Lessons from the latest map of the Australian Twittersphere: #auspol is driven by hardline conservatives, evangelical Christians don’t talk to outsiders, and the South Australian tourism, food and wine fraternity have formed their own little enclave on Planet Adelaide.
The map is the most recent visualisation from a long-term project to understand the connections and activities of Australian Twitter users being run by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology.
So far they’ve mapped the connections of about 950,000 of Australia’s estimated 2 million Twitter users.
This time they’ve also looked at how people use hashtags (keywords starting with a “#”) to define communities of interest at a scale in between the micro level of conversations with specific individuals (defined by retweets and @replies) and the macro level (defined by their network of followers and followees).
It’s worth listening to the full presentation by project leader professor Axel Bruns, because he explains the many subtleties of the study and debunks the idea that Twitter is simply an echo chamber where we only connect to and converse with people who share our world view. Mostly.
“It is not a polarised network, it is not a particularly fragmented network, so this goes against some of the old-fashioned arguments that, you know, online new media is fragmenting society and no one talks to anyone any more other than in their own in-groups. I think this very clearly points to a very different image of how the Australian Twittersphere looks,” Bruns said.
That said, we do choose our own adventure by deciding who we follow on Twitter, and some people are clearly more connected than others.
At the centre of the map are the most connected Twitter accounts: the generic services we all use, like telecommunications companies and airlines.
Moving out from the centre we see Twitter accounts that are less connected to “everybody” and more to some narrower group, whether that’s the nexus of radio, TV, music fans and the acts they follow, or sports fans, or fashion and beauty.
At the very edge of the map are members of the most isolated groups who interact almost exclusively with each other — most notably evangelical Christians, Hillsong and other urban megachurch members, farmers, educators and those into e-learning, and fans of Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers. There’s an island of Australian bands and their fans who seem isolated too.
Bruns warns, however, that all these people may have more links with their compatriots internationally than with the general Australian Twittersphere — particularly, he says, with global evangelical, teen and tween culture.
Curiously two isolated clusters representing two relatively isolated cities have themes — PR and marketing for Perth, and tourism, food and wine for Adelaide. Make of that what you will.
The new data involving hashtag usage is where the real fun begins.
Political discussions tagged #auspol are often quite polarised and, unsurprisingly, are driven by a small number of particularly active participants. Or so I’m told. I filter them out myself, tedious one-eyed partisanship that it is.
But Bruns has identified the most active on #auspol as being a “little cluster” of hardline conservatives — identified by their anti-leftist self-descriptions — who in turn are connected more to conservatives, and journalists and commentators identified as conservative, than to the main nexus of political news and opinion.
By contrast, the #wikileaks and #egypt hashtags are driven more from the progressive end of politics; #ausvotes is driven by people across the political spectrum; and #qldfloods and #masterchef are used by people regardless of their interest in politics or, indeed, pretty much anything else.
Bruns’ team has also mapped how people tweet and retweet links to media content.
“The Australian has pretty good purchase right across the map, with an obvious focus on the news and current affairs area, actually a little bit more in the progressive group than necessarily around the conservatives, although then again you’ve got the more hardline conservative group there particularly active and particularly high linkers to content in The Australian,” he said.
“By comparison there’s a bit more activity in the ABC around … the more cultural area, the Triple J area of course, so it’s got a broader range of course of offerings than The Australian has as a pure news site.”