Anger is all the rage on Twitter when it’s cold outside (and on Mondays)



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Heather R. Stevens, Macquarie University; Ivan Charles Hanigan, University of Sydney; Paul Beggs, Macquarie University, and Petra Graham, Macquarie University

The link between hot weather and aggressive crime is well established. But can the same be said for online aggression, such as angry tweets? And is online anger a predictor of assaults?

Our study just published suggests the answer is a clear “no”. We found angry tweet counts actually increased in cooler weather. And as daily maximum temperatures rose, angry tweet counts decreased.

We also found the incidence of angry tweets is highest on Mondays, and perhaps unsurprisingly, angry Twitter posts are most prevalent after big news events such as a leadership spill.

This is the first study to compare patterns of assault and social media anger with temperature. Given anger spreads through online communities faster than any other emotion, the findings have broad implications – especially under climate change.

A caricature of US President Donald Trump, who’s been known to fire off an angry tweet.
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Algorithms are watching you

Of Australia’s 24.6 million people, 18 million, or 73%, are active social media users. Some 4.7 million Australians, or 19%, use Twitter. This widespread social media use provides researchers with valuable opportunities to gather information.

When you publicly post, comment or even upload a selfie, an algorithm can scan it to estimate your mood (positive or negative) or your emotion (such as anger, joy, fear or surprise).

This information can be linked with the date, time of day, location or even your age and sex, to determine the “mood” of a city or country in near real time.

Our study involved 74.2 million English-language Twitter posts – or tweets – from 2015 to 2017 in New South Wales.

We analysed them using the publicly available We Feel tool, developed by the CSIRO and the Black Dog Institute, to see if social media can accurately map our emotions.

Some 2.87 million tweets (or 3.87%) contained words or phrases considered angry, such as “vicious”, “hated”, “irritated”, “disgusted” and the very popular “f*cked”.

Hot-headed when it’s cold outside

On average, the number of angry tweets were highest when the temperature was below 15℃, and lowest in warm temperatures (25-30℃).

The number of angry tweets slightly increased again in very high temperatures (above 35℃), although with fewer days in that range there was less certainty about the trend.

On the ten days with the highest daily maximum temperatures, the average angry tweet count was 2,482 per day. Of the ten coldest days, the average angry tweet count was higher at 3,354 per day.




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The pattern of angry tweets was opposite to that of physical assaults, which are more prevalent in hotter weather – with some evidence of a decline in extreme heat.

So why the opposite patterns? We propose two possible explanations.

First, hot and cold weather triggers a physiological response in humans. Temperature affects our heart rate, the amount of oxygen to our brain, hormone regulation (including testosterone) and our ability to sleep. In some people, this in turn affects physical aggression levels.

Hot weather means more socialising, and potentially less time for tweeting.
Shutterstock

Second, weather triggers changes to our routine. Research suggests aggressive crimes increase because warmer weather encourages behaviour that fosters assaults. This includes more time outdoors, increased socialising and drinking alcohol.

Those same factors – time outdoors and more socialising – may reduce the opportunity or motivation to tweet. And the effects of alcohol (such as reduced mental clarity and physical precicion) make composing a tweet harder, and therefore less likely.

This theory is supported by our finding that both angry tweet counts, as well as overall tweet counts, were lowest on weekends, holidays and the hottest days,




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It’s possible that as people vent their frustrations online, they feel better and are then less inclined to commit an assault. However, this theory isn’t well supported.

The relationship is more likely due to the vastly different demographics of Twitter users and assault offenders.

Assault offenders are most likely to be young men from low socio-economic backgrounds. In contrast, about half of Twitter users are female, and they’re more likely to be middle-aged and in a higher income bracket compared with other social media users.

Our study did not consider why these two groups differ in response to temperature. However, we are currently researching how age, sex and other social and demographic factors influence the relationships between temperature and aggression.

Twitter users are more likely to be middle aged.
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The Monday blues

Our study primarily set out to see whether temperatures and angry tweet counts were related. But we also uncovered other interesting trends.

Average angry tweet counts were highest on a Monday (2,759 per day) and lowest on weekends (Saturdays, 2,373; Sundays, 2,499). This supports research that found an online mood slump on weekdays.

We determined that major news events correlated with the ten days where the angry tweet count was highest. These events included:

  • the federal leadership spill in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as prime minister

  • a severe storm front in NSW in 2015, then a major cold front a few months later

  • two mass shootings in the United States: Orlando in 2016 and Las Vegas in 2017

  • sporting events including the Cricket World Cup in 2015.

