- 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
Over the next couple of months, I will be collecting and analysing Twitter data (technology permitting) around the WA state election, to be held on 9 March 2013: see this post for an introduction to this project.
As we enter February, five weeks remain until election day in Western Australia – the writs still have not been issued, nominations have not yet closed, and there are still debates and policy announcements to cover before the actual voting takes place. Although we are still technically in the ‘phoney’ campaign stage until 6 February, when the writs will be issued, plans and proposals are being released and debated, and individual and party campaigns launched; among the major initiatives announced is the ALP’s Metronet public transport plan, which was first outlined last year but has seen additional details (about lines, stations, and costings) released and debated this week. ‘Metronet’ has been added to the keywords tracked for this project, and later in the campaign I’ll have a look at the shape of this issue-specific discussion network.
For now, though, this post provides just a quick overview of activity so far this year by the nominated candidates, parties, and politicians on Twitter. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m tracking the Twitter accounts of candidates in the state election, located by searching Twitter using Antony Green’s list of candidates, and by examining Twitter lists created around WA politics and the election. So far, over 100 such accounts have been identified, including those of current politicians who are retiring at the election. In addition, I am tracking the accounts of the WA branches of the main political parties, relevant hashtags, and other associated accounts, including prominent journalists.
To capture the tweets from these accounts, I am using the tool yourTwapperkeeper, and processing the resulting archives with gawk scripts created by Axel Bruns and Jean Burgess for the Mapping Online Publics project.For the candidate accounts, each archive searches for the user name (e.g. EricRipperMLA) as a keyword – finding tweets mentioning this user as well as tweets by the user. There are some limitations here; not all tweets will be archived for highly active keywords, as yTK is not able to access the full stream of tweets within the Twitter API – however, for the purposes of the election campaign, for most archives this will not be a problem. yTK also does not always capture ‘button’ retweets – manual RTs (where users add RT @user: to the start of the tweet, plus any comment) are captured, but tweets where users have clicked the ‘Retweet’ button on Twitter are not always archived.
While this limits the datasets somewhat, the lack of button RTs also means that the connections represented here are more likely to represent actual responses to – or, in the case of reciprocal mentions, some interaction between – candidates on Twitter. To explore these interactions, I have created two network maps, not based around any individual hashtag but instead drawing on the tweets published by, and mentioning, the candidate accounts between 1 and 31 January 2013. The networks are formed by extracting user names from the captured tweets, and noting these names as either ‘from’ (the account publishing the tweet) or ‘to’ (the account mentioned in the tweet). These extracted lists are then imported into the network visualisation software Gephiand laid out using the Force Atlas 2 algorithm (where nodes with shared connections are placed closer than nodes which do not share connections). Each node represents a Twitter account – the size of each node depends on the number of users mentioning these accounts, with the larger nodes receiving the most mentions. The candidate accounts are coloured by their party: red for the ALP, blue for the Liberals, orange for the Nationals, green for the Greens, and pink for the independents. The colour of each edge shows the node from which it originates (who is making the link to another account).
Unsurprisingly, given the overview of WA politics on Twitter in previous posts, two parties visually dominate the map: the ALP and the Greens. However, the Greens candidates cluster more tightly than their ALP counterparts; indeed, there are two primary Greens clusters, one involving several candidates (including Cameron Poustie, Lynn Maclaren, and Jonathan Hallett), and another concentrated solely on George Crisp, running in the electorate of Nedlands. The separation of Crisp from the rest of the group is not showing that he is not connecting or connected to these other candidates in tweets (the edges show that this is not the fact), but instead that his tweets also mention several other unique users not mentioned by other accounts – a high number of unique accounts connected only to one node will draw that node further away from others in the main network.
This aspect of force-directed algorithms can also be seen in the top-right of the network, where the @premierbarnett account can be found in blue; while not an official account, I have left it in the network to see who is tweeting at this account in place of an official Colin Barnett Twitter presence. Here, several unique users mention Barnett – and only Barnett of the candidate accounts – in their tweets. There is some topicality here, as some of these accounts’ names are pro-sharks (and thus responding to Barnett’s remarks about killing dangerous sharks).
Another cluster can be found in the network, corresponding to several Nationals candidates (and the WA Nationals account); however, this cluster does not cover all Nationals candidates, as closer to the centre of the network are accounts for the likes of Mia Davies, Paul Brown, and Jill Sounness. Their presence here is partly attributable to Davies’ account; in addition to mentioning and being mentioned by Nationals accounts, Davies is also tweeted at by several ALP accounts, pulling her node closer to the ALP section than those pertaining to her fellow Nationals.
Indeed, what is clear from the map is that, while there is some obvious partisan clustering, as candidates tweet primarily with their fellow party members, there are accounts from most parties which will tweet at, and receive tweets from, opposing candidates (or accounts from other parties, anyway – regardless of whether or not they are not directly running against each other). Despite the limited Liberal presence, or perhaps because of this, such activity is particularly obvious with the Liberal member for Ocean Reef, Albert Jacob; his tweets include mentions of the ALP’s Ken Travers and Tony O’Gorman, and he is also mentioned by these same accounts. With less party engagement on Twitter, it may be that the few Liberal members active here, such as Jacob, have more freedom to respond to what the opposition is tweeting. However, with such a limited sample of Liberal accounts, and a wide variety of politician approaches to social media, this is only one of many possible explanations.
Interestingly, major media and commentator accounts are distributed across the network, rather than being located more centrally as might be expected. There are some central accounts, of course – such as The West Australian, as well as the ABC’s Oliver Peterson and 720 Perth – but others are more closely connected to particular parties. The political analyst and former staffer Darren Brown, for example, appears with the Greens cluster through responses to pieces he wrote for WA Today about their campaign so far. Other media accounts, such as radio host Howard Sattler and Perth local television station West TV, are more closely linked to the ALP accounts in part because of targeting of these accounts by candidates and their followers in an attempt to get another pre-election debate (‘the People’s Debate’) to take place.
To finish for now, the second map above shows the same network, but filtered down to only show connections between the candidate/party accounts. Again, the partisan clustering is obvious, although as noted before there are some accounts which will tweet across party lines. A final interesting point is the presence of two active independents among the ALP accounts – Max Hipkins (Nedlands) and Greg Ross (Kalamunda), who both tweeted at the prominent ALP members Ken Travers and John Hyde in comments about Perth’s public transport (and received responses, too, in an ongoing discussion).
The activity represented here covers the first month of 2013, before the election campaign proper (although including major announcements); during the campaign, I’ll return to these maps with snapshots of the current activity, to examine whether these patterns are replicated or challenged as election day approaches.
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