, of course – so what happens in the hashtag is far from representative.

#qldpol operates at a much lower level; there was greater activity during the 2012 state election campaign, and a lull immediately afterwards; as the new state government began to roll out its new policies, however, activity picked up again, and spiked around especially controversial decisions.

Network analysis of interaction between politicians' accounts is also interesting, and generally shows Labor politicians to be more active and more densely interlinked in their @replying activities. There's much more work to be done here.

Twitter-based and mainstream media commentary continue to be out of step with one another; this has been obvious again in the context of PM Julia Gillard's remarkable speech against the Opposition Leader's misogynistic stance, which was perceived very differently by the Twitter public and the journalistic commentariat.