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A New Map of the Australian Twittersphere

Posted In News, Projects - By On Monday, January 8th, 2018 With 0 Comments

Researchers from the QUT Digital Media Research Centre have released a new, detailed analysis of the structure of the Australian Twittersphere. Covering some 3.72 million Australian Twitter accounts, the 167 million follower/followee connections between them, and the 118 million tweets posted by these accounts during the first quarter of 2017, a new article by Axel Bruns, Brenda Moon, Felix Münch, and Troy Sadkowsky, released in December 2017 in the open-access journal Social Media + Society, maps the structure of the best-connected core of the Australian Twittersphere network:

The Australian Twittersphere in 2016: Mapping the Follower/Followee Network

Twitter is now a key platform for public communication between a diverse range of participants, but the overall shape of the communication network it provides remains largely unknown. This article provides a detailed overview of the network structure of the Australian Twittersphere and identifies the thematic drivers of the key clusters within the network. We identify some 3.72 million Australian Twitter accounts and map the follower/followee connections between the 255,000 most connected accounts; we utilize community detection algorithms to identify the major clusters within this network and examine their account populations to identify their constitutive themes; we examine account creation dates and reconstruct a timeline for the Twitter adoption process among different communities; and we examine lifetime and recent tweeting patterns to determine the historically and currently most active clusters in the network. In combination, this offers the first rigorous and comprehensive study of the network structure of an entire national Twittersphere.

A summary of some of the study’s key findings was published in The Conversation in May 2017. Meanwhile, a paper by Axel Bruns at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff in September 2017 built on this new Twittersphere map to test for the existence of echo chambers and filter bubbles in Australian Twitter – and found little evidence to support the thesis:

Echo Chamber? What Echo Chamber? Reviewing the Evidence

The success of political movements that appear to be immune to any factual evidence that contradicts their claims – from the Brexiteers to the ‘alt-right’, neo-fascist groups supporting Donald Trump – has reinvigorated claims that social media spaces constitute so-called ‘filter bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’. But while such claims may appear intuitively true to politicians and journalists – who have themselves been accused of living in filter bubbles –, the evidence that ordinary users experience their everyday social media environments as echo chambers is far more limited.

For instance, a 2016 Pew Center study has shown that only 23% of U.S. users on Facebook and 17% on Twitter now say with confidence that most of their contacts’ views are similar to their own. 20% have changed their minds about a political or social issue because of interactions on social media. Similarly, large-scale studies of follower and interaction networks on Twitter show that national Twitterspheres are often thoroughly interconnected and facilitate the flow of information across boundaries of personal ideology and interest, except for a few especially hardcore partisan communities.

Building on new, comprehensive data from a project that maps and tracks interactions between 4 million accounts in the Australian Twittersphere, this paper explores in detail the evidence for the existence of echo chambers in that country. It thereby moves the present debate beyond a merely anecdotal footing, and offers a more reliable assessment of the ‘echo chamber’ threat.

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