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Candidates' Twitter Use in the Western Australian Senate Re-Run Election

Up next at CMPM2014 is Stephen Dann, whose focus is on the use of Twitter by Australian political parties. He followed the 31 of the 77 candidates in the Western Australian Senate re-election who were present on Twitter (27 of whom actually posted any content), and found, in short, that what they were posting was not authentic communication.

Stephen's approach was to examine what candidates were doing in Twitter before, during, and after the election campaign. This may include original content, reactions to other people's tweets, or sharing material from outside of Twitter. Overall, then, tweets fit five broad categories: conversation (through @replies), news updates (sharing newsworthy content), passing along other people's content, maintaining a social presence, and broadcast of experiences and opinion. And spam is another possibility, sadly, often hijacking hashtags or conversations or replaying the same message from multiple accounts.

A surprising 54% of all candidates' posts were passing along other people's content – this may also give them deniability in case the information passed along was unpalatable. Some 38% of tweets were conversational, 4% were news, and the rest of the categories were minimally represented – there was no attempt to maintain a real social presence, for example. The worst outlier was a climate change denier, who was obsessively active; other minor party candidates were similarly focussed only on a handful of topics which they brought into the conversation whether appropriate or not. On Election Day, there was hardly any activity at all by these accounts, surprisingly.

There are some real opportunities to do things differently on Twitter in the future, then. Twitter can provide real insight into the candidate's character, information to followers, and direct engagement with an audience. It can also be used to manage promises and embody the party's values – not least also to correct errors in mainstream media reporting. This can build a real connected presence for candidates (on Twitter as well as across other media presences).