Days with high angry tweet counts correlated with major news events.
Shutterstock

Twitter in a warming world

Our study was limited in that Twitter users are not necessarily representative of the broader population. For example, Twitter is a preferred medium for politicians, academics and journalists. These users may express different emotions, or less emotion, in their posts than other social media users.

However, the influence of temperature on social media anger has broad implications. Of all the emotions, anger spreads through online communities the fastest. So temperature changes and corresponding social media anger can affect the wider population.

We hope our research helps health and justice services develop more targeted measures based on temperature.

And with climate change likely to affect assault rates and mood, more research in this field is needed.




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Nine things you love that are being wrecked by climate change


The Conversation


Heather R. Stevens, Doctoral student in Environmental Sciences, Macquarie University; Ivan Charles Hanigan, Data Scientist (Epidemiology), University of Sydney; Paul Beggs, Associate Professor and Environmental Health Scientist, Macquarie University, and Petra Graham, Senior Research Fellow, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump’s Twitter tantrum may wreck the internet


Michael Douglas, University of Western Australia

US President Donald Trump, who tweeted more than 11,000 times in the first two years of his presidency, is very upset with Twitter.

Earlier this week Trump tweeted complaints about mail-in ballots, alleging voter fraud – a familiar Trump falsehood. Twitter attached a label to two of his tweets with links to sources that fact–checked the tweets, showing Trump’s claims were unsubstantiated.

Trump retaliated with the power of the presidency. On May 28 he made an “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship”. The order focuses on an important piece of legislation: section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996.




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What is section 230?

Section 230 has been described as “the bedrock of the internet”.

It affects companies that host content on the internet. It provides in part:

(2) Civil liability. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of

(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or

(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).

This means that, generally, the companies behind Google, Facebook, Twitter and other “internet intermediaries” are not liable for the content on their platforms.

For example, if something defamatory is written by a Twitter user, the company Twitter Inc will enjoy a shield from liability in the United States even if the author does not.




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Trump’s executive order

Within the US legal system, an executive order is a “signed, written, and published directive from the President of the United States that manages operations of the federal government”. It is not legislation. Under the Constitution of the United States, Congress – the equivalent of our Parliament – has the power to make legislation.

Trump’s executive order claims to protect free speech by narrowing the protection section 230 provides for social media companies.

The text of the order includes the following:

It is the policy of the United States that such a provider [who does not act in “good faith”, but stifles viewpoints with which they disagree] should properly lose the limited liability shield of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider …

To advance [this] policy … all executive departments and agencies should ensure that their application of section 230 (c) properly reflects the narrow purpose of the section and take all appropriate actions in this regard.

The order attempts to do a lot of other things too. For example, it calls for the creation of new regulations concerning section 230, and what “taken in good faith” means.

The reaction

Trump’s action has some support. Republican senator Marco Rubio said if social media companies “have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher, then they should no longer be shielded from liability and treated as publishers under the law”.

Critics argue the order threatens, rather than protects, freedom of speech, thus threatening the internet itself.

The status of this order within the American legal system is an issue for American constitutional lawyers. Experts were quick to suggest the order is unconstitutional; it seems contrary to the separation of powers enshrined in the US Constitution (which partly inspired Australia’s Constitution).

Harvard Law School constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe has described the order as “totally absurd and legally illiterate”.

That may be so, but the constitutionality of the order is an issue for the US judiciary. Many judges in the United States were appointed by Trump or his ideological allies.

Even if the order is legally illiterate, it should not be assumed it will lack force.

What this means for Australia

Section 230 is part of US law. It is not in force in Australia. But its effects are felt around the globe.

Social media companies who would otherwise feel safe under section 230 may be more likely to remove content when threatened with legal action.

The order might cause these companies to change their internal policies and practices. If that happens, policy changes could be implemented at a global level.

Compare, for example, what happened when the European Union introduced its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Countless companies in Australia had to ensure they were meeting European standards. US-based tech companies such as Facebook changed their privacy policies and disclosures globally – they did not want to meet two different privacy standards.

If section 230 is diminished, it could also impact Australian litigation by providing another target for people who are hurt by damaging content on social media, or accessible by internet search. When your neighbour defames you on Facebook, for example, you can sue both the neighbour and Facebook.

That was already the law in Australia. But with a toothless section 230, if you win, the judgement could be enforceable in the US.

Currently, suing certain American tech companies is not always a good idea. Even if you win, you may not be able to enforce the Australian judgement overseas. Tech companies are aware of this.

