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Twitter News Index: Royal Commission the most tweeted topic

By Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

The latest edition of our Australian Twitter News Index arrives in a somewhat more timely fashion than the previous one did.

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Unfortunately, though, our data are somewhat compromised by the fact that regular scheduled maintenance on our Twitter data servers took place on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week – which means we missed a good chunk of the debate around the Royal Commission into child abuse in institutions, and particularly around Catholic Cardinal George Pell’s press conference about the matter. Very unfortunate, but there’s little we can do about it, I’m afraid.

ATNIX Week 46: 12-18 Nov. 2012

Because the Twitter API makes it easier to backfill missing data on minor than major tracking terms, such outages tend to affect our data on the most widely linked-to Australian news sites more strongly than those on the minor sites. Despite the major stories about the Royal Commission, therefore (which would usually boost the numbers of the leading sites disproportionally), the overall distribution of links across our news sites remains little changed from last week.

Notwithstanding the server outages, we captured some 133,000 tweets linking to these news sites during week 46; that’s down 17,000 from last week, and gives us a rough estimate of the volume of tweets we missed during the outage. With those caveats, the tweets we did capture distribute across the leading sites in a nonetheless familiar pattern:

ATNIX 46/2012: News Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

The comparatively small share of tweets pointing to the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News is an artefact of our outage; by contrast, the comparatively strong showing of news.com.au this week is genuine, as the persistent hair growth spammer which had plagued our dataset over the past few weeks has finally moved on.

The distribution of tweets across our opinion and commentary sites may also underestimate the marketshare of major sites, and chiefly the SMH. The total number of opinion tweets we captured this week is down slightly from last week, at 18,500, but it is very likely that without the outages we would have captured a substantially larger number of such tweets, especially on Tuesday and Wednesday.

ATNIX 46/2012: Opinion Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

Given these limitations, then, our analysis this week must necessarily focus on the days for which we do have good data – starting with Monday. Here, we see a strong spike in sharing activity for several leading sites (including the SMH, ABC News, and news.com.au), which would most likely have carried through into the following day; by 8 a.m. AEST on Tuesday (before our servers were shut down), at least, Twitter news sharing had already well surpassed the activity levels set that time on the previous day.

ATNIX 46/2012: News Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

While Monday is too early in the evolution of the child abuse crisis to be exclusively dominated by that story, there nonetheless is substantial focus on the issue. Some 270 links to the Sydney Morning Herald reference an article about calls for Cardinal Pell to close the religious order St John of God because of the scandal, while ABC News articles about Tony Abbott’s and Tony Windsor’s support for a Royal Commission receive some 140 and 130 tweets, respectively. A further 200 tweets link to the live stream of ABC News 24, which provided live coverage of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement of the Royal Commission. Pieces on Gillard’s consideration of an inquiry, and subsequently on her announcement of the Royal Commission, also serve as the most linked stories at The Australian that day.

The following days’ data are too problematic to examine in any detail; by Friday 16 Nov., however, we can trust our data again, and see another pronounced spike in activity especially for SMH and ABC News. By this time, however, the Royal Commission has already been announced, and even Cardinal Pell’s press conference is no longer at the centre of Twitter discussion. Instead, the SMH spike is driven by the reaction to a tweet by well-known Crikey psephologist blogger Possum Comitatus, which was widely retweeted on the day:

Tony Abbott just said this on Gardasil 南宁桑拿网,南宁夜生活,/Sb5SKHcx Meanwhile, the reality was actually this 南宁桑拿网,南宁夜生活,/2FXVbk8T

The tweet juxtaposes an SMH article from 2006 (which has then-PM John Howard overruling his Health Minister Tony Abbott about Abbott’s intended delay to the start date of the government’s cervical cancer immunisation programme) with Abbott’s tweet on Friday morning, taking the credit for the immunisation programme. It’s highly unusual to see such a comparatively ancient link trouble our weekly news index – but it demonstrates the potential of social media for fact-checking the statements of politicians. Some 260 of the tweets pointing to the Sydney Morning Herald site on Friday pointed to the 2006 article, turning it into an unlikely lead story by a substantial margin.

