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Understanding the Dutch Twittersphere

The final session at AoIR 2016 today starts with a presentation from Daniela van Geenen. She begins by noting that much Twitter research has focussed on specific events, incidents, and groups rather than on longer-term, everyday uses. Is it possible instead to identify local publics on Twitter, based for instance on geographic co-location? Are such publics connected with national networks?

A mapping of Twitter users in Utrecht has found some evidence for this. Can this be expanded to the national Twittersphere of the Netherlands, which comprises some 2.6 million accounts (of which 0.9 million are active), or 5.7% of the total population? Such national studies are difficult because country-based users are difficult to identify; the present project used a Dutch word list to identify tweets in Dutch, as well as a number of other markers of Dutchness.

An analysis of the @reply interactions between the users thus identified allows a network structure to emerge (but this also includes some Dutch-speaking users from Flanders and South Africa, who form their own clusters). These clusters extend from politics and policing to gaming and alternative and urban cultures. Those clusters are relatively strongly interconnected with each other, except for a distinct right-wing politics cluster. Similar structures emerge also in retweets networks, but with greater distinctions between clusters – not least again also along political lines.

The network can be filtered down further to discussions about specific localities in the Netherlands. The city chosen here was Almere: a relatively young city founded on reclaimed land, which is at present poorly served by mainstream media. Here, media accounts are relatively prominent, and political parties also feature in a different part of the network.

Such research, then, can identify some notable Twitter 'scenes' across the Dutch network. These focus on specific issues and topics, and there are a range of local elites amongst these clusters. Local media often play a role here, and for cities like Almere Twitter serves as a key news distribution channel. What needs to be considered further is how @replies and retweets can be used differently to better understand these networks.