Social media and society

Australian Twitter News Index: Anything But the Election

I’m still struggling to return our Australian Twitter News Index to a weekly schedule – so for now, I’m afraid it remains condemned to a fortnightly existence. Hopefully this will be able to change in coming weeks. This update, then, covers weeks 8 and 9 of 2013, which saw a range of significant events in Australian and world politics – from the continuing build-up towards the federal election in September (and the associated opinion polls and leadership rumblings) to the first papal retirement in 600 years. Except that Twitter users didn’t really seem to care that much.

ATNIX Weeks 8-9/2013: 18 Feb. to 3 Mar. 2013

Before we turn to the day-to-day fluctuations in the index: now that we’re two months into 2013, let us take a first look at the weekly volume of tweets sharing links to the leading sites. This reveals the overall trends in the distribution of Twitter users’ attention across the sites, and points to a remarkable performance especially by the ABC’s news sections:

ATNIX Weeks 8-9/2013: News Sites.

ABC News and the Sydney Morning Herald have traditionally been quite closely matched in their prominence in the Australian Twittersphere, as our ATNIX round-up for the second half of 2012 has documented – so the substantial gap which the ABC has opened up over the past five weeks is unusual. For now, its lead peaked in week 8, when it received some 9,000 tweets more than the SMH; we’ll see later in this update whether there are any obvious reasons for this very strong performance. The spike in ABC links in week 8 is also largely responsible for the very substantial total volume of links to news and opinion sites being shared that week: we captured some 175,000 such tweets, compared to just over 151,000 in week 9.

The patterns for opinion and commentary sites and sections are somewhat more mixed, as usual – here, the Fairfax flagships retain their customary leadership, but The Conversation has now also joined the battle for second place, and manages to pull ahead of The Age’s opinion section at least in week 8. From here, a substantial gap of some 2,000 tweets per week has opened to the remaining field.

ATNIX Weeks 8-9/2013: Opinion Sites.

In fact, week 8 was also a strong week for opinion sharing: we captured nearly 28,000 such tweets that week, compared with just under 23,000 tweets in weeks 7 and 9. That’s still somewhat below the totals for weeks 3 and 4, however.

The day-to-day link sharing patterns shed some further light on exactly what caused these fluctuations. We’ll start again with the links to news sites, which further document ABC News’ towering performance during the past two weeks:

ATNIX Weeks 8-9/2013: News Sites.

What emerges from a closer look at these patterns is not entirely unexpected. We’ve seen in the past that many of the largest spikes in the sharing of links to Australian news sites emerge when a domestic news story gains the attention of an international audience – this has happened frequently with stories relating to Julian Assange (which are distributed widely by the supporters of WikiLeaks), and occasionally with celebrity stories and other virally distributed content (such as Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech in parliament). During week 8, then, the most tweeted ABC News story by some margin related to news about the apparent halt to this year’s whale hunt by Japanese ships (2,400 tweets, and more for additional follow-up articles) – a piece which would have been shared widely by supporters of Sea Shepherd and other anti-whaling organisations.

Interestingly, a handful of science and technology pieces also performed well for the ABC that week – a piece about the differences between the National Broadband Network and the alternative options outlined by the federal opposition was always likely to be widely shared on Twitter (350 tweets), but an article about the evolution of tooth decay bacteria in humans over the millennia was a somewhat more unlikely winner, receiving more than 250 tweets and placing fifth for the week. But as the numbers for these individual articles also demonstrate, they alone did not receive enough tweets to create the substantial gap which opened up between ABC News and SMH in week 8 – there’s a much larger number of articles receiving between 100 and 200 tweets per day that added up to put the ABC in top spot.

Quite why this should be the case I am really not sure – there is no sign of major Twitter spam campaigns that use ABC links to make their tweets look more legitimate, nor are there any abnormally active users who would artificially boost the ABC’s numbers; even its own accounts contribute only a few hundred tweets to the weekly total through their news update activities. We’ll have to track this a little longer to see if any obvious explanations emerge.

The same is true for week 9 as well. ABC News performs well above the SMH from Monday to Wednesday, but there is no one widely shared story which explains this lead. There is a piece about the amusing gaffe over the anti-drink driving slogan on New South Wales police vans which receives some 420 tweets during those days, and articles about the Coalition’s mixed messages about carbon pricing compensation and the lack of funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research facility which are mentioned in some 320 and 220 tweets, respectively, but even a 7.30 report about the latest clashes between Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers only just gains some 200 tweets during these days. There’s no obvious reason why ABC News should be the subject of some 2,000 more tweets than the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 February, for example.

Daily patterns for the opinion and commentary sites and sections are comparatively easier to explain, by contrast; here, due not least also to the generally lower volume of tweeting activity, single articles often make the difference between peaks and troughs. Over the past few weeks, it’s The Conversation and the Fairfax papers which particularly stand out:

ATNIX Weeks 8-9/2013: Opinion Sites.

The Conversation, in fact, records a very strong spike on 18 February: that Monday, John Keane’s article on his lunch and dinner with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London is the latest in a long line of WikiLeaks-related pieces from Australian sites to be distributed widely through the site’s international network of supporters, gaining some 600 tweets. On Wednesday, on the other hand, an article by The Age’s editor-at-large which explains why Kevin Rudd is “Labor’s last chance” for the election puts that publication in top spot (180 tweets). The following week, the long-term pecking order is restored, however – not least also with the help of the 600 tweets received on Thursday by artist Ben Quilty’s article in the SMH on the need to rethink the HECS-exempt status of the Australian Institute of Sports, and the 440 tweets the same article gained for The Age.

Remarkably, then, still no significant presence during these weeks for the column miles already devoted to covering the fake election campaign which will be with us until September, or to the leadership rumblings in the ALP (except for the one Age article). Has the coverage to date not been worth sharing, or are the electorate simply not that interested in the latest tealeaf readings yet?

Standard background information: this analysis 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 (,, are filtered to exclude irrelevant sections of those sites (e.g., For our analysis of ‘opinion’ link sharing, we include only those sub-sections of mainstream sites which contain opinion and commentary (e.g., articles on which include ‘/opinion’ in the URL), and compare them with dedicated opinion and commentary sites.

See the posts tagged ‘ATNIX’ at Mapping Online Publics for a full collection of previous results.