The simultaneous spike in ABC News links, on the other hand, continues to focus on its Royal Commission coverage: here, the leading Friday story is a piece about the support which police whistleblower Peter Fox had received on Twitter, following his Lateline interview. This also continues a long-term trend which sees articles with relevant to social media being shared especially widely on social media, of course.

ATNIX 46/2012: Opinion Sites 南宁桑拿网,mappingonlinepublics.net/

The patterns for opinion sites and sections are less pronounced; the minor spikes on Monday and Friday are due for the most part simply to the server outage-induced lull in between. There is, however, an unusual spike in links to the otherwise fairly underrepresented opinion section of The Australian, and this spike provides a final postscript to the Abbott story: a 2006 opinion piece in The Australian, which describes Abbott as ‘a national dill’ over his opposition to the cervical cancer vaccination programme, was shared by several Twitter users – including prominent blogger Grog’s Gamut and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek – and accounted for some 250 of the 450 tweets referencing The Australian’s opinion section on Friday.

Message to politicians: sometimes Twitter users have very long memories.

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 (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude irrelevant sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). For our analysis of ‘opinion’ link sharing, we include only those sub-sections of mainstream sites which contain opinion and commentary (e.g. abc.net.au/unleashed, articles on theaustralian.com.au 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.

Axel Bruns does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Truce efforts intensify as Gaza death toll mounts

With Egypt at the centre of efforts to broker a ceasefire, Palestinian officials said it was possible a deal would be reached “today or tomorrow”.

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But there was no letup in the bloodshed in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Medics said women and children accounted for most of Sunday’s dead, among them five babies and toddlers, killed in Israeli air strikes.

In the day’s most lethal raid, at least nine members of the same family — five of them children — were among 10 people killed when an Israeli missile destroyed a family home in Gaza City, the health ministry said.

At the scene, medics and bystanders all pitched in to remove the rubble to dig out the bodies in the hope of finding survivors, as people watched in shock, some weeping openly.

The latest violence hiked the Palestinian casualty toll to 77 dead and 700 injured in some 100 hours of raids, while three Israelis have been killed and more than 50 injured by rocket fire since Wednesday.

An Israeli air strike in the early hours of Monday morning leveled the Abbas police headquarters in Gaza City, but nobody was killed.

With Israel warning it could further escalate its operations in Gaza, US President Barack Obama on Sunday said it was “preferable” for the Gaza crisis to be resolved without a “ramping up” of Israeli military activity.

In Cairo, senior Hamas officials said Egyptian-mediated talks with Israel to end the bloodshed were “positive” but now focused on the possible stumbling block of guaranteeing the terms of a truce.

An outcome acceptable to Hamas would involve assurances about the United States, Israel’s main backer, being the “guaranteeing party,” one official said on condition of anonymity.

Security officials in Cairo said an Israeli envoy had also arrived in the Egyptian capital on Sunday for the talks.

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, meanwhile, met with both Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Islamic Jihad chief Abdullah Shalah to discuss “Egyptian efforts to end the aggression,” his office said without giving details.

‘ABSOLUTE CONDITION’ FOR A TRUCE

But Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted that “the first and absolute condition for a truce is stopping all fire from Gaza,” and that all armed groups would have to commit to it.

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel was ready to “significantly expand” its operation. He spoke ahead of talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is on a whirlwind truce tour of the region.

Fabius later said his country was willing to help broker a truce. “War is not an option, it is never an option …There are two key words: urgency and ceasefire,” he told journalists in Tel Aviv.

Early on Sunday, Israeli aircraft hit two media centres in Gaza City, wounding at least eight journalists, one of whom lost a leg, health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.

The military defended the strike, saying it had targeted Hamas operational communications and sought to minimise civilian casualties.

Amid the truce efforts, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation.”

On Sunday, about 125 rockets hit Israel, while scores more were intercepted in mid-flight by the Iron Dome defence system, the army said.