In 2017 litigation, Twitter did not even bother sending anyone to respond to litigation in the Supreme Court of New South Wales involving leaks of confidential information by tweet. When tech companies like Google have responded to Aussie litigation, it might be understood as a weird brand of corporate social responsibility: a way of keeping up appearances in an economy that makes them money.

A big day for ‘social media and fairness’?

When Trump made his order, he called it a big day for “fairness”. This is standard Trump fare. But it should not be dismissed outright.

As our own Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recognised last year in its Digital Platforms Inquiry, companies such as Twitter have enormous market power. Their exercise of that power does not always benefit society.

In recent years, social media has advanced the goals of terrorists and undermined democracy. So if social media companies can be held legally liable for some of what they cause, it may do some good.

As for Twitter, the inclusion of the fact check links was a good thing. It’s not like they deleted Trump’s tweets. Also, they’re a private company, and Trump is not compelled to use Twitter.

We should support Twitter’s recognition of its moral responsibility for the dissemination of information (and misinformation), while still leaving room for free speech.

Trump’s executive order is legally illiterate spite, but it should prompt us to consider how free we want the internet to be. And we should take that issue more seriously than we take Trump’s order.The Conversation

Michael Douglas, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meet ‘Sara’, ‘Sharon’ and ‘Mel’: why people spreading coronavirus anxiety on Twitter might actually be bots



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Ryan Ko, The University of Queensland

Recently Facebook, Reddit, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube committed to removing coronavirus-related misinformation from their platforms.

COVID-19 is being described as the first major pandemic of the social media age. In troubling times, social media helps distribute vital knowledge to the masses.
Unfortunately, this comes with myriad misinformation, much of which is spread through social media bots.

These fake accounts are common on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They have one goal: to spread fear and fake news.

We witnessed this in the 2016 United States presidential elections, with arson rumours in the bushfire crisis, and we’re seeing it again in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.




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Busy busting bots

This figure shows the top Twitter hashtags tweeted by bots over 24 hours.
Bot Sentinel

The exact scale of misinformation is difficult to measure. But its global presence can be felt through snapshots of Twitter bot involvement in COVID-19-related hashtag activity.

Bot Sentinel is a website that uses machine learning to identify potential Twitter bots, using a score and rating. According to the site, on March 26 bot accounts were responsible for 828 counts of #coronavirus, 544 counts of #COVID19 and 255 counts of #Coronavirus hashtags within 24 hours.

These hashtags respectively took the 1st, 3rd and 7th positions of all top-trolled Twitter hashtags.

It’s important to note the actual number of coronavirus-related bot tweets are likely much higher, as Bot Sentinel only recognises hashtag terms (such as #coronavirus), and wouldn’t pick up on “coronavirus”, “COVID19” or “Coronavirus”.

How are bots created?

Bots are usually managed by automated programs called bot “campaigns”, and these are controlled by human users. The actual process of creating such a campaign is relatively simple. There are several websites that teach people how to do this for “marketing” purposes. In the underground hacker economy on the dark web, such services are available for hire.

While it’s difficult to attribute bots to the humans controlling them, the purpose of bot campaigns is obvious: create social disorder by spreading misinformation. This can increase public anxiety, frustration and anger against authorities in certain situations.

A 2019 report published by researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute revealed a worrying trend in organised “social media manipulation by governments and political parties”. They reported:

Evidence of organised social media manipulation campaigns which have taken place in 70 countries, up from 48 countries in 2018 and 28 countries in 2017. In each country, there is at least one political party or government agency using social media to shape public attitudes domestically.

The modus operandi of bots

Typically, in the context of COVID-19 messages, bots would spread misinformation through two main techniques.

The first involves content creation, wherein bots start new posts with pictures that validate or mirror existing worldwide trends. Examples include pictures of shopping baskets filled with food, or hoarders emptying supermarket shelves. This generates anxiety and confirms what people are reading from other sources.

The second technique involves content augmentation. In this, bots latch onto official government feeds and news sites to sow discord. They retweet alarming tweets or add false comments and information in a bid to stoke fear and anger among users. It’s common to see bots talking about a “frustrating event”, or some social injustice faced by their “loved ones”.

The example below shows a Twitter post from Queensland Health’s official twitter page, followed by comments from accounts named “Sharon” and “Sara” which I have identified as bot accounts. Many real users reading Sara’s post would undoubtedly feel a sense of injustice on behalf of her “mum”.

