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Everyday Political Talk about Housing Affordability on Facebook Pages

The next paper in this ANZCA 2017 session is presented by Ariadne Vromen, whose focus is on debates of housing affordability on Facebook. Social media are of course being used for everyday political talk, but the private pages of individuals are very difficult to observe effectively, and for good reason. But the Facebook pages of mainstream media outlets serve as a kind of intermediary, semi-public spaces for such talk; here, it is possible to observe engagement, interactions, and sentiment, as well as reactions to media framing of current issues.

Housing affordability is a major political issue in Australia, especially for Sydney and Melbourne; 88% of people are concerned or very concerned about housing affordability for future generations. various solutions to the issue have been proposed, with differing responses; there is no strong support for any one of the measures proposed.

The present study gathered data from 12 media outlets' Facebook pages, with major spikes in discussion during October 2016 (around the 'smashed avocado' controversy kicked off by an opinion piece in The Australian) and February 2017 (when minister Sukkar suggested prospective homebuyers only needed to get a well-paying job). This captured 135 relevant Facebook posts, representing generational, governmental, international, housing market, and rental market frames in the coverage of housing affordability issues. The study then examined user engagement with those Facebook posts, including manual coding of comment themes, sentiment, focus on policy solutions, and other aspects.

Most of the original news articles addressed the buying rather than renting of homes, with market, governmental, and generational frames roughly evenly prominent. Rental market and international frames were a great deal less common. Average engagement with these articles was high (over 700 shares, likes, and comments, but this also differed widely across articles; the most active discussions did not address concrete policy solutions.

Liking and sharing patterns were largely aligned with commenting activity; high engagement also correlated with positive sentiment in comments. Stories about renting, on the other hand, were distinct for the comparatively negative sentiment in their comments. Governmental frames showed lower overall discussion but more focus on policy; generational frames had more positive sentiment but limited focus on policy; rental market frames had high overall levels of discussion as well as more negative sentiment.

The generational frame – with the highest engagement – also has the lowest level of policy discussion; this, then, could be seen as absolving the state of coming up with solutions to housing affordability, instead individualising the problem and looking for personal strategies towards building up the wealth necessary to enter the market. But do platform effects on Facebook operate in tension with the political in everyday political talk? Would such conversations look different on people's personal profiles as opposed to the pages of media outlets?