Social media and society

Social media and society

ATNIX: Australian Twitter News Index, August 2015

Australian public affairs have continued to be turbulent during August 2015 (to say nothing of September, which will be covered in our next update), and the arrival of Huffington Post Australia as the latest overseas entrant has had the potential to disrupt the media market, too. Time then to see how the Australian Twitter News Index for August reflects public attention to the news during this month.

First things first: Huffington Post Australia itself has so far failed to set the world on fire. After a brief opening flurry in the days following its launch on 19 August, the site has received comparatively few tweeted links per day, lagging behind established local entries such as The New Daily or Independent Australia. That said, the total figure of some 3,300 tweets during August which is indicated in the graph below should not be compared to the rest of the competition just yet, since HuffPo only launched mid-month.

If HuffPo take-up on Twitter in Australia has been limited to date, though, my sense is that this may have some thing to do with the comparatively limited online promotion work the site has done itself so far. Unlike other recent entry Buzzfeed Australia, whose Political Editor Mark Di Stefano has quickly become a fixture in the Australian Twittersphere – his Twitter activity played an important role in alerting users to the recent #BorderFarce controversy, for instance – HuffPo editors and contributors seem to have been much less active in promoting their work on Twitter to date.

(Sadly, of course, the lack of a distinct Australian domain name for Buzzfeed Australia means that we have been unable to track tweets linking to the site as part of ATNIX, so this analysis remains anecdotal.)

In this it should be remembered that Buzzfeed has been operating in Australia since early 2014, however, and has had the time to develop its Australian audience – by contrast, with the paint still wet on the Huffington Post Australia logo, the site’s editors may have chosen to wait with any serious online promotion until operations are fully bedded down. As we will see from Experian Marketing Services’ Hitwise data below, total visits to Huffington Post Australia are certainly already looking reasonable: more Australian users have visited Huffington Post Australia in its first weeks of operation than went to Crikey during the entirety of August.

Well ahead of these minor players, ABC News has had another strong month, with its stories shared in over 300,000 tweets during August. And the most widely shared ABC News stories this month provide a handy indication of what has exercised Australian political observers this month: from Bronwyn Bishop’s resignation as Speaker at the start of August (1,100 shares) to Border Force’s controversial announcement of Operation Fortitude (1,200 shares) and its swift cancellation following public outrage (1,700 shares), this has been a month of public controversies.

Australian Twitter News Index, August 2015. Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

Further, the ABC’s Factcheck unit published a couple of particularly widely shared articles – on Joe Hockey’s claim that the abolition of the carbon tax has lowered electricity prices by $550 (verdict: wrong; 1,500 shares) and a union claim that the China Free Trade Agreement threatens Australian jobs (verdict: true; 1,600 shares) –, and a special feature which tested what personal information could be extracted from reporter Will Ockenden’s telecommunications metadata was unsurprisingly popular with the tech-affine Australian Twitter community (1,700 shares).

The most shared ABC article this month, however, was an opinion piece in The Drum that reflected on the still unresolved implications from the findings to date of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse, focussing especially on abuses committed by Catholic clergy in Ballarat (1,900 shares). Entirely absent from the top ten ABC stories, on the other hand, is any coverage of the controversy surrounding Trade Union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon (which broke on 13 August and was at least temporarily resolved on 31 August by Heydon’s decision not to stand down as Commissioner), as are any articles relating to Bill Shorten’s performance as opposition leader. The Twittersphere’s eyes, it seems, are trained firmly on the federal government.

Similar patterns can be observed for the most shared Sydney Morning Herald stories in August: here, too, the implications of data retention rank highly as an opinion piece by Quentin Dempster receives more than 1,500 shares, but we also do see more substantial interest in the Dyson Heydon affair. This is not surprising since SMH political journalist Latika Bourke first broke the story, receiving some 1,300 shares in the process); a follow-up report gained another 1,000 shares.

But at the SMH, public attention on a number of opinion pieces criticising the Abbott government is also strong: in addition to Dempster’s article, pieces attacking new initiatives to limit environmental “lawfare” (1,400 shares), highlighting the political implications of the “Border Farce” fiasco (900 shares), and raising questions over Abbott’s own future as PM (800 shares) appeared amongst the top ten this month. Meanwhile, again, as all eyes are on a federal government apparently in permanent crisis mode, the opposition leader appears to enjoy a relatively free ride.

It will be interesting to see how this week’s change of Prime Ministers affects these trends.

Finally, our Experian data on total visits by Australian Internet users to these sites continue point to a fairly stable situation with few surprises. Buzzfeed Australia is now firmly entrenched in the top ten news sites, whatever some of the more entrenched players in the news industry may think about its irreverent attitude and unconventional story styles; Huffington Post Australia has slotted in at a considerably lower spot in the rankings, but again it must be remembered that the site has only operated since 19 August, and would therefore be expected to rank more highly once we have a full month of visits data to work with.

Total visits to selected Australian news and opinion sites, August 2015. Data courtesy of Experian Marketing Services' Hitwise.

In September, then, we might expect its visitor numbers to come closer to rival competitors like The Conversation and The New Daily, which continue to lead our opinion sites category; The Conversation, in fact, might constitute a particularly valid benchmark, since it has grown from its Australian origins to an international platform and can therefore offer a similarly wide selection of stories as new international entrant Huffington Post. More next month, then!

Standard background information: ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). Data on Australian Internet users’ news browsing patterns are provided courtesy of Experian Marketing Services Australia. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.