The official tweet from Queensland Health and the bots’ responses.

While we can’t be 100% certain these are bot accounts, many factors point to this very likely being the case. Our ability to accurately identify bots will get better as machine learning algorithms in programs such as Bot Sentinel improve.

How to spot a bot

To learn the characteristics of a bot, let’s take a closer look Sharon’s and Sara’s accounts.

Screenshots of the accounts of ‘Sharon’ and ‘Sara’.

Both profiles lack human uniqueness, and display some telltale signs they may be bots:

  • they have no followers

  • they only recently joined Twitter

  • they have no last names, and have alphanumeric handles (such as Sara89629382)

  • they have only tweeted a few times

  • their posts have one theme: spreading alarmist comments

Bot ‘Sharon’ tried to rile others up through her tweets.

  • they mostly follow news sites, government authorities, or human users who are highly influential in a certain subject (in this case, virology and medicine).

My investigation into Sharon revealed the bot had attempted to exacerbate anger on a news article about the federal government’s coronavirus response.

The language: “Health can’t wait. Economic (sic) can” indicates a potentially non-native English speaker.

It seems Sharon was trying to stoke the flames of public anger by calling out “bad decisions”.

Looking through Sharon’s tweets, I discovered Sharon’s friend “Mel”, another bot with its own programmed agenda.

Bot ‘Mel’ spread false information about a possible delay in COVID-19 results, and retweeted hateful messages.

What was concerning was that a human user was engaging with Mel.

An account that seemed to belong to a real Twitter user began engaging with ‘Mel’.

You can help tackle misinformation

Currently, it’s simply too hard to attribute the true source of bot-driven misinformation campaigns. This can only be achieved with the full cooperation of social media companies.

The motives of a bot campaign can range from creating mischief to exercising geopolitical control. And some researchers still can’t agree on what exactly constitutes a “bot”.

But one thing is for sure: Australia needs to develop legislation and mechanisms to detect and stop these automated culprits. Organisations running legitimate social media campaigns should dedicate time to using a bot detection tool to weed out and report fake accounts.

And as a social media user in the age of the coronavirus, you can also help by reporting suspicious accounts. The last thing we need is malicious parties making an already worrying crisis worse.




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You can join the effort to expose Twitter bots


The Conversation


Ryan Ko, Chair Professor and Director of Cyber Security, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Twitter is banning political ads – but the real battle for democracy is with Facebook and Google



Twitter should get credit for its sensible move, but the microblogging company is tiny compared to Facebook and Google.
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Johan Lidberg, Monash University

Finally, some good news from the weirdo-sphere that is social media. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that, effective November 22, the microblogging platform will ban all political advertising – globally.

This is a momentous move by Twitter. It comes when Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg are under increasing pressure to deal with the amount of mis- and disinformation published via paid political advertising on Facebook.

Zuckerberg recently told a congress hearing Facebook had no plans of fact-checking political ads, and he did not answer a direct question from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if Facebook would take down political ads found to be untrue. Not a good look.

A few days after Zuckerberg’s train wreck appearance before the congress committee, Twitter announced its move.




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While Twitter should get credit for its sensible move, the microblogging company is tiny compared to Facebook and Google. So, until the two giants change, Twitter’s political ad ban will have little effect on elections around the globe.

A symptom of the democratic flu

It’s important to call out Google on political advertising. The company often manages to fly under the radar on this issue, hiding behind Facebook, which takes most of the flack.

The global social media platforms are injecting poison into liberal democratic systems around the globe. The misinformation and outright lies they allow to be published on their platforms is partly responsible for the increasingly bitter deep partisan divides between different sides of politics in most mature liberal democracies.

Add to this the micro targeting of voters illustrated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and a picture emerges of long-standing democratic systems under extreme stress. This is clearly exemplified by the UK parliament’s paralysis over Brexit and the canyon-deep political divides in the US.




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Banning political advertising only deals with a symptom of the democratic flu the platforms are causing. The root cause of the flu is the fact social media platforms are no longer only platforms – they are publishers.

Until they acknowledge this and agree to adhere to the legal and ethical frameworks connected with publishing, our democracies will not recover.

Not platforms, but publishers

Being a publisher is complex and much more expensive than being a platform. You have to hire editorial staff (unless you can create algorithms advanced enough to do editorial tasks) to fact-check, edit and curate content. And you have to become a good corporate citizen, accepting you have social responsibilities.

Convincing the platforms to accept their publisher role is the most long-term and sustainable way of dealing with the current toxic content issue.

