Social media and society

Social media and society

Turnbull’s Trump parody was only a brief Twitter hit in June

Domestic politics was front and centre on Twitter in June. AAP/Dan Hinbrechts

Secretly recorded video of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull impersonating Donald Trump was a brief Twitter hit in June. But the month was dominated by Australian federal politics and other domestic issues, as Twitter users largely ignored news from Syria, North Korea and other trouble spots.

Beyond Turnbull’s impersonation, charges against George Pell and the Australian Census were the two major stories highlighted by the Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX) in June. ATNIX tracks the sharing of articles from Australian news and opinion sites on Twitter.

Nine News broke the story of Malcolm Turnbull’s Trump impersonation and saw the biggest increase in Twitter engagement. Nine’s post of the leaked video racked up more than 11,000 tweets over June 15 and 16 alone. This was significantly higher than Nine’s long-term average of 1,000 to 1,500 tweets per day, which it quickly returned to.

This suggests that isolated news scoops do not change well-established patterns of audience attention for more than a few days.

Australian Twitter News Index, June 2017. Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre, Author provided
Australian Twitter News Index, June 2017. Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre, Author provided

Other widely shared stories during June included ABC News’ exposé on food made from dog meat being sold to unsuspecting tourists in Bali (3,100 tweets), its reports of charges laid against Cardinal George Pell over historic sex offences (2,000 tweets), and its inventive visualisation of the results of the 2016 Australian Census (1,900 tweets).

The charges against George Pell also received a strong response at the Sydney Morning Herald (3,300 tweets). An open letter by Martina Navratilova accusing Margaret Court of homophobia also generated considerable interest (1,900 tweets), as did a report on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s suspected links with Chinese political donors (1,700 tweets).

Hitwise data on the total number of visits to leading Australian news and opinion sites reveals a similar picture. Nine News received a brief boost from the leaked video of Malcolm Turnbull’s Trump impersonation. Despite this, ABC News managed to pull ahead of Nine to become the third most visited Australian news sites in the month.

Total visits to selected Australian news and opinion sites, June 2017. Data courtesy of Hitwise, a division of Connexity., Author provided
AHNIX June. Data courtesy of Hitwise, a division of Connexity., Author provided

The strong showing for the national broadcaster reflects a long-term trend. In recent years, total site visits to The Age and the Daily Mail have declined slightly, while Nine News has stagnated and ABC News has grown. If the trend continues, ABC News will permanently establish its position as the third most visited Australian news site.

It is remarkable that Australian Twitter was once again caught up in domestic issues – in spite of the considerable global instability caused by Brexit, Trump, the concerns over Syria and North Korea, and various other trouble spots. This indicates, at least in part, that we have now incorporated these daily uncertainties into our everyday lives: we no longer feel the need to share news stories about them on a daily basis.

It also means that those of us who continue to monitor these situations closely are more likely to consume and share news from closer to the source: for instance, by sharing news from British or American outlets rather than waiting for Australian media to recapitulate the latest developments.


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).

The Conversation is a non-profit + your donation is tax deductible. Help knowledge-based, ethical journalism today.