As the next Nova Scotia provincial election draws near, candidates from all political parties are cranking up their advertising and PR machines to engage with the voters. From town-hall meetings, to interviews with traditional media, to a well maintained website, the communication strategies of MLA-hopefuls will most certainly span a wide range of technology and applications. Twitter is one example of a social media application that has been established as a core space in which politicians, journalists, activists, and average voters can interact, share, learn, and even attack.
We started collecting the #NSpoli hashtag on July 12, 2013 in anticipation of the upcoming election. #NSpoli has been the most consistently popular hashtag used by those interested in provincial politics in this area. We wanted to get a sense of what the Twitter community connected to this hashtag looks like and talks like as the province’s politicos prepare for a campaign. Later in this campaign season we will compare our findings about the #NSpoli community from the period before the election is called to after, but for now we provide a foundational overview focusing on the size of the community, the key players, and the kinds of sub-communities that form.
From July 12 to August 22, 2013 16 044 tweets were made containing “#NSpoli.” In total 1 947 unique users made tweets during this time period.
In the “Posts over time” graph you see the rate of #NSpoli tweeting is not consistent. Some days see no more than 150 tweets, while others hit upwards of 550. On one day in this sample we see the exceptional high of 917 tweets (Aug. 19). This tells us a few things. First, tweets are following the work week. The lulls in Twitter activity correspond with weekends, the highs with the start of a new week’s political agenda. Second, the spike on August 19, 2013 highlights the potential of the hashtag as we look forward to the impending election. On that day the NDP were pushing the line “Nova Scotia Forecast Update Confirms Budget Surplus.” The line comes up across tweets from party officials, candidates, and journalists. It also appears in NDP press releases and within the mainstream media. A budget update is a likely newsworthy event and would generate chat regardless, but framed as a core reason for re-election, the topic peaked the interest of Twitter users across the political spectrum.
Now that we have a sense of the size of the #NSpoli community, lets take a look at who is involved.
Brother Anonymous (@broanonymous) is the most avid #NSpoli poster. The hacker group “Anonymous” is known for their digitally enabled acts of political contention. This particular account tends to focus on a variety of topics and places within Canada and the US, Nova Scotia being a core topic among the 16,000+ tweets made.
Concerned Voter (@concernedvoter) is a user with an “X” as their twitter profile picture and appears to be a bot which, for a period of only a few days, made hundreds of nearly identical tweets mostly concerning MLA Percy Paris who, that spring, had resigned his cabinet position after assaulting a Liberal MLA.
Pope Shakey (@popeshakey) is a different story. This account is very active on a regular basis within the #NSpoli community and is critical of the Liberal Party which is currently the Official Opposition. The owners tweet content, respond to the content of others, and re-tweet regularly.
Of the remaining 7 accounts which make up the top 10 posters, one is a re-tweet bot which re-tweets anything tagged with “#Halifax,” one is a left-leaning student, and all others are explicitly NDP affiliated.
When considering those who-are-most talked about (based on number of times their user name is mentioned in tweets) and accounts whose tweets are most often re-tweeted, the story is much of the same. Some accounts cross each list, like @NSNDP, @PremierDexter, NDP staffer @MarkLaventure, and NDP @MLA MatMLA. That said, some critical of the NDP government are also found in the top 10 most mentioned and re-tweeted. This suggests that, though the #NSpoli chat is largely dominated by the NDP and its supporters, other perspectives are present.
In fact, when we map the connections between users of #NSpoli (see below), we can see there are a number of fairly distinct groups. In the graph each dot represents a Twitter user (nodes), lines (edges) connecting dots indicate a communicative relationship, the color represents which sub-community (modularity) they are part of. The node size is relative to how many other nodes they are connected to.
When we map social networks we use specific rules to place each dot on the virtual paper. In other words, we have an algorithm, a specific “layout,” that calculates where each dot is placed relative to all other dots. The layout used here is “OpenOrd” and is designed to highlight sub-communities within large networks.
At the top of the graph we see one large multi-colored mass which is a “main component” where multiple sub-communities overlap. We also notice a number of smaller communities along the bottom half of the graph. Finally, a few isolated or very small groups of nodes exist on the outskirts of the graph. What this means is that there is a core group of accounts which consistently communicate with each other, the main #NSpoli community is quite tight-knit. Yet, there are also distinct groups which tells us that #NSpoli is not homogenous.
At this point it is worth investigating a little further.
@NSNDP is the most connected account in this community. Qualitative analysis reveals that the blue community in which @NSNDP is found is primarily made up of NDP and NDP supporter accounts including the highly central @premierdexter account which is run by the Office of Premier Dexter. This is the most dense of the sub-communities and is very central to the wider graph.
The red cluster which is embedded in the main component is most dense on the right side of the graph. Within this cluster we find the most central account is @nsliberal with the leader of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, @stephenmcneil, very similarly placed. Though we may be tempted to assume the red cluster is “Liberal,” the reality is many NDP and NDP supporters are also found in this group.
The light green cluster tells a similar story with Liberal and NDP politicians, organizations, and supporters all identified. This suggests that the NDP and Liberals are talking to, or about, each other.
Added to the list of central accounts in this cluster are journalists like @larochecbc, government accounts like @nsgov in the left side of the graph which, among many others, serve to connect the two distinct groupings in the light green class. Interestingly the PC party’s most talked about accounts are found in a fairly tight-knit pink cluster to the top right of the graph, they are connected to the main cluster primarily by journalists and other accounts run by mainstream media.
Finally it is worth mentioning a few of the smaller cluster which are much more loosely connected to the main component. The dark green and yellow groups depicted bellow are both made up of accounts which are not necessarily tied to any specific party or place. For example, @premiernb, which is the official account of the Office of the Premier of New Brunswick is found in the yellow cluster. Many re-tweet bots or accounts which explicitly claim to primarily re-tweet news and political commentary are also found in these groups. Without deeper investigation it is hard to tell what connects these smaller communities, what we can say is that it does not appear to be an affiliation with a specific party.
As the campaign develops it will be particularly interesting to track the existence of sub-communities for a couple of reasons. First, having distinct communities in a communication network like this one suggests there is disparity in the messages different politically engaged individuals are receiving and sending. Second, noting which accounts are linking these groups can help us understand who is talking about who. If journalists are the connectors between two parties we might guess it is a matter of giving equal publicity to each party. On the other hand if it is a party connecting to an opponent we might explore the content of their communication to see if they are collaborating, debating, or perhaps attacking the other.
Political communication, particularly on Twitter, is not just about the message or even the sender and receiver, it is about the interaction. It will be interesting to see just how that interaction develops over the course of the campaign.
More blog posts about this election will be forthcoming. Stay tuned for our regular updates and analysis of the #NSPoli Twitter community during this provincial election cycle.