Accepting publisher status could be a win-win, where the social media companies rebuild trust with the public and governments by acting ethcially and socially responsibly, stopping the poisoning of our democracies.

Mark Zuckerberg claims Facebook users being able to publish lies and misinformation is a free speech issue. It is not. Free speech is a privilege as well as a right and, like all privileges, it comes with responsibilities and limitations.

Examples of limitations are defamation laws and racial vilification and discrimination laws. And that’s just the legal framework. The strong ethical frame work that applies to publishing should be added to this.

Ownership concentration like never before

Then, there’s the global social media oligopoly issue. Never before in recorded human history have we seen any industry achieve a level of ownership concentration displayed by the social media companies. This is why this issue is so deeply serious. It’s global, it reaches billions and the money and profits involved is staggering.




Read more:
The fightback against Facebook is getting stronger


Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, got it absolutely right when he in his New York Times article pointed out the Federal Trade Commission – the US equivalent to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – got it wrong when they allowed Facebook to buy Instagram and WhatsApp.

Hughes wants Facebook broken up and points to the attempts from parts of US civil society moving in this direction. He writes:

This movement of public servants, scholars and activists deserves our support. Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can.

Yesterday, I posted on my Facebook timeline for the first time since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. I made the point that after Twitter’s announcement, the ball is now squarely in Facebook’s and Google’s courts.

For research and professional reasons, I cannot delete my Facebook account. But I can pledge to not be an active Facebook user until the company grows up and shoulders its social responsibility as an ethical publisher that enhances our democracies instead of undermining them.The Conversation

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

US House of Representatives condemns racist tweets in another heady week under President Donald Trump


Bruce Wolpe, University of Sydney

The past three days in US politics have been very difficult – and ugly.

President Donald Trump chose to exploit divisions inside the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives – generational and ideological – by attacking four new women members of Congress, denying their status as Americans and their legitimacy to serve in Congress. They are women of colour and, yes, they are from the far left of the Democratic Party. They have pushed hard against their leaders.

But Trump’s vicious, racist attacks on them have in fact solved the unity problem among the Democrats: they are today (re)united against Trump.




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You can draw a straight line from Trump’s birther attacks on Obama, to his “Mexican rapists” attack when he announced his run for the presidency, to his Muslim immigration ban, to equivocating over Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to sending troops to the US-Mexico border, to shutting down the government, to declaring a national emergency, to what he is doing today.

And his attacks on these lawmakers is based on a lie: three of the congresswomen were born in America. One is an immigrant, now a citizen, and as American as any citizen – just like Trump’s wife.

I worked in the House of Representatives for ten years. I learned early that you do not impugn – you have no right to impugn – the legitimacy of an elected member of Congress. Only the voters can do that.

Other presidents have been racist. Lyndon Johnson worked with the southern segregationists. Nixon railed in private against Jews. But none have spoken so openly, so publicly, without shame or remorse for these sentiments. So this is new territory.

And this is unlike Charlottesville, where there was vocal and visible pushback from Republicans on Trump giving an amber light to the Nazis in the streets. This is how much the political culture and norms have corroded over the past two years.

The Democrats chose to fight back by bringing a resolution condemning Trump for his remarks to the House of Representatives floor. Historians are still scurrying, but it appears this is unprecedented – the house has never in its history, which dates to the 1790s, voted to condemn a president’s remarks. (The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson over banking issues in 1834.)

The house passed the measure almost along party lines, with only four Republicans out of 197 – just 2% – voting for the resolution.

The concluding words in the resolution are these:

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimised fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it resolved, That the House of Representatives […] condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders”, and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

So Trump is secure within his party – and he believes he has nothing to fear from the testimony of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, next week before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Much attention will be paid to the examination of obstruction-of-justice issues when Mueller testifies. But the more meaningful discussion will occur in the assessment by the intelligence committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the persistence of a Russian threat in 2020.

Mueller ended his Garbo-like appearance before the media in May with these words:

The central allegation of our indictments [is] that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interference in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

The US presidential election remains vulnerable and it is not clear that sufficient safeguards are being put in place to protect the country’s democracy.

But it is the unresolved drama over impeachment that will colour Mueller’s appearance on Wednesday.




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Mueller concluded he could not indict a sitting president. However, he forensically detailed ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Mueller said that if he believed Trump had not committed a crime he would have said so and that, as a result, he could not “exonerate” Trump.

The key question that will be asked of Mueller is: “If the record you developed on obstruction of justice was applied to any individual who was not president of the United States, would you have sought an indictment?”

