The politics of social media reveals a distinct divide, with Facebook the domain of the Right and Twitter the preferred platform of the Left.
Is Twitter loaded with loud mouths from the left? Has Facebook become the last bastion of politically conservative reactionaries? Yes and yes … well, to a point.
While social networking research is in its infancy, some experts agree that the racy, political nature of Twitter tends to attract left-wing types, while Facebook has an older and therefore more politically conservative audience.
As a result, Prime Minister Tony Abbott can fail to feel the love on Twitter. On Monday, when he asked his almost 265,000 Twitter followers what they would do with the $550 families should save when the carbon tax is abolished, “you suck” was the first response.
This was quickly followed by, “I’m guessing you save a whole lot more if you own a mine or a power station” and “visit the wedding of a right wing shock jock”. Three hours later only 20 people had retweeted Abbott’s good news.
What could you do with an extra $550? http://t.co/gfvmbHxp09
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) December 2, 2013
In stark contrast, when former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tweeted to his 1.395 million-odd followers about becoming an ordinary citizen again on November 23, he was showered with praise.
“You’ll always be mp to me ruddy boy love ya,” crooned one tweep. “You’re awesome. If you’re ever in #Adelaide look me up. Beers on me mate. #gratefulconstituant,” wrote another. And this: “Welcome to the proletariat Mr Rudd. Share our rage with the political classes.”
Facebook fans were much kinder to Mr Abbott’s “$550” post, which had about 1000 likes and 40 shares in three hours, with comments such as, “Better $550 in our pockets at least Tony is giving it to us, not like Rudd & Gillard who took it off us & stuffed the country.”
New research shows this is not surprising given that major Coalition pages are now attracting more Facebook “fans” or “likes” than Labor’s.
Online Circle Digital and Social Pulse’s October 2013 Facebook Performance Report, which covered the September 7 federal election, found Mr Abbott averaged 253,829 Facebook fans or likes that month and the Liberal Party of Australia 198,798.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard had 179,646, the Australian Labor Party 156,332 and Kevin Rudd and Labor 124,047. Bill Shorten who became Opposition Leader after the election, is yet to attract 20,000 likes/fans.
The report found Kevin Rudd’s “To you, the Australian people, I thank you” Facebook post gained the most political likes (47,349), ahead of Tony Abbott’s “Thank you Australia, I won’t let you down” post (39,195).
But Mr Abbott’s post attracted more comments (11,780 v 8594) and some of the likes for Mr Rudd’s could reflect the fact he lost the election.
Shorten in the shadows
While Mr Shorten is finding his feet on Twitter with almost 44,000 followers, his predecessors still dominate. Mr Abbott has almost 265,000 followers, compared to Mr Rudd’s almost 1.4 million and Ms Gillard’s almost 447,000.
Sydney-based social researcher and McCrindle Research principal Mark McCrindle said Twitter’s demographic was younger than Facebook’s, so likely to attract younger activist types leaning to the left.
While Facebook started with a younger demographic, Mr McCrindle said it was now older and therefore more conservative.
He said Facebook also tended to be about staying in touch rather than a soapbox, while Twitter attracted those who wanted a voice and liked to comment on political TV shows such as the ABC’s Q&A.
“It’s about the wit and the link and the 140 characters,” he said of Twitter. “The last (election) campaign highlighted the power of social media. It’s moving more to the mainstream, not just to the left.”
The social versus the political
Director of social media at Melbourne social media agency Thinktank Social, Sam Mutimer, agreed Twitter attracted more political comments, while Facebook users were often talking among friends so tended to think twice about what they said whether their views were conservative or left-wing.
“People who are on Twitter tend to be of a like mind as well,” she said. “They have an opinion and they want to share it. It can be a lot more cutting.”
Ms Mutimer said while Mr Abbott’s political tweets were mocked at times, his running tweets elicited a much more positive response. She said he was injecting “a little more lifestyle”, which reflected a general improvement in what politicians were saying. A year ago politicians’ tweets were “a lot more press-releasey”.
“They know they have to be there,” Ms Mutimer says of social media. “They know they need to engage in a meaningful way.”
Social media is ever evolving and before we know it Twitter may become more conservative as younger people move to another platform. Mutimer says young voters are already embracing the photo-based Instagram, so politicians may need to head there next.
“And think about it in a really savvy way,” she says. “These kids are really switched on. They need to think a lot more cleverly about the content they put on there.”