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Social Media Network Mapping

‘Big Social Data’ in Context: Connecting Social Media Data and Other Sources (ACSPRI 2014)

Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research Incorporated (ACSPRI) Social Science Methodology Conference 2014

‘Big Social Data’ in Context: Connecting Social Media Data and Other Sources

Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield

The current “computational turn” (Berry, 2012) in media and communication studies is driven largely by the increased programmatic accessibility of large and very large sources of structured data on the online activities and content of Internet users – and here, especially of data from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Such ‘big social data’ are being used to examine the social media response to issues and events ranging from national elections (Larsson & Moe, 2014) through natural disasters (Bruns et al., 2012) to popular entertainment (Highfield et al., 2013), and in doing so tell a detailed and real-time story of how large populations of Internet users engage with the topics that concern them.

The study of user activities in specific social media spaces alone, however, necessarily isolates such activities from their wider context. Self-evidently, users’ activities do not remain limited to Facebook or Twitter alone: they cross over between these and other social media platforms, and intersect with other online and offline activities. To develop a more comprehensive picture of how citizens engage with and respond to current issues, even only in an online environment, it would therefore be necessary to connect and correlate the data sourced from social media platforms with data from a range of other sources which describe other aspects of the overall online experience.

This paper describes the approach and presents early outcomes from one such initiative to put ‘big social data’ in a wider context. As part of an ARC Future Fellowship project, we draw both on large, longitudinal Twitter and Facebook datasets which describe how Australian social media users engage with and share the news articles published by a range of leading Australian news and commentary sites, and on complementary, representative data from the market research company Experian Hitwise which track, through anonymised data collection at the ISP level across millions of households, what terms Australian Internet users are searching for, and how their attention is distributed across available Websites.

The combination of these sources provides an important new dimension beyond mere social media metrics themselves: in aggregate, our sources show the extent to which users’ searching and browsing activities around current events (which generally remain invisible to their peers) correlate with active news sharing and dissemination activities (which are designed to alert peers to an issue), and how such correlations differ across different themes and events, and different social media platforms. This constitutes an important further methodological and conceptual advance not only for the study of social media, but for media and communication studies as such.

Berry, D., ed. (2012). Understanding Digital Humanities. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., Crawford, K., & Shaw, F. (2012). #qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods. Brisbane: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, 2012. Retrieved from http://cci.edu.au/floodsreport.pdf.

Highfield, T., Harrington, S., & Bruns, A. (2013). Twitter as a Technology for Audiencing and Fandom: The #Eurovision Phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society, 16(3), 315-39. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2012.756053

Larson, A.O., & Moe, H. (2014). Twitter in Politics and Elections: Insights from Scandinavia. In Weller, K., Bruns, A., Burgess, J., Mahrt, M., & Puschmann, C., eds., Twitter and Society. (K. Weller, A. Bruns, J. Burgess, M. Mahrt, & C. Puschmann, Eds.). New York: Peter Lang. 319-30.

Mapping a National Twittersphere: A ‘Big Data’ Analysis of Australian Twitter User Networks (ECREA 2014)

European Communication Conference (ECREA) 2014

Mapping a National Twittersphere: A ‘Big Data’ Analysis of Australian Twitter User Networks

Axel Bruns, Darryl Woodford, Troy Sadkowsky, and Tim Highfield

Twitter research to date has focussed mainly on the study of isolated events, as described for example by specific hashtags or keywords relating variously to elections (Larsson & Moe, 2012), natural disasters (Mendoza et al., 2010), entertainment (Highfield et al., 2013) and sporting events (Bruns et al., 2014), and other moments of heightened activity in the network. This limited focus is determined in part by the limitations placed on large-scale access to Twitter data by Twitter, Inc. itself. By contrast, only a handful of studies – usually by researchers associated with commercially funded research organisations or with Twitter, Inc. itself – have utilised the Twitter ‘firehose’ or similar more comprehensive sources of data to explore broader patterns of traffic flows or follower connections on the platform (e.g. Leetaru et al., 2013).