And on the answer to that question turns the issue of whether there will be critical mass among House of Representatives Democrats, and perhaps supported by the American people, to vote for a bill of impeachment against Donald J. Trump.The Conversation

Bruce Wolpe, Non-resident senior fellow, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Queensland election: One Nation dominates Twitter debate in the final weeks


Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

As Queensland approaches its election day on Saturday, the social media campaign for votes continues alongside. But over the final two weeks, the focus of that campaign has gradually shifted.

Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s plan to veto a potential A$1 billion loan to the Adani mine project resulted in a considerable drop in Adani-related tweets directed at Queensland candidates, and that pattern has held through subsequent weeks. Labor has not entirely neutralised the Adani controversy, but the mine project is no longer the major talking point of the Twitter campaign.

By contrast, the most significant emerging theme of these past two weeks has been the role that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party might play in the new parliament. We saw some of this in our previous analysis, in response to the LNP’s decision to direct preferences to One Nation over Labor in a majority of Queensland seats. That particular discussion has now shifted to a much broader debate about the very real prospect that One Nation may hold the balance of power after the election.

Major topics in tweets by and at candidates in the 2017 Queensland election campaign.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

Our dataset captures the tweets posted by and directed at Queensland election candidates. Of those tweets, some 51% addressed the Adani mine or One Nation, but the emphasis has now swung considerably towards the latter. This was sparked in part by the Liberal National Party’s (LNP) preference announcement, with preferences briefly becoming a distinct major topic in their own right.

Labor has been quick to exploit this arrangement, in well-shared posts from the central party account. However, recent controversial footage of its own MP Jo-Ann Miller hugging Pauline Hanson on the campaign trail might have blunted this message somewhat.

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One Nation also featured heavily in another major topic of the second half of the campaign: schools. While Labor’s pledge to establish several new schools received only moderate attention, Queensland One Nation leader Steve Dickson’s bizarre comments about the Safe Schools anti-bullying programme was met with widespread condemnation. A tweet criticising Dickson’s subsequent apology is now the second most retweeted post of the entire campaign:

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Somewhat more surprisingly, the impact of Uber and similar ridesharing services on the Queensland taxi industry has also been a minor theme throughout the campaign. This was aided by some orchestrated activity by taxi drivers, and supported by Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) candidate Robbie Katter, who has championed their cause in several campaign events. Meanwhile, transport also figured in the Premier’s commitment to fixing the issues with troubled new Queensland Rail rolling stock in Maryborough, which generated a brief flurry of support as well as criticism.

These topical changes have affected the patterns of engagement with the candidates on Twitter. In total, Labor candidates still continue to be mentioned more frequently than their LNP counterparts. But over the past two weeks, this gap has closed slightly: as attention has shifted from Adani to One Nation, so have Twitter users moved to asking more questions of LNP and One Nation rather than Labor politicians. Retweets, however, continue to favour Labor by a considerable margin: its candidates have received more than four times as many retweets as all other party candidates put together.

Engagement with candidates in the 2017 Queensland election.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

A network of interactions around candidate accounts (combining both @mentions and retweets over the course of the entire campaign) demonstrates the state of play at this late stage of the election campaign. Labor commands the largest engagement network, at the centre of the graph. Discussions about Adani have been prominent, and form a distinct cluster of debate that is most closely interconnected with the Labor and Greens networks.

Meanwhile, LNP and One Nation candidates are mentioned frequently alongside one another. These tweets are often asking about their preference arrangements or their willingness to work together in the absence of an outright majority for either major party.

This association is so strong, in fact, that our visualisation algorithm treats both groups as part of the same discussion cluster. Slightly to the side of this sits the Uber debate, which therefore appears to be more closely associated with – and perhaps supported by – LNP candidates than their Labor counterparts.

Network of interactions around candidate accounts in the 2017 Queensland election.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

The picture that emerges here is one which points to the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of politics. For Labor, its troubled path to a firmer stance on the Adani mine may remain in environmentally conscious voters’ minds even if the online discussion has died down somewhat.

The ConversationFor the LNP, the emerging view that its best path to government is through an arrangement with One Nation will similarly dent the electorate’s enthusiasm for a change of government. That Labor commands by far the majority of retweets for its messages may give it hope, though – at least in urban electorates, where Twitter is likely to have its greatest footprint.

Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Twitter analysis shows Queensland Labor has put Adani behind them


Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

There’s still plenty of time to go in the current Queensland state election campaign, but early signs from the social media trail offer some encouragement for Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. She is receiving considerably more retweets than Liberal Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls, and chatter about the controversial Adani mine project has declined in recent days.