Throughout the day, two were fired at Tel Aviv, triggering air raid sirens in the commercial metropolis for the fourth day. Iron Dome intercepted both, police said.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, whose remit is limited to the West Bank, on Sunday urged his people to stage peaceful demonstrations against Israel’s military offensive on Gaza.

And around 500 Egyptian activists arrived in Gaza City and visited its Shifa hospital in a show of solidarity with its people, officials said.

Since the start of its Operation Pillar of Defence, launched after the killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari in an air strike, the Israeli army says it has struck more than 1,100 targets in Gaza as militants have fired more than 800 rockets over the border.

Romney maps out five-day election end game

The answer should come as no surprise: Ohio, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire, battlegrounds which election experts define as the biggest prizes in the 2012 race, will feature prominently — as well as a few Democrat-leaning states that the Republican challenger insists are in play.

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Romney is locked in the tightest of races with President Barack Obama, who is also on a mad dash across swing states ahead of election day on November 6.

Romney starts his Friday campaigning in Wisconsin, which has voted for the Democratic Party since 1988 but which his team says has come into play given Obama’s slipping poll numbers there over the past month.

Both candidates will then converge on pivotal Ohio, where they have sunk vast amounts of money into television advertising.

No Republican has clinched the White House without also winning the Buckeye State, and so after a stop in Columbus, Romney will kick off one of the biggest events of his campaign.

The “Real Recovery Road Rally” in West Chester, Ohio will feature his running mate Paul Ryan and dozens of prominent Republicans such as ex-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Senator John McCain.

On Saturday Romney will blitz across New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado.

And on Sunday, after bouncing back to Iowa, he will stop in Pennsylvania, another Democrat-leaning state that the campaign hopes to poach from the president.

Pennsylvania has been in Obama’s column for months, with the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls showing the incumbent up 4.6 percentage points.

But Team Romney has consistently dismissed polls as giving an incomplete picture in many states — Pennsylvania and Ohio among them — where they feel the challenger has built recent momentum that they argue could translate into stronger-than-expected turnout.

On Monday Romney will make a last-gasp push in Ohio, before returning to New Hampshire for the final “victory rally” of his campaign.

Romney will watch the election results Tuesday night from Massachusetts, where he served as state governor from 2003 to 2007.

Notably absent from the published schedule? Monumental battlegrounds Florida and Virginia — although Romney visited the Sunshine State all day Wednesday and the latter all day Thursday.

Mali’s Tuareg rebels advance as world condemns coup

The African Union temporarily suspended Mali, Europe froze aid and the United States threatened to follow suit amid a chorus of condemnation over the coup in a country key to fighting drug trafficking and extremism.

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But AU officials will travel to Mali for talks with the coup leaders in a joint delegation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) next week.

The coup opened the way for Tuareg rebels to deepen their hold on the north, with their National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) saying it had seized the town of Anefis between the key cities Gao and Kidal.

The MNLA said on its website it would continue to press its offensive as part of its military campaign for a homeland in the north of the west African nation.

It was the Tuareg rebellion that sparked the coup by soldiers, who say they have been ill-equipped to fight off the desert nomads,

The Tuareg force has been strengthened by the return of heavily armed fighters who previously fought for Libya’s slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

On Wednesday, army troops attacked the presidential palace and seized state institutions, before appearing on television to announce they had toppled the “incompetent” regime of President Amadou Toumani Toure.

On Friday, Mali’s coup leaders again took to television to deny reports of the death of their leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo.

Earlier, Sanogo himself reassured journalists that Toure was “doing very well”, and that members of the government arrested by soldiers were safe.

“We will not touch a hair on their heads. I will hand them over to the courts so that the Malian people know the truth,” insisted the green-beret officer, who says he has spent time at training programmes in US.

In separate comments to the BBC, he insisted he would stand down once he had ensured the army was properly equipped to tackle the Tuareg rebellion.

The problem at the moment was “a lack of equipment, a lack of training and our comrades are dying all the time,” he said.

“So once this has been fixed, I’ll be able to say ‘Ok, go for election’ in a short period of time. I promise.”

