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Expanding the Twitter Universe through Link Analysis

The final speakers in this Digital Methods panel are Jürgen Grimm and Christiane Grill. They're interested in moving beyond the analysis of individual tweets to the aggregation of Twitter data which can be used reliably in media research. This requires the use of transparent and clear search or tracking strategies, and a further manual reduction of the data to weed out irrelevant material; further, the intertextual connections of tweets need to be identified and examined, both between each other and with external texts (e.g. from mass media).

The idea in this is to move from an atomistic Twitter universe, based on individual tweets, to a conversational and/or intermedial Twitter universe (variously recognising tweet relationships through @mentions and retweets, or through links and other pointers to external media texts). In the context of the Salzburg state election in Austria, for example, the former means focussing on conversations rather than individual tweets; the latter means identifying all links being shared by Twitter users and generating a hybrid network including tweets and other resources.

What Do Twitter Patterns around Elections Actually Tell Us?

The second speaker this morning at Digital Methods is Andreas Jungherr, who shifts our focus back to Twitter: he is interested in how we may use observations from this platform to understand what happens in society as such. What, if anything, may we read out of, for example, the patterns around an election which could help us predict the outcome of the election?

In the German election 2009, for example, Andreas found substantial activity around the Pirate Party, but this is an artefact of the specific demographics of Twitter in the country at the time rather than a sign of genuine pandemic interest in the party. In the same campaign, the volume of political news being shared during the campaign clearly shows the gradual growth of interest ahead of Election Day, and pinpoints key moments like debates and state elections in the run-up.

#aufschrei: How a Hashtag Public Forms

The final paper in this Digital Methods panel is by Axel Maireder and Stefan Schlögl, whose interest is in the #aufschrei discussion about sexism in German politics. How did this emerge from a small-scale conversation on Twitter to a major trending hashtag, and subsequently to a cross-media event, over the course of a few hours? What happened here was the growth of a communicative network in the form of a partial public or issue public related to the topic on Twitter, interleaved with other publics as enabled by the conventional mainstream media.

New forms of discussion fora and spaces, especially also including social media, enable new and lasting connections between themes and individuals. These connections are increasingly manifested in the data structures which are available through social media APIs, too, and structure the flow of communication. URLs shared in tweets and other social media updates further document the connection of such communication with other, external media, while hashtags enable the development of ad hoc publics independent of existing follower networks.

How Julia Gillard's Misogyny Speech Went Viral

The next panel at the Digital Methods conference begins with a panel by Theresa Sauter and me, on the viral distribution of links to the video of Julia Gillard's "misogyny" speech in 2012 as it was posted in full on the ABC News site. Unfortunately the audio recording didn't work out, so below are the slides only - do make sure you click on the links to see the video and the animations of the emerging retweet network.

Revisiting Produsage

After the “Compromised Data” symposium in Toronto I’ve made my way over to Europe, where my first stop is a PhD symposium in Copenhagen where I’ve been invited to present an update on my work on produsage. Here, I’ve revisited the fundamental concept of produsage and made the link to my current work on the uses of social media, especially in a journalistic context. Slides and audio below:

'Big Data' and Government Decision-Making

The next speaker at "Compromised Data" is Joanna Redden, whose interest is in government uses of 'big data', especially in Canada. There's a great deal of hype surrounding 'big data' in government at the moment, which needs to be explored from a critical perspective; the data rush has been compared to the gold rush, with similarly utopian claims - here especially around the ability for 'big data' to support decision-making and democratic engagement, and the contribution 'big data'-enabled industries can make to the GDP.

But how are 'big data' actually being used in government contexts? New tools and techniques for the analysis of 'big data' are of course being used in government, but how these affect policy decisions remains unclear. Social media analysis is similarly being used for public policy and service delivery; sentiment analysis is used for some decisions around law enforcement and service delivery, but adoption to date is slow.

Engagement through Social Media: What Do We Mean?

The final presentation in this "Compromised Data" session is by Mary Francoli and Dan Paré, who focus on the question of engagement and mobilisation in a time of rapidly evolving social media use. One initial observation is that these terms lack definitional clarity - there are some very high-level definitions (e.g. building on UN definitions), but these remain vague; political and civic engagement are conflated, and specific forms of engagement are not necessarily defined in detail.

Simply voting is a form of engagement, for example, but is clearly different from other, more complex forms of political engagement. The literature increasingly links these types of activity with social media (and with the Net more broadly) - and the extent to such such forms of engagement occur, and how they interrelate with forms of offline political engagement, need to be studied in greater detail.

Emergent Norms in Information Sharing on Twitter

The final presenter in this AoIR 2013 session (and thus, the final presenter this year!) is Hazel Kwon, whose aim is to better understand the flows of communication on social media during protests. Her frame of research in this is Emergent Norm Theory, whose emphasis is on the rapid and transformative potential of word of mouth on collective behaviours. This is a process of diffusion for a collective identity.

Protests can be understood as collective behaviours. They may be prompted by the circulation of rumours, which are characterised by the informal and improvised circulation of situational information; gradually, key themes and issues are being identified and converted into key messages that define the protest action. They draw on a special type of crowd, the diffuse crowd. But existing theories largely consider such phenomena in the context of physically co-located crowds; translation to social media environments must necessarily develop somewhat different understandings.

Twitter in the Regional Elections in Flanders

The next AoIR 2013 paper is by Pieter Verdegem and Evelien D'Heer, who shift our focus to regional elections in Flanders. The role of Twitter in politics has been described from both optimistic and pessimistic perspectives; the Twittersphere has been seen by many to reflect existing social structures. Is there a move from formal and representative politics towards networked politics, though? From broadcasting to convergence logic?

Pieter and Evelien captured all @mentions in the #vk2012 debate, engaging in both content and network analysis. The hashtag was promoted by the public service broadcaster in Flanders, so it provides a useful point of entry into election-related discussions on Twitter and was frequented by politicians, journalists, and ordinary Twitter users. There was a significant spike in tweets on Election Day (14 Oct. 2012), with far less activity on other days - usually around 200 tweets per day. Activity picked up somewhat during the final week of the campaign.

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