Twitter and Facebook are now a standard part of the campaigning toolkit for all major parties. Previous state and federal campaigns suggest that voters who’ve already seen a party’s messages in their social media feeds may be a little more open to a chat when the local candidate comes doorknocking. (Labor’s internal review of its 2013 campaign stresses the combination of online and in-person campaigning, for example.)

On Twitter, we’ve identified 60 Labor and 48 Liberal National Party candidates, as well as central party and campaign accounts. The Greens are represented by 34 accounts, while One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party each have only a handful of tweeting candidates. Combined, over the first two weeks of the campaign, they’ve sent some 3,300 tweets in total, and received some 54,000 @mentions and retweets.

Twitter @mentions and retweets per party, 30 Oct. to 12 Nov. 2017.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

These are far from evenly distributed, however. @mentions of parties and politicians tend to favour the incumbent, and this is not surprising: more of the debate on social media and elsewhere will be about the track record of the current government, rather than about the promises of the opposition.

At 30,000 tweets, Labor accounts have received nearly double the @mentions of the LNP (17,000) to date, and this is in line with patterns in previous state and federal elections.

It’s the retweets that tell a more remarkable story. The nearly 7,000 retweets for Labor candidates’ tweets amount to more than twelve times the 570 retweets received by the LNP. During an election campaign, retweets usually do indicate some level of endorsement.

The pattern in this election is considerably different from recent elections. In 2016, for example, the incumbent federal Coalition received far fewer retweets than the Labor opposition. In the 2015 Queensland election, Campbell Newman’s incumbent Liberal National Party government also struggled to attract retweets for its messages.

These patterns do not point to a significant mood for change or substantial willingness amongst Twitter users to promote the LNP’s campaign messages. Conservative commentators may want to chalk this up to a purported left-wing bias in the Australian Twittersphere – but that claim is not borne out by our analysis, showing Twitter contains sizeable communities of both left-wing and right-wing supporters.

Adani and One Nation generate heat for the major parties

Labor also seems to have weathered the early onslaught of critical coverage well.

The first week of the campaign saw a substantial volume of debate about the controversial Adani mine project, which divides opinion between the southeastern population centres around Brisbane (where concerns about environmental impacts are high) and the regional centres near the mine (which anticipate greater job prospects from the mine).

During week one some 1,500 tweets per day, both by and to candidates, contained the word “Adani”. Hashtags related to the controversy (#adani, #stopadani, #coralnotcoal, and others) were the most prominent topical hashtags in our overall dataset, in addition to generic tags like #qldvotes, #qldpol, and #auspol.

The story is further complicated by the fact that, in his role at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Premier Palaszczuk’s partner was involved in Adani’s application for a A$1 billion loan. Palaszczuk announced at the end of the first week of campaigning that she would veto that loan if the application were successful.

Judging by our Twitter data, this veto threat appears to have neutralised the Adani debate to some extent. “Adani” tweets by and to candidates declined from 1,500 to less than 600 in week two. The overall volume of tweets by and to these accounts has also dropped from over 5,000 to some 3,700 per day in week two.

This shift in position may indicate that Labor believes that supporting Adani will lose more votes in the southeast than it will gain further north. Our social media patterns seem to bear out this view.

Meanwhile, with Pauline Hanson’s much-publicised arrival on the campaign trail the second week has seen more discussion about the role that One Nation may play in the next parliament. In particular, the announcement on the evening of Friday 10 November that the LNP will preference One Nation over Labor in more than half the seats in Queensland has already generated substantial debate. Some 20% of tweets by and to candidates on the following Saturday included keywords related to One Nation and/or preferencing.

While the LNP announcement – after the evening news on a Friday – was probably timed to minimise media scrutiny of its decision, it remains to be seen whether this debate will carry over into the third week of the campaign. Labor will no doubt seek to exploit this preference arrangement to attract traditional conservative voters who remain critical of One Nation.

The ConversationAnd finally, if you’re still uncertain about which hashtag to use to join the debate: in tweets by and to candidate accounts, plain old #qldvotes leads #qldvotes2017 by more than ten to one so far. It’s a landslide.

Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump, the wannabe king ruling by ‘twiat’


Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Just weeks after his inauguration as US president, it is clear that Donald Trump is making a further bold claim on power, one that goes beyond the executive orders that are rightly drawing so much attention. He is reinventing the royal fiat by novel means: the rule-by-tweet, or “twiat”. This move is not an extension of popular democracy, but its enemy, and it needs to be resisted.

