- Conference Slides
- [ir13] #oo activism: uses of Twitter within the Occupy Oakland movement
- [ecc12] Political networks on Twitter: Tweeting the Queensland state election
- [ecc12] Tweeting le Tour: Connecting the Tour de France’s global audience through Twitter
- [ir13] #auspol, #qldpol, and #wapol: Twitter and the new Australian political commentariat
- [ir13] #eurovision: Twitter as a technology of fandom
- [ir13] Sharing the News: dissemination of links to Australian news sites on Twitter
- [georabble 6/big data week] Big Data + Twitter
On 9 March 2013, West Australians will go to the polls to vote in the state election (and will return to the polls later in 2013 for the federal election). The Western Australian Electoral Commission advises that the writs for the election (for both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council) will be issued on 6 February 2013. At the moment, then, with the Parliament prorogued since 14 December 2012, WA politics is essentially in a ‘phoney campaign’; the date for the election is known, but nominations have not closed, and the full-blown campaigning has not really begun. That is not to say that individual campaigns are not ongoing – indeed, some candidates, particularly in marginal seats, have been door-knocking and running promotional material for several months now. Both the Liberal Party (in government in coalition with the Nationals) and the opposition ALP have made announcements about policies and works they will initiate (or repeal) should they take office, in preparation for the final month of campaigning after the writs are issued, and this week has also seen talk about the leaders’ debate currently scheduled for 19 February (ALP leader Mark McGowan has however proposed three debates).
In the lead-up to, and during, the campaign proper and election day, I’ll run a series of posts about how the election plays out on Twitter. This project forms an extension to research I’ve been working on with my QUT/CCI colleagues Axel Bruns and Stephen Harrington as part of the ‘Mapping Online Publics’ studies; since January 2012, tweets containing the #wapol hashtag have been captured as part of an ongoing comparative study of Australian political discussions on social media, at the federal and state levels. A preliminary overview of this data (comparing #auspol, #qldpol, and #wapol) was presented at the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Salford in October 2012. I will cover more of our #wapol work in a further post; however, an important caveat here is that not only is including this hashtag in tweets about WA politics not obligatory (nor is it universal), but even when an initial tweet contains #wapol, replies to it might not feature it. While tracking this single hashtag provides useful information about general levels of Twitter activity around WA politics, then, it does not provide an exhaustive view of these discussions. This is especially the case when prominent political figures – including sitting politicians, candidates, and journalists – may comment extensively on relevant topics without using the hashtag.
To overcome this limitation, for the next few months, the #wapol archive is being supplemented by further archives, each tracking either keywords and hashtags around the election (such as wavotes, Barnett, McGowan, and Buswell), but also the Twitter usernames of candidates and retiring politicians and the WA branches of the political parties. At the moment, I am tracking 80 candidate, retiring politician, and party accounts, with more to be added as nominations are announced (should Twitter accounts follow!). Here, I am following the approach used by Axel Bruns for last year’s Queensland state election, as covered in several posts on Mapping Online Publics, which later informed a paper by Axel Bruns, Stephen Harrington, and myself, presented at the European Communication Conference in Istanbul in October last year (the Queensland election research is also a pilot study for a wider, international study of elections and social media). Using these combined archives, a more developed picture of the election coverage on Twitter can be presented, identifying not just what topics were discussed and which events caused attention to peak, but also how candidates used Twitter in their campaigning. Different styles of tweeting during elections have been identified in previous research, including in the Queensland election, from engaging with voters by replying to all tweets received, to using Twitter simply as a broadcast medium, publicising press releases without responding to other users.
Unlike the Queensland case, though, the shape of the Twitter coverage of the WA election at the moment promises to be slightly different. In WA, the ALP, along with the Greens and then the Nationals, contributes the most numerous, and active, politician and candidate accounts on Twitter, with a much more diminished Liberal Party presence. While Queensland’s LNP candidates were not widespread on Twitter, at the very least the party leader, Campbell Newman, did have an active (official) Twitter account – this meant that not only could Newman/his team tweet messages, but users talking about, replying to, or questioning Newman on Twitter could @mention the Newman account in their tweets. In WA, though, Premier Colin Barnett, and other senior Liberal politicians, are conspicuously absent from the Twittersphere; there is an unofficial Barnett account – @premierbarnett – which publishes links to media releases, and several parody accounts (many of them now inactive), including @YourMateColin, but no confirmed presence. Indeed, the lack of Liberal Twitter accounts has been occasionally mentioned in the WA Parliament:
Mr M. McGOWAN: […] It is a bit like Twitter; the Premier has forbidden all his ministers from using Twitter, yet I see a Twitter account with the Premier’s name on it. The Premier has forbidden everyone else to use “boom”, but he is using it!
Mr C.J. Barnett: It is another untruth.
Mr P. Papalia: You know you told ministers not to use Twitter; that is true.
Mr C.J. Barnett: People can use Twitter. That is not true. People have not been banned.
Mr M. McGOWAN: I do not think the Premier knows what Twitter is. [WA Legislative Assembly Hansard, 20 September 2012, pp. 6344-6345]
Furthermore, a report by Gareth Parker in the West Australian late last year suggests that Liberal candidates would be unlikely to use Twitter, given the party’s media strategy essentially banning public comments by candidates without prior approval. Even those members who are on Twitter are not as prolific as their ALP counterparts; earlier today, for example, a tweet by the Liberal member for Ocean Reef, Albert Jacob, was met with a reply from the ALP member for Warnbro, Paul Papalia, highlighting the rarity of this:
The limited Liberal presence on Twitter may change as the campaign progresses, and the above exchange shows that politicians will directly reply to members of other parties – part of the upcoming election research will then examine the extent to which this takes place during the campaign.
One final point of departure with the Queensland case – and the 2010 Federal election, too – is that so far, #wavotes has not been widely used as the go-to hashtag for election matters. This may be because the election campaign is technically not underway yet; however, there is also an alternative hashtag that has been promoted, #wa2013vote, which is also the moniker of a Twitter account and website monitoring the election. Regardless of whether #wavotes becomes more popular as the election continues or not (it does free up three more characters for tweets), I’m currently tracking both hashtags as part of the wider election set of archives. As with any research into Twitter, or other single platform, it needs to be noted that regardless of the number or size of datasets, the data collected here are not representative of the election campaigns themselves, nor are the Twitter users representative of all WA-based internet users, nor of the WA voting public. What I’m tracking here is how Twitter is used during the campaign (and only Twitter, which is just one of the social media options available to candidates), without any claims that, for example, it will determine or change the outcome on 9 March.
In my next post on this topic, I’ll outline our earlier research around #wapol and the current Twitter presence for the major parties. There will be visualisations.
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