This project builds on a long-term, large-scale analysis of the global Twitter userbase which has managed to identify within the over 725 million global registered Twitter accounts some 2.5 million Australian accounts (by matching profile details such as location, description, and timezone against a set of relevant criteria). Further, we analysed the follower/followee connections of these 2.5 million accounts and from this developed a first comprehensive map of account relationships within the Australian Twittersphere. In-depth network analysis of this map reveals the existence of a range of clusters of especially tightly interconnected users, linked to each other by other accounts acting as bridges between the clusters. In turn, qualitative exploration of the leading account’s profiles in each cluster provides an indication of the various areas of thematic focus which have determined the formation of these clusters, and their association with other clusters in the same network vicinity. Further correlation with other relevant profile data (including the creation date for each account, its level of tweeting activity, and the date of the account’s last tweet) offers additional opportunities to trace the emergence and growing complexity of the Australian Twittersphere over time, from the earliest adopters of the platform to its most recent users, and to filter the overall network for the most active and most persistent users.

This study represents the first ever comprehensive investigation of the development of a national Twittersphere as an entity in its own right. While the global nature of Twitter as a social media platform means that Australian accounts will also be connected with their counterparts in other countries, it is still to be expected that shared interests and identity lead to the majority of connections between accounts to occur within the same national user population, and our analysis of these connection patterns provides an important indicator of the themes around which these connections crystallise, as well as of the longitudinal development of these clusters of interests.

Bruns, A., Weller, K., & Harrington, S. (2014). Twitter and Sports: Football Fandom in Emerging and Established Markets. In K. Weller, A. Bruns, J. Burgess, M. Mahrt, & C. Puschmann (Eds.), Twitter and Society (pp. 263–280). New York: Peter Lang.

Highfield, T., Harrington, S., & Bruns, A. (2013). Twitter as a Technology for Audiencing and Fandom: The #Eurovision Phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society, 16(3), 315–39. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2012.756053

Larsson, A.O., & Moe, H. (2011). Studying Political Microblogging: Twitter Users in the 2010 Swedish Election Campaign. New Media & Society, 14(5). doi:10.1177/1461444811422894

Leetaru, K., Wang, S., Cao, G., Padmanabhan, A., & Shook, E. (2013). Mapping the Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter. First Monday, 18(5). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i5.4366

Mendoza, M., Poblete, B., & Castillo, C. (2010) Twitter under Crisis: Can We Trust What We RT? Paper presented at Social Media Analytics, KDD '10 Workshops, Washington, DC, 25 July 2010. Available from: http://research.yahoo.com/files/mendoza_poblete_castillo_2010_twitter_terremoto.pdf

Mapping Social TV Audiences: The Footprints of Leading Shows in the Australian Twittersphere (AoIR 2014)

Association of Internet Researchers conference (AoIR 2014)

Mapping Social TV Audiences: The Footprints of Leading Shows in the Australian Twittersphere

Axel Bruns, Darryl Woodford, Tim Highfield, and Katie Prowd

Drawing on the results of a long-term research project into the network structure of the Australian Twittersphere, combined with an investigation of audience participation through social media in selected reality TV and political debate shows, this paper maps the location of the Twitter communities participating in the social TV components of the selected shows onto the underlying follower/followee network structure of the Australian national Twittersphere. In doing so, it addresses questions about the homology or distinctions between the social TV audiences for the different shows; the correlation between existing follower/followee relationships and participation in specific social TV activities; and the effects of Twitter activity related to specific shows in making these shows visible to the entire national Twitter network. The development of such network-based approaches to the quantification and visualisation of social TV engagement makes another important to the development of reliable and generally applicable metrics for social television.