We are becoming used to Trump’s new way not just of sustaining a political campaign, but of making policy. We wake up to news of another state, corporation, institution or individual caught in the crossfire of his tweets. Corporations and investors are setting up “Twitter Response Units” and “Trump Triggers” in case the next tweet is aimed at them.

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The process is so alien to the ways of making policy that have evolved over decades in complex democracies that it is tempting to dismiss it as just funny or naive. But that would be a huge mistake.

A tweet of Trump’s opinion at any moment on a particular issue is just that: an expression of the temporary opinion of one person, albeit one with his hands on more power-levers than almost any other person in the world.

Trump’s opinions at any moment are subject to change.
Sasha Kimel/flickr

Such expressions matter, for sure, to Trump’s Twitter followers. But, although one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, they do not (at 23 million) constitute a significant proportion of the world’s population, or even a large proportion of the US population.

The king holds court

A Trump tweet only becomes news if it is reported as news. And it only starts to become policy if those who interpret policy, including the media, start to treat this news as policy. Until then, the Trump tweet remains at most a claim on power.

But once key institutions treat it as if were already an enactment of power, it quickly becomes one. Worse, it inaugurates a whole new way of doing power whose compatibility with democracy and global peace is questionable.

Imagine you are a diplomat, trying to schedule a meeting for yourself, or your political master, with Trump in a few weeks’ time. Is it sensible for you to rely on the confidentiality of the meeting? Could a poorly chosen phrase or look – or indeed your most carefully argued reasoning – provoke a tweet that publicly mocks your whole strategy?

How do you deal with a figure who claims the power to broadcast on his own terms his gut reactions to whatever you say or propose? Yes, you can tweet back, but that is already to give up on the quiet space of discussion that was once diplomacy’s refuge.

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The impact of rule-by-tweet is potentially profound: above all, on policy, whether global or domestic, legal or commercial. A new type of power is being claimed and, it seems, recognised: the power, by an individual’s say-so, to make things happen, the twiat. Just the sort of power that revolutions were fought to abolish.

If Trump is the putative Tweet King, who are his courtiers? Surely they’re the mainstream media institutions that regularly report Trump’s tweets as if they were policy.

If a medieval king’s courtiers refused to pass on his word to the wider world, its impact changed. While courtiers could be replaced overnight, contemporary media corporations cannot (for now at least). So why should the media act as if they were Trump’s courtiers?

We must not underestimate the short-term pressure on media corporations to conform to Trump’s claim on power. For sure, there will be an audience if they report Trump’s tweets, and their financial need to grab audiences wherever they can has never been greater.

But, if news values still mean something, they refer not only to financial imperatives, but to what should count as news. And norms about news must have some relation to what passes for acceptable in a democracy rather than an autocracy.

Why is the ‘twiat’ anti-democratic?

Some might say: Trump’s tweets are just the new way of doing democracy, “get with the program” (in the words of Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer). But, as the grim history of mid-20th-century Europe shows, authoritarian grabs on power only ever worked because their anti-democratic means were accepted by those around them as a novel way of “doing democracy”.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says officials must ‘get with the program’ or go.

The “twiat” is anti-democratic for two reasons. First, it claims a power (to name individuals, pronounce policy, and condemn actions) against which there is no redress. Its work is done once uttered from the mouth of the “king”.

Second, and more subtly, allowing such power back into political decision-making undermines the slower, more inclusive forms of discussion and reflection that gives modern political democratic institutions their purpose and purchase in the first place.

Trump’s claim to a new form of charismatic power through Twitter is, in part, the flip-side of the damaged legitimacy of today’s democratic process. But, instead of curing that problem, it closes the door on it. The presidential tweeting ushers us into a new space that is no longer recognisable as democratic: a space where complex policy becomes not just too difficult but unnecessary, although its substitutes can still be tweeted.

Is Trump’s Twitter feed bypassing dishonest media or bypassing the democratic process?

Can anything be done to stop this? A good start would be to stop reporting the tweets of our would-be Twitter king as if they were news, let alone policy.

Let Trump’s tweets have no more claim on democracy’s attention than the changing opinions of any other powerful figure. Refuse the additional claim to power that Trump’s Twitter stream represents.

Fail to refuse that claim, and all of us risk accepting by default a new form of rule that undermines the restraints on power on which both democracy and media freedoms, in the long term, depend.

The Conversation

Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.