Social media and society

Australian Twitter News Index: The Calm before the Storm?

This week’s ATNIX arrives with some delay, due to other work commitments, to the point that it’s almost time already to begin work on ATNIX 46/2012. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in and examine the Twitter link sharing trends for the week that was.

ATNIX Week 45: 5-11 Nov. 2012

Overall news sharing figures for week 45/2012 are essentially unchanged from the previous week: we recorded just under 150,000 tweets which reference our basket of Australian news sites – that’s just 800 more than last week. Those links are distributed across the news sites as follows:

ATNIX 45/2012: News Sites.

This week, then, the Sydney Morning Herald pulls ahead again of the news sections of the ABC Website, into its accustomed first place – but only just: the difference in the number of tweets referencing either site remains below 2,000. also continues its recent ascendance, taking third place – and I’m happy to report that the hair growth spammer which had included links in its tweets in order to make them appear more authentic appears to have moved on now; this week, I’ve had to remove only a few hundred such tweets from our dataset, and these were concentrated in the first days of the week. Otherwise, the improvement in’s positioning on the leaderboard appears to be genuine, unless those spammers have become a whole lot more sophisticated since ATNIX started.

The sharing of links to opinion and commentary sites and sections, on the other hand, is down somewhat from week 44/2012: at just under 20,000 tweets, we recorded some 2,000 fewer links to such sites being shared this week. The distribution of these links across our sites remains generally stable, however: the order and relative placing of the five leading sites is the same this week as it was last time around. In the minor places, New Matilda and The Punch recorded unusually strong weeks, however – but it must be noted that both remained below 1,000 shares nonetheless.

ATNIX 45/2012: Opinion Sites.

The comparatively average nature of week 45 becomes obvious also from the daily patterns. As they do so often, ABC News and Sydney Morning Herald shadow each other closely across the week, with a substantial advantage for the SMH only emerging over the weekend; the longer-term growth in shares over the past seven weeks, and its rise above The Age, also becomes apparent from this graph.

ATNIX 45/2012: News Sites.

Monday and Friday stand out as the key news days on Twitter this week; in fact, Friday sees the number of tweets linking to the ABC News and SMH sites surpass the 5,000 mark for the first time in two weeks. Of these, the Monday remained a general news day for the most part: user attention and engagement is distributed across a wide range of articles, even if at the ABC, its Four Corners exposé of inhumane livestock treatment in Pakistan (broadcast on Monday night) and an accompanying news article eventually emerge as frontrunners, with some 350 links in total pointing to both articles.

Friday, by contrast, sees a mixture of two major stories: the first is the federal government’s abandonment of its euphemistically named ‘Cleanfeed’ Internet filter, which is the subject of the Sydney Morning Herald’s two leading stories that cumulatively account for just under 500 tweets (a related story on the ABC News site receives some 180 tweets). But it is the second story which I suspect will remain with us through several further editions of ATNIX: the allegations about a systemic cover-up of sexual abuse in the Australian Catholic church which were aired by NSW police officer turned whistleblower Peter Fox in a Lateline interview on Thursday 9 Nov. and have now led to the establishment of a Royal Commission into institutional sexual abuse.

The Lateline interview with Fox itself received more than 100 tweets on the Friday, and a follow-up article on the ABC News site, which outlines the case, leads the day with some 330 links. Several other articles (on the calls for a Royal Commission, and pressure on the Catholic church to release its internal files) add further to the total. At the Sydney Morning Herald, it is this follow-on coverage which is most widely shared: an article on the NSW Premier’s decision to order an inquiry into the sex abuse claims receives some 190 shares, one on the calls for Catholic Cardinal George Pell to quit his post (whose URL now redirects to the article about the inquiry, suggesting that the former is an expanded update of the latter), is shared some 130 times, while a piece on federal shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s and Employment Minister Bill Shorten’s opposition to a Royal Commission adds another 110 links (the same piece also contains a reader poll which by now indicates a 94% vote in favour of the Commission, incidentally).

Comparatively absent from this picture, on the other hand, is Tuesday’s U.S. Presidential election, which was decided during Wednesday 7 Nov. Australian time. That day, the ABC News live blog from the election receives some 420 tweets, while its interactive election map is shared some 200 times and 190 tweets point to the ABC News 24 livestream – but notably, this activity does not manifest in any tweeting spike in the overall weekly timeline. If Australian users did discuss the election on Twitter, they did so without referring to Australian news sites to any extraordinary degree.

ATNIX 45/2012: Opinion Sites.

It’s a somewhat different story for the opinion and commentary sites and sections, however: the SMH election live blog (published in the site’s ‘opinion’ section) receives some 160-odd tweets on Wednesday, and is thereby largely responsible for that day’s spike in shares; Thursday’s spike, on the other hand, is driven entirely by the 250 tweets which columnist Paul Sheehan’s strange and somewhat creepy paean to Seven’s Melbourne Cup TV host Francesca Cumani received. (There’s something of a pattern emerging here: several others of Sheehan’s recent articles – especially his response to Julia Gillard’s attack on Tony Abbott for misogyny – have also generated significant puzzlement on Twitter, as we’ve noted before.)

Otherwise, the opinion sharing patterns are more mixed, and distributed across a range of minor stories which do not result in any notable spikes in activity. We may well see ATNIX depart from the holding pattern of the past two weeks as we examine week 46/2012, during which the controversy about sex abuse in church institutions erupts in full, and a Royal Commission is announced.

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.

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