Election days and social media practices: Tweeting as Australia decides

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Paper presented at the Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space conference, Amsterdam, June 2014.


  • 1. Election DaysandSocial MediaPractices:Tweeting asAustralia decidesTim High!eldQUT and Curtint.high!eld@qut.edu.au | @timhigh!eld | timhigh!eld.net

2. Politics and social media Integration of social media platforms, such asTwitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, intopolitics: Election campaigns Politician accounts Citizens Journalists and media organisations Mediation of politics takes place over multipleplatforms, involving diverse actors (whoparticipate on more than one platformthemselves) 3. Social media practices Within political discussions and topics, socialmedia have a variety of functions: Campaigning and promotional channels Activism organisation and information-sharing Backchannel for broadcasts "ird Space, where political talk arises from andwithin other topics Platform for debate with political actors,journalists, and citizens all present (if notnecessarily interacting) 4. "e Australian context Australia has seen a dedicated audience forpolitical discussion develop on social media, suchas around hashtags such as #auspol and #qanda While these speci!c markers may attract aparticular group of Twitter users, political topicsare still concerns for the wider population Voting is compulsory for eligible citizens 18 andover in federal and state elections. At elections, some engagement with politics isnecessary, even if to criticise this necessity. 5. #ausvotes, et al. Analysis built out of previous studies ofnational and state-level elections in Australia: Federal (2010, 2013) Queensland (2012) Western Australia (2013) Standardisation of election coverage: use ofcommon hashtags for campaigns (#xvotes),although not universally employed 6. Election day tweeting Australian election campaigns, as with otherinternational votes, have seen peak activity onthe election day itself "is spike in tweeting is a result of severaldi#erent approaches which coincide withelection day; they are all related to the vote, butalso re$ect personal experiences as well asengaging with the results at large 7. 3000"2500"2000"1500"1000"500"0"Phases of election day tweeting#wavotes, tweets per hour: 9 March, 2013 8. Phases of election day tweeting18000"16000"14000"12000"10000"8000"6000"4000"2000"0"#ausvotes, tweets per hour: 7 September, 2013 9. 3000"2500"2000"1500"1000"500"0"Phases of election day tweeting#wavotes, tweets per hour: 5 April, 2014 10. Phases of election day tweeting18000"16000"14000"12000"10000"8000"6000"4000"2000"0"#ausvotes, tweets per hour: 7 September, 2013 3. Speeches1. Voting period2. Analysis,predictions,results 11. A model of election day tweeting1. "e individual, the personal the micro-level ofthe election2. "e analytical move away from personal to mixhome electorates with wider results and predictions3. "e reactionary the live responses to mediacoverage, in particular the victory and concessionspeeches by the respective major party leaders 12. 1. "e personal, the participatory Tweets about personal voting experiences Partisan comments and mentions Local candidates, leaders Political rituals Independent projects encouraging voter feedback andcrowd-sourced information about polling places theexperience, the facilities Booth Reviews, Democracy Sausage, SnagVotes, !e Hungry Voter Promote further participation to improve the accuracy ofinformation available, hook in to the standard election dayexperience 13. 2. "e analytical, the informative As polling places close and votes are counted, thefocus moves from the individual experience to thewider coverage Local results still important, but become morelinked to the overall narrative Information $ows centred on established mediaand political actors enhanced by broadcastersusing common hashtags rather than their own,retweeting across their many accounts 14. 3. "e reactionary, the mass context "e focus becomes narrower still, withresponses to both the results and the speci!cmedia coverage Live-tweeting of quotes and interpretations ofthe victory and concession speeches from therespective party leaders "e shared focus of a mass audience on a fewactors, rather than the distributed coverage ofthe voting experience phase 15. Personal to popular? While the election commentary mixed political andpersonal views throughout responses to the resultsinclude personal opinions as well as partisanship theearly tweets are more uniquely individual in theircontent: one persons voting experience will not beexactly the same as anothers By the time of the speeches, though, the individualcontext is subsumed by the shared response to thecommon topic (as featured in other media) A further participatory aspect, as with other media events,where social media users comment on broadcasts as theyhappen, o#ering analysis, invective, and pithy one-liners 16. Trends Because of the common context the overallresult, the coverage of the speeches, as well as thecaptive audience following the results rather thanbeing out voting more likely to receive retweetsduring phases 2 and 3? During phase 1, popular accounts and commonsentiments responsible for most RTed comments(e.g. RT if you voted below the line) Memes and macros, humour (especially dryobservations of the results) among the most RTedcomments a%er polling closed 17. Casual contributors? #ausvotes, 7 September 2013: 34585 users contributing 111987 tweets Phase one (to 6pm): 17549 users contributing 43089 tweets (2.45 per user) Phases two and three (post-6pm): 23939 users contributing 68898 tweets (2.87 per user) 6903 users contributing 60967 tweets to both periods(25871, 35096) 20% users, 54.4% tweets overall 39.3% users, 60% tweets pre-6pm 28.8% users, 50.9% tweets post-6pm 18. Political gatekeepers old and new "e model also demonstrates that some aspects of thetraditional politics-media dynamic are reinforced onsocial media "e role of traditional media sources for both providing andamplifying information is central even if other users donot mention media accounts, they are responding toelections as media events "e use of Twitter handles rather than proper names alsoaccounts for high numbers of @mentions for politicians andcommentators even if not tweeting themselves Newer/alternative voices can achieve prominence, and thisis a mixed space of old and new, but the old and establishedbodies remain central here. 19. Political gatekeepers old and new Inconsistent use by politicians and parties Mentioned by other users, but not contributing (tohashtagged comments) during election day Last minute social media campaigning not necessarily acommon strategy Resisting comments during count until resultscon!rmed? 20. Factors and limits Compulsory and ritualised nature of elections inAustralia invites certain kinds of participation onsocial media, which secondary hashtags hook into(barbecues, cake stalls) Even with increased activity on election day,though, this is still not a representative sample ofthe Australian population at large. Although #ausvotes an established marker, it is notthe only election hashtag, nor are any required inrelated tweets 21. Further directions "is paper outlines a preliminary model of how electionday unfolds on social media; the political and socialcontexts of other nations will determine its adaptabilitybeyond Australia "e transition from personal voting experience toanalysis to reactions and commentary demonstrates anumber of Twitters uses across the same context Further research would look beyond the single platformand hashtag to examine further election day practicesand the mix of the personal and the political.