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Malcolm Turnbull's Twitter Conversations about the NBN

The final paper session at ANZCA 2017 starts with Caroline Fisher and Glen Fuller, whose focus is on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conversations about the National Broadband Network project on Twitter. Turnbull was a comparatively early adopter of social media, and one of the big challenges in becoming PM was whether he would continue to use Twitter in the way he had before, or would lapse into a more broadcast-oriented tweeting style.

Turnbull's social media activities can be understood as an attempt at authentic engagement, and he has at times engaged in real conversation with interlocutors on the platform; he has not least argued at various times with media organisations and journalists on Twitter. Turnbull was active in Twitter conversations early on, but this declined in late 2009 and 2010 as he lost the opposition leadership; from late 2010, he became considerably more active again, dropping back in late 2013 when he becomes a minister in the Abbott government and even more so when he becomes Prime Minister and fights the 2015 election.

The majority of his interactions during the most active period (in opposition during 2010 to 2013) are with members of the public rather than journalists and other public figures; some of those conversations are about general life as a politician, but the second most distinct topic is the NBN itself. Some of these conversations – with journalists Renae Lemay and Nick Ross – were indeed quite heated, and Turnbull pushed back strongly against what he perceived to be misrepresentations of his statements. After Turnbull became communications minister, however, conversations about the NBN disappeared almost completely.

Once in government, Turnbull's communication efforts were focussed much more strongly on mainstream media; Twitter communication became a much less central part of his activities. Future research will be able to show how subsequent political developments have affected his communicative strategies, of course. There are also significant opportunities for additional comparative research taking in a broader range of political leaders.