The federal election campaign through the ‘distorted prism’ of social media


Home Affairs head Michael Pezzullo has described social media as a “cesspit” while former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Peter Varghese warned it was a “distorted prism” that could give a false impression of the “centre of gravity of a policy issue” in his valedictory speech a few years ago.

With those wise observations out of the way, we present some of the latest statistics on the federal election campaign through the lenses of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The #LeadersDebate on Twitter

According to Twitter HQ, climate change was the main topic being discussed on the platform by viewers of Monday night’s debate, followed by the economy, electric cars, mental health and national security.

As well as winning over the audience and generally being considered the victor, more people were tweeting about Labor leader Bill Shorten than Scott Morrison during the debate.

The #LeadersDebate hashtag became Twitter’s top trending topic in all of Australia, as well as in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Darwin, Perth, and Brisbane.

Twitter has also pinpointed some precise moments in the debate that got its users most excited:

  • 7:10pm: the Labor leader setting out his vision for the nation and arguing the case for change early on.
  • 7:18pm: the PM questioning Shorten on his party’s climate change policy.
  • 7.28-7.30pm: Morrison and Shorten go head to head on the topic of stagnant wage growth.
  • 7.53pm: the final statements from both leaders.
  • 7.57pm: a chance for each candidate to tell voters how they see their opponent.

Twitter provided an animated heat map to show us what that looks like:

The election campaign on Facebook and Instagram

Facebook has also provided some data on the election campaign from its two major social media properties.

The most commonly used election-related hashtags in the campaign’s second week relate to the environment and climate change: #nocoal, #climate and #stopadani made the top 10 on Facebook, and #climatechange and #stopadani were also among the 10 most popular on Instagram.

There was also a lot of chatter around #PaulineHanson and her #OneNation Party, according to Facebook’s data.

Based on analysis of conversations around the #auspol and #ausvotes hashtags on Instagram, the image-focused site’s top five keywords suggest hip-pocket politics is still the main game, but a lot of Australians are also thinking about the importance of roofs over heads:

State by state, “invest” was the big Instagram keyword in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT, while “tax” led the way in New South Wales and “housing” was a big issue for Western Australians.

The most-discussed politicians on Facebook remained the same over the first two weeks. Bill Shorten beat Scott Morrison to the top position, with Senator Pauline Hanson third, followed by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Tony Abbott, the former PM fighting to retain his long-held position as the Member for Warringah.

Over on Instagram it was a different story. The site’s “engagement” measures show Morrison maintained “a clear lead over other politicians” over the first two weeks of the campaign, according to Facebook’s media release.

Shorten was the second-most-discussed politician on Instagram followed by his deputy Tanya Plibersek and Greens leader Richard di Natale, on the back of the strong interest in climate change, coal mines and environmental issues. Abbott was again in fifth place.

Morrison did particularly well by sharing family Easter snaps and holiday messages on both platforms.

The Facebook post on Shorten’s page that got the most interactions was one attacking the Liberal Party for “cuts” to education and health funding, as well as to weekend penalty rates, just when workers were missing them over Easter.

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