Social media and society

Australian Twitter News Index: Sales vs. Abbott, Data Retention, American Idol

I’m very pleased to say that we’ve now converted the Australian Twitter News Index into a regular column on The Conversation. To get us started, here are the past few weeks’ worth of ATNIX updates now.

ATNIX Week 34: 20-26 Aug. 2012

In terms of volume, week 34 almost reaches the heady heights of the previous one: the news sites alone surpassed the 160,000 tweets mark, only some 650 tweets below the previous week’s mark. There are few surprises at the top of the leaderboard; The Age and swap places again, after its Assange coverage briefly pushed The Age into third spot last week, but there’s only a few hundred tweets in it.

ATNIX 34/2012: News Sites.

For the opinion and commentary sites and sections, the story is a little more interesting: with over 24,000 tweets sharing links to these sites, they’re surpassing even last week’s mark, and the field is led by an impressive performance by the Sydney Morning Herald, which receives more than a quarter of all links to Australian opinion sites shared on Twitter this week. As last week’s Assange boost washes out of the system, by contrast, The Age’s opinion pages fall back from second to fourth. In a somewhat surprising second place (considering its partial paywalling) is Crikey, which surpasses even The Conversation (which is usually our second site). And that’s not because of a bad week for The Conversation (it even gains a handful of links on last week), but because Crikey adds almost 1,000 tweets this week – we’ll see below what stories were responsible for this performance.

ATNIX 34/2012: Opinion Sites.

But first, to the daily patterns for news. Here, the Sydney Morning Herald is back to its usual weekly pattern, which sees Monday as its best day, and a smaller spike towards the end of the working week. But (similar to last week), it’s ABC News which leads the way on Wednesday and Thursday – and responsible for this peak, for once, is not an Australian-produced story reaching international audiences, but very much a domestic one: the video and transcript of Leigh Sales’s confrontational interview with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on the ABC’s 7.30 programme was shared almost 2,000 times, with a separate link (to the video only) receiving another 400+ tweets.

ATNIX 34/2012: News Sites.

This strikes me as one of those times when a media moment manages to cut through, even to people who hadn’t watched the interview live on the show, and by way of sharing through social media ends up reaching a much broader audience than it would otherwise have done. Consider the potential reach of each of those 2,400 tweets (the followers of the tweeting user, and the followers of any hashtag used in the tweet), and add similar patterns unfolding on Facebook, and you end up with a substantial number of users who’d have seen that video or read the transcript. (Whether it changes anyone’s opinion of Tony Abbott – or of Leigh Sales – is another question, of course.)

Meanwhile, there’s also a bump in the number of tweets linking to, around 21 August – that one is driven mainly by an interview with visiting American Idol judge and pop star Adam Lambert, which received some 400 links that day (more than 100 of these directly to one or another of the photos of Lambert, incidentally). Somewhat more strangely, on 20-22 Aug., there were also some 350 tweets linking directly to this photo of a protest poster in the US – which I think is from the pro-Assange protests in London. Where ABC News’ bump is driven by domestic issues, then, for it looks like we’re seeing international drivers once again, much like last week.

The opinion and commentary sites and sections experienced some very significant spikes in activity again, too. First, on 22 August the Sydney Morning Herald opinion section received the single most tweets linking to any one opinion site that we’ve seen since we started ATNIX – but it’s another one of those National Times-cobranded pieces which ostensibly sit in the SMH’s opinion section but actually read more like a straightforward news report: in this case, about the government’s highly problematic new laws enabling federal authorities to retain Australians’ Internet communications data. Whether we call it ‘opinion’ or not, it received more than 1,000 shares on the Wednesday alone – unsurprisingly, Australian Twitter users reacted strongly to laws which seek to govern their use of Internet technology.

ATNIX 34/2012: Opinion Sites.

The other substantial spike is responsible for the unusually strong performance by Crikey which we’ve already seen in the weekly figures. Here, we return to the 7.30 interview between Abbott and Sales – or rather, cartoonist First Dog on the Moon’s take on the interview, which (notably, posted outside Crikey’s paywall) received some 350 shares. Adding to these figures, another 160 tweets referenced Bernard Keane’s (similarly non-paywalled) commentary on the passing of the ‘Cybercrime’ data retention bill, and the lack of debate (in parliament or in the media) about the introduction of these significant new surveillance powers and their impact on citizens’ privacy.

And there it is – for once, a strong week driven mainly by domestic issues rather than viral stories of international relevance.

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. For technical reasons, it does not contain ‘button’ retweets, but manual retweets (“RT @user …”) are included. 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.

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

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