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‘Q&A’ Case Study
ABC’s ‘Q&A’ began on Thursday 22 May 2008 (Q&A 2014b) as a traditional media broadcast that saw politicians and public figured answering the questions posed by democratic citizens. Following the rise of social media engagement soon after in Australia, the show began to change and transform in order to stay up to date with its ever-changing audience.
At the beginning of 2009, a new hashtag – the ‘#QandA’ hashtag – began to trend that was receiving around 100 tweets each week during the broadcast of Q&A (Q&A 2014b). By the end of 2009, the use of this hashtag increased to 2000 a week (Given & Radywyl 2013). Following this, in 2010, producers of ABC’s ‘Q&A’ decided to capitalise upon this trend and make the hashtag official. On the 26th April 2010 (Q&A 2014b), producers of the program introduced an innovative idea which converged the realms of traditional media and social media – the live, moderated, on-screen Twitter feed which displayed tweets using the #QandA hashtag. Now, in 2014, the program is reaching 21,000 tweets per episode on average, a rather rapid increase in viewer response to the integration of Twitter (