The Emergence of Trending Topics: The Dissemination of Breaking Stories on Twitter (ASMC 2014)

Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space (ASMC 2014)

The Emergence of Trending Topics: The Dissemination of Breaking Stories on Twitter

Axel Bruns and Theresa Sauter

Twitter is widely recognised as a key medium for the dissemination of breaking news. Bruns & Burgess (2011) describe how ad hoc publics form, especially around shared hashtags, as events and issues become more widely recognised, and Hermida (2010) and Burns (2010) both describe this as Twitter’s “ambient news” function – always in the background, until trending stories push it into the foreground. What is less understood are the early moments of such ‘trending’, before hashtags and other mechanisms define a new story as breaking news. This paper explores these early processes: by tracking the dissemination of links to Australian news sites on an everyday basis as part of the ATNIX project (Bruns et al., 2013), we were able to trace the shift from sharing to trending from the very first links being shared on Twitter to the subsequent widespread dissemination of trending topics. We use innovative visualisation techniques to show the dynamics of this transition and to map the networks of interaction which emerge onto the overall Australian Twittersphere.

All Politics Is Local? The Twitter Performance of Local Candidates in the 2013 Australian Federal Election (ASMC 2014)

Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space (ASMC 2014)

All Politics Is Local? The Twitter Performance of Local Candidates in the 2013 Australian Federal Election

Axel Bruns

The phrase “all politics is local” is especially appropriate in the Australian federal electoral context, where all 150 Members of Parliament are elected on the basis of their success in the electoral contests in their local electorates and no adjustments are made to account for their parties' nationwide vote shares. Media coverage, however, tends to focus squarely on the national party leaders, with local contests receiving media attention only in exceptional circumstances. This paper examines the extent to which social media are able to address this gap. During the 2013 Australian federal election, we tracked activity around the Twitter accounts of some 350 MPs and candidates; here, we examine the extent to which candidates and voters use this medium to supplement insufficient local media coverage.

Mapping Online Publics: New Methods for Twitter Research (Twitter Analytics Workshop 2014)

Twitter Analytics Workshop 2014

Mapping Online Publics: New Methods for Twitter Research

Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, and Darryl Woodford

  • 12 June 2014 – Twitter Workshop: Analysing Network Data, Göttingen

The study of Twitter at large scale and in close to real time requires the development of new methodological approaches which are able to process, analyse, and visualise the ‘big social data’ which can be accessed through the Twitter API. The Mapping Online Publics project in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at Queensland University of Technology has developed a number of approaches to the study of short- and long-term Twitter publics, from analyses of the dynamics of ad hoc issue publics around natural disasters and political crises through the tracking of information flows and audience interests across mainstream and social media to the comprehensive mapping of the Australian Twittersphere. This presentation will outline the methodological approaches developed for this work, and reflect on the opportunities and challenges facing social media researchers.

 

Axel Bruns is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Associate Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. He leads the QUT Social Media Research Group and is the author of Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (2008) and Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production (2005), and a co-editor of Twitter and Society (2014), A Companion to New Media Dynamics (2012) and Uses of Blogs (2006). His current work focusses on the study of user participation in social media spaces such as Twitter, especially in the context of acute events. His research blog is at http://snurb.info/, and he tweets at @snurb_dot_info. See http://mappingonlinepublics.net/ for more details on his research into social media.

Jean Burgess is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation (CCI) and Associate Professor, Digital Media in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology. She is involved in several research projects that apply computer-assisted methods to the analysis of large-scale social media data. Her books include YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (Polity Press, 2009), Studying Mobile Media: Cultural Technologies, Mobile Communication, and the iPhone (Routledge, 2012) and A Companion to New Media Dynamics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013). Over the past decade she has worked with a large number of government, industry and community-based organisations, focusing on the uses of social and co-creative media to increase participation, advocacy and engagement.

Darryl Woodford is a Research Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation (CCI) at Queensland University of Technology. He has a background in Engineering and Game Studies, including research on the agency of avatars in virtual environments. His current research includes work on social norms and regulation in the video game and gambling industries, and he is leading the development of new digital methods for measuring and evaluating television audience engagement using social media analytics.

Television Co-Creation with Social Media Users: #7DaysLater

The next speaker in our AoIR 2015 panel is Jonathon Hutchinson, who zooms in to a specific transmedia programme screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, #7DaysLater. The premise of the show is to create comedy programming within seven days, and to incorporate social media engagement practices into the show.

Such viewing is more than just subsequent watercooler discussions – it's about viewer co-creation practices. The challenge is to break through the noise barrier on social media, and to find the techniques for encouraging audience participation, especially in the context of a public service broadcaster.

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