Twitter, Dirty Politics and the wider world

There has been a lot of talk on Twitter, and Facebook, about the Nicky Hager book Dirty Politics. Twitter is being used by the claimed hacker to release the source information, along with a bunch of meme type graphics to go along with it. There have been far too many tweets to collect them all, but Bryce Edwards has attempted a partial collection here.


I would like to make clear that this post is not intended as a defence of those accused in the book Dirty Politics. I have not had a chance to read the book yet. This story is solely being used as an extreme example to prove a key point about Twitter.


One thing that has interested me in relation to this issue is the potential differences between the views, and level of interest, about the book of those on Twitter and the wider population. The only solid information that is available so is the Colmar Brunton snap poll taken in the 2 days following the release of the book. It found the following:




Now I know that poll has a small sample, and was taken very shortly after the story broke. Things may have changed in the last few days. Especially after the Radio New Zealand interview that has been spread around on Twitter a lot lately. However, at the moment there is no more solid research in the public to base conclusions off.


So I have taken another route to see if the reaction on Twitter is reflected in the wider community. Now I know this approach is not scientific, but at the moment it is the best I am able to do.


The approach I have taken is looking at the article ranking on Stuff, Herald, TVNZ and TV3. I took screen grabs of Stuff and NZ Herald at around 12:30 and 8pm. I only did TVNZ and TV3 this evening.

Stuff 1230:



Stuff 8pm:


NZ Herald 1230:


NZ Herald 8pm:



TVNZ 8pm:


TV3 8pm:


At 12:30, out of the 10 most read stories on Stuff none were related to the Dirty Politics story directly, and the story about Judith was sort of indirectly related. It was about the naming of a street in Christchurch. The same applies to the most shared stories. it is only when you get to the most commented on stories that there were 4 stories directly, and one indirectly, linked to the Dirty Politics story. Had a quick look at a couple of the stories, and there are a lot of conversations with high intensity back and forths, among a small number of readers.


Come 8pm though, the only story in the top 10 most read was the story about the street naming. The only place that the story was appearing in strength was in the most commented section. Which as mentioned above, these stories are home to a lot of high intensity exchanges between a small number of commentors


The NZ Herald is similar. There is only one story in their top 5 most watched stories. Which could be a case of this story being more text based, than visual. Come 8pm though, it had changed on NZ Herald. The story about the SIS release being investigated was in the top 5, but other than that, there was no mention.


TVNZ have 2 out of 5 of their stop stories at 8pm about Dirty Politics, and TV3 has the same story about the street naming that Stuff has.


For the rest of this I am going to ignore the most commented on, because a) stuff are the only one to show that metric, b) the fact that a large number of comments, by a small number of users doesn’t tell us anything.


The largest percentage of top stories on any of the news outlets is 40%, TVNZ at 8pm, with the rest of them sitting between 10 and 25% of top stories being related to the story. This is in stark contrast to my own personal Twitter feed where there is pretty much an on going conversation about the next little bit of the story that has come out. But then again a large number of the people that I follow are politically active and highly political engaged. They are not a accurate representation of the wider population. I suspect that a lot of people I follow are in a similar situation, so the whole thing becomes a bit of an echo chamber of people who are similarly outraged.


When I compare my Twitter feed to my Facebook feed, the difference is stark. Other than one or two people posting lots about it, none of my friends are really that worked up about the issue. Now this may be a cause of the curated, focused feed that Facebook presents, vs the unmediated feed that Twitter provides. But it would once again suggest that Twitter is not a good weather vane of the wider community.


So far the two reference points for the impact on the wider community tend to suggest that this story will not have the level of impact predicted by Twitter. Social media is a great place to engage with people, but there is no way that it should be seen as an accurate representation of the wider community.


I love social media, I love the opportunities that it provides for people to engage with their representatives, and perspective representatives, and for them to engage with voters. But people need to remember that they can fall into an echo chamber with relative ease.


I will leave the last word to Megapope who sums it up perfectly: