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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.

Over the course of an election day, there are multiple phases of tweeting, them: the micro-level of the personal voting experience, the analytical discussion of likely outcomes, and finally the response to the TV coverage of the election results and their aftermath. The personal experience is ritualised, especially in Australia where voting is compulsory, and some crowdsourced projects tap into this by allowing voters to rate their voting experience (were there sausage or cake stalls, what were the facilities?).

The analytical phase focusses more on established media and political actors, and hashtags become more central to facilitating this discussion (with generic hashtags as well as specific tags promoted by individual broadcasters). Finally, people move to live-tweeting and responding to the statements of the talking heads in major channels' TV coverage. This is a move from the uniquely individual to participation in popular media, then; and as a result of this greater unification of attention there are also more retweets and memes emerging during that time.

Mainstream media play a role as gatekeepers especially in the later phase, then, but new players also have an important role to play. And of course the population which participates on Twitter here is not representative for the Australian population at large – and this is true also for the other social media platforms used.