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Twitter Activity Patterns during #qldfloods

The next speaker in our AoIR 2011 panel is Frances Shaw, who focusses our attention on the December/January 2010 Queensland floods crisis; the peak period in southeast Queensland followed 9 January 2010. The floods washed down from Toowoomba through the Lockyer Valley (were a significant number of lives were lost) and into Ipswich and Brisbane. On Twitter, discussion of the floods was coordinated through the #qldfloods hashtag, and the Queensland Police Service Media Unit account @QPSMedia emerged as a leading actor.

Frances worked through the #qldfloods dataset as well as through tweets sent by and directed at the @QPSMedia account, manually coding a subset of these tweets according to a set scheme: informational tweets; media sharing; help and fundraising; direct experience; and reactions and discussion. Over the entire #qldfloods dataset, discussion and reactions, information, and help and fundraising were especially prominent, tweets to and from @QPSMedia focussed especially on information.

Introducing a Theory of Acute Events

The next session at AoIR 2011 is our own, fabulous panel on crisis communication. We begin with an overview paper by my CCI colleagues Jean Burgess and Kate Crawford, who introduce the idea of acute events. Kate begins by outlining the idea of media ecologies involving a wide range of different media platforms, and their specific performance during acute events (such as crises, but also a range of similar events).

Jean follows on by defining acute events as significant real-world events which are associated with intense bursts in media activity – from political elections to royal weddings, from celebrity deaths to natural disasters. We can identify acute events on the basis of their timeline: a sharp peak of high volume and identity (whether locally or globally); highly mediated, involving multiple actors and interests; on Twitter, coordinated around specific #hashtags; and producing controversies and other adjunctive conversations associated more broadly with the topic.

Examining Entitativity on Facebook

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2011 is Anita Blanchard, whose interest is in entitativity on Facebook: the feeling of the ‘groupiness’ of specific groups. Such entitativity emerges from the presence of clear group boundaries, internal homogeneity between members, social interaction in the group, a clear group structure, and shared common goals held by all members. Such entitativity is a necessary precursor to key group processes and outcomes, such as a common group identity.

So, what is the level of entitativity on Facebook? How groupy can it be? There are a range of obvious groupings here: each member and their circle of friends, communicative groups as constituted in a fluid and ephemeral fashion through status updates, likes and comments, as well as formal interest and fan groups, of course.

An Analysis of Italian Politicians' Facebook Pages

The second presenter in this AoIR 2011 session is Mario Orefice, whose focus is on the political uses of Facebook and other Web 2.0 platforms. There is a growing mistrust of political institutions and actors in western countries, due to a gradual loss of their representative and democratic mission, increased disruptive influence exerted by lobbyists, and the disappearance of traditional forms of identification and effective systems of representation between citizens and parties. This has led to a shift from dutiful citizenship (imposed by the state) to self-actualising citizenship (determined by personal goals).

Mario’s project examined the top ten most-liked Facebook pages of Italian politicians (with likes seen as an indicator of popularity); the content of these pages was analysed using Discovertext between 25 June and 26 September this year. Coding categories for this content were support, action, organisation, and representation.

Information Filtering in Social Networks

OK, I walked in a little late to the first AoIR 2011 presentation this morning, by Michele Willson, whose focus is on information filtering. There are different approaches to such filtering: at the user or at the service end, initiated by users or by the system, cognitive or social filtering, and based on knowledge about the user’s interests which may be acquired through a range of different mechanisms.

Different stakeholders in the process, and in developing these processes, will have a range of different agendas and interests – developers have specific algorithms they may wish to explore, funding bodies and sources have specific commercial or other imperatives, users and their friends are interested in particular forms of online activity (content sharing, phatic communication, etc.), and the social network providers overall are interested in increasing participant numbers and boost the stickiness of the platform.

Igniting Internet Research

After a brief visit to Taipei (more on that on Mapping Online Publics soon), I’ve now made it to Seattle for the 2011 Association of Internet Researchers conference. We start with the Ignite session of very short and fast papers:

Nick Proferes, whose talk is in Dr. Seuss style, examines the origins of research ethics; he studied the content of the AoIR mailing-list to examine qualitative trends in conversations on ethics (and considered the ethics of doing so as well, of course); email traffic peaked around 2006/2007, and ethics, IRBs, and permissions were amongst the key terms, especially in the context of email and Facebook, and increasingly Twitter; questions of public and private were especially knotty. Most discussions on the AoIR list began with students asking for guidance from the community, and analogies with the analogue world still prevail.

Alex Leavitt talks about a failed research attempt: his interest is in digital subcultures, and he examined Encyclopedia Dramatica (which he describes as a satirical ‘devil’s dictionary’). How does it reflect Internet subculture? Alex’s project scraped the ED wiki, but the assumption in such work is that sites always stay where they are – ED, however, suddenly disappeared when its administrator deleted it in order to start the Oh Internet site; Alex, however, still had the archive of scraped texts (albeit without edit history), and worked with the community to restore the content – the changed his role, of course. How, generally, should researchers deal with ephemerality, then, and with the more or less explicit wishes of original authors for their content to have a limited lifespan…


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