The next AoIR 2013 paper is by Pieter Verdegem and Evelien D'Heer, who shift our focus to regional elections in Flanders. The role of Twitter in politics has been described from both optimistic and pessimistic perspectives; the Twittersphere has been seen by many to reflect existing social structures. Is there a move from formal and representative politics towards networked politics, though? From broadcasting to convergence logic?
Pieter and Evelien captured all @mentions in the #vk2012 debate, engaging in both content and network analysis. The hashtag was promoted by the public service broadcaster in Flanders, so it provides a useful point of entry into election-related discussions on Twitter and was frequented by politicians, journalists, and ordinary Twitter users. There was a significant spike in tweets on Election Day (14 Oct. 2012), with far less activity on other days - usually around 200 tweets per day. Activity picked up somewhat during the final week of the campaign.
Ordinary users were the biggest contributors - from around 50% in the pre-election phase to 70% in the post-election phase. During the week before Election Day, they contributed some 75% of all tweets. Politicians contributed more than 30% of tweets during the early stages, but were drowned out by other groups' greater activity in later stages.
Networks of interaction were highly decentralised, and media and political accounts received significantly more @mentions than ordinary users; this increases even further in the post-election phase. Twitter is largely centred around debates amongst ordinary users, therefore, but traditional political actors remain most visible in these debates. But there may be differences between such objectively measurable network structures and the relations between actors as the participants themselves may perceive them.