Rights group Amnesty International said that at least three people had been shot dead and 28 wounded in Thursday’s coup, while the local Red Cross said it had treated 40 people, mostly for bullet wounds.

Few people ventured out of their homes in the tense capital Bamako Friday, where some soldiers had turned to looting.

The international community has acted swiftly against the junta.

The AU Peace and Security Council announced it was suspending Mali until the government had been restored, said Paul Zolo, Nigeria’s envoy to Ethiopia and the AU.

AU Commission chief Jean Ping said the AU and ECOWAS would send a joint team to Mali to seek a return of constitutional order.

And the heads of ECOWAS were due to hold a special meeting in Ivory Coast’s main city Abidjan on Tuesday, a source in the Ivorian ministry for African integration said.

The EU’s executive arm said it was suspending development work as its foreign ministers called for the return of civilian rule, but direct support to the population and humanitarian aid would continue.

Drought means that Mali is threatened with a food crisis.

The World Bank and the African Development Bank suspended aid after the coup, Mali’s first in 21 years, and the US threatened to lift $70 million in military and economic aid if constitutional rule was not returned.

France, China and Mali’s neighbours Algeria, Mauritania and Niger joined the chorus of condemnation. The United Nations also condemned the coup.

Twelve Malian political heavyweights condemned the coup, which came just five weeks before a presidential election in which Toure had been due to step down.

Mali is usually seen as politically stable, but unrest in the north, where Tuareg tribes have long felt ignored by a southern government and where Al-Qaeda has also taken root, has created a major security problem.

Under Toure’s leadership, Mali had been hailed as a growing democratic success, but in mid-January the Tuareg launched a fresh rebellion aimed at winning independence, which has seen up to 206,000 people flee their homes.

New Chinese game based on disputed islands

A video game backed by China’s military that lets players fight enemy forces in islands disputed between Beijing and Tokyo is set for release.

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“Glorious Mission Online”, China’s answer to “Call of Duty”, marks the 86th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The game, an online version of an earlier first-person shooter used by the PLA to train troops, features the East China Sea islands known as Diaoyu by Beijing and Senkaku by Tokyo.

Tensions have been mounting over the islands, which are claimed by China but controlled by Japan. Beijing’s vessels regularly sail into the disputed waters and, according to state media, tell Japanese ships they are encroaching on its territory.

A press release for the game says: “Players … will fight alongside Chinese armed forces and use weapons to tell the Japanese that ‘Japan must return our stolen territory!'”

Images from the game’s website are labelled “Guard the Diaoyu islands”, and a trailer posted online features shots of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It also shows planes taking off from a computer-generated version of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which went into service last year.

The game was due to become available only at 5.00pm (1900 AEST) on Thursday, but its designers Giant Interactive Group, who developed it jointly with the PLA, told AFP millions of users had already registered to play.

Giant co-operated closely with the PLA while working on the game to ensure that weapons looked authentic and soldiers’ voices were accurate, said company vice-president Gu Kai.

“Our relationship with the military is like the relationship between the US army and Hollywood,” he said.

The release comes at a time of increased fears over the PLA’s expansion among China’s neighbours – Beijing is also in dispute with several countries in the South China Sea.

But Gu linked the game with attempts by the PLA to present itself as more transparent, including inviting foreign media to tour military bases, to boost its image abroad.

“It’s about soft power,” he said. “Through the game we want to allow ordinary people to gain an understanding of the army, which is often seen as closed-off and mysterious.

“In Western games the People’s Liberation Army is always the enemy, this is the first game where it is on the good side.”

Maggie Du, director of Giant’s Centre for Overseas Business Development, insisted “Glorious Mission Online” would not add to the tensions between China and its neighbours.

“We need to be related to actual events, but it’s not about politics, it’s a commercial consideration to attract customers.”

The company hopes to attract foreign gamers to fight alongside the PLA, she added, and possible future versions of the game designed for export might look to avoid identifying participant nations.

“We might replace the US and Russian armies with robots or zombies or something like that,” she said.