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'Big Data'

A New Map of the Australian Twittersphere

Together with some of my colleagues from the QUT Digital Media Research Centre, I’ve just released a new, detailed analysis of the structure of the Australian Twittersphere. Covering some 3.72 million Australian Twitter accounts, the 167 million follower/followee connections between them, and the 118 million tweets posted by these accounts during the first quarter of 2017, the new article with Brenda Moon, Felix Münch, and Troy Sadkowsky, published in December 2017 in the open-access journal Social Media + Society, maps the structure of the best-connected core of the Australian Twittersphere network:

The Australian Twittersphere in 2016: Mapping the Follower/Followee Network

Twitter is now a key platform for public communication between a diverse range of participants, but the overall shape of the communication network it provides remains largely unknown. This article provides a detailed overview of the network structure of the Australian Twittersphere and identifies the thematic drivers of the key clusters within the network. We identify some 3.72 million Australian Twitter accounts and map the follower/followee connections between the 255,000 most connected accounts; we utilize community detection algorithms to identify the major clusters within this network and examine their account populations to identify their constitutive themes; we examine account creation dates and reconstruct a timeline for the Twitter adoption process among different communities; and we examine lifetime and recent tweeting patterns to determine the historically and currently most active clusters in the network. In combination, this offers the first rigorous and comprehensive study of the network structure of an entire national Twittersphere.

I published a preview of some of the study’s key findings in The Conversation in May 2017. Meanwhile, my paper at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff in September 2017 built on this new Twittersphere map to test for the existence of echo chambers and filter bubbles in Australian Twitter – and found little evidence to support the thesis:

Towards e-Privacy by Design in European Union Legislation

The second keynote at AoIR 2017 is by Marju Lauristin, who is both a professor at the University of Tartu and the rapporteur on e-privacy at the European Parliament, where she also represents Estonia as an MEP; indeed she has been named one of the most influential Estonian women in the world. This week the Parliament voted on new EU privacy regulations which Marju has been instrumental in developing.

Her focus here is on the impact of algorithms on deliberative democracy, and the short summary of the situation is that algorithms will severely affect democracy if the companies that utilise them remain unchecked, and that they will prevented from doing so only if effective legislation is enacted to protect democratic processes.

Different Bots in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

The next speaker at AoIR 2017 is Olga Boichàk, who begins by highlighting the role of social media platforms in structuring specific forms of human sociality. But this also means that automated accounts – specifically, bots – can imitate and affect genuine human interactions in these spaces. What does this mean for online discussions in the context of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, then?

Donald Trump's Campaign and the Hybrid Media System

The first keynote at AoIR 2017 is by Andrew Chadwick, who explores what the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign means for our understanding of the hybrid media system. Political communication is in the middle of a chaotic transitional period, due in good part to the disruptions brought by newer, digital media; some older media have also been renewed by integrating the logics of newer media. This then represents a systemic perspective that examines forces while they are in flow.

The hybrid media system is built on the interactions of older and newer media logics in the reflexively connected field of media and politics. Actors in this field tap and steer information flows in ways that suit their goals, enable or disable the agency of others, across various older and newer media settings. 'Hybrid' here shifts our conceptualisation from 'either/or' to 'not only, but also'; it foregrounds complexity, interdependence and transition. We pay more attention to boundaries, flux, and liminal spaces, where practices intermeshing and co-evolve.

Testing the Validity of Twitter API Data

The next speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Rebekah Tromble, whose focus is on the impact of digital data collection methods on scientific inference. Collecting data from social media APIs, how can we know whether we have 'good', valid data?

Assessing the Online Distribution of 'Fake News'

The final speaker in this ANZCA 2017 session is Scott Wright, who presents the framework for a new study on 'fake news'. He begins by asking whether there is a 'fake news' problem in Australia: the country is highly politically polarised, with decreasing satisfaction in the conventional party system; online news plays a crucial role in how citizens inform themselves; and the mainstream media system is highly concentrated. In this environment, is there still a functioning marketplace of ideas?

Factors in the Rise of Fake News

Up next at ANZCA 2017 is Sarah Baker, who again reminds us that the bending of the truth that 'fake news' alludes to is hardly new. Political propaganda has been used throughout the ages to mobilise the masses in favour of particular courses of action, but those masses have also become more adept at spotting such false stories. The latest tide of 'fake news' is again political, but also deeply connected with economic motives.

Does ABC News Siphon Audiences from Fairfax?

Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood has been busy. His company’s announcement on 3 May 2017 that Fairfax would sack 125 of its newsroom staff led to Sydney Morning Herald and The Age journalists going on strike, at the worst possible time in the Australian political calendar.

Meanwhile, media reports highlighted Hywood’s annual pay of over $7 million – which at a median reported salary for journalists of just over $51,000 would comfortably pay for the total number of staff laid off in Hywood’s announcement.

This is not to say that Hywood does not deserve a CEO-level salary, of course. But in light of the criticism of the job losses at Fairfax, his defence of executive pay levels was tin-eared, to say the least:

We pride ourselves on providing above-market salaries. … We need good people to work at this business. You don’t fix the issues confronting the media business by doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result.

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