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One Day in the Life of a National Twittersphere (SM&S 2016)

Social Media & Society 2016

One Day in the Life of a National Twittersphere

Axel Bruns and Brenda Moon

Much of the existing research into the uses of social media platforms focusses on the exceptional: key moments in politics, sports, brand management, or crisis communication. For the case of Twitter, because of the way that the Twitter API privileges certain data gathering approaches, such work is usually centred on one or more hashtags or keywords (Burgess & Bruns, 2015). This line of inquiry has produced many useful insights into the uses of Twitter – as documented for example in the collection Hashtag Publics (Rambukkana, 2015) – but arguably it covers only one subset of the various uses of the platform. Routine and everyday social media practices remain comparatively underexamined as a result; for Twitter, therefore, what results is an overrepresentation in the literature of the loudest voices – those users who contribute actively to popular hashtags.

This paper presents progress results from a major new study that examines user activity patterns on Twitter well beyond limited hashtag collections, drawing on a comprehensive dataset that tracks the public activities of all Twitter accounts identified by their profile information as Australian. Building on this cohort (currently containing some 2.8 million accounts), we have already mapped the follower/followee relationships within the Australian Twittersphere (Bruns et al., 2014) to identify the clustering patterns that influence – arguably more so than the use of hashtags – how information flows between users. We have also identified the thematic drivers of cluster formation in the network, and have mapped participation in specific Twitter conversations across these clusters.

This paper builds on this earlier work by exploring in depth the day-to-day patterns of activity within the Australian Twittersphere. From our continuous tracking of the 2.8 million accounts we randomly select one 24-hour period in 2015, and examine the processes of interpersonal engagement between these accounts through @mentions and retweets. This provides a unique new insight into how, across an entire national Twittersphere, conversations between users unfold through the day, and documents the extent to which such interactions are guided by existing follower relationships, hashtags, or other contextual markers.

Our comprehensive dataset of the public tweets by some 2.8 million identified Australian accounts enables filtering by the timestamps of tweets. By selecting one 24-hour period, we capture all tweets by Australian users during that day; we then extract from the tweet text any @mentions and retweets of other users, and generate a network map of their interactions. In the process, we determine the properties of this network (and how they change through the course of the day), and examine the extent to which @mention or retweet engagement is a feature of overall activity in the Australian Twittersphere at any one point (that is, to what extent users are simply tweeting undirected personal statements, talk with each other through @mentions, or share other accounts’ posts through retweets). We also correlate this with the network clusters we have already identified in the follower network, to explore whether specific practices (posting, @mentioning, retweeting) are more prevalent in particular clusters of the network.

The outcomes from this study provide new insights into the dynamics of Twitter engagement well beyond well-understood phenomena such as hashtags. They shed new light on how everyday users utilise Twitter, and document the degree of diversity of the personal networks they actively engage with.

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., & Highfield, T. (2014). A “Big Data” Approach to Mapping the Australian Twittersphere. In P.L. Arthur & K. Bode (Eds.), Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theories (pp. 113–129). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Burgess, J., & Bruns, A. (2015). Easy Data, Hard Data: The Politics and Pragmatics of Twitter Research after the Computational Turn. In G. Langlois, J. Redden, & G. Elmer (Eds.), Compromised Data: From Social Media to Big Data (pp. 93–111). New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Rambukkana, N. (Ed.). (2015). Hashtag Publics: The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks. New York: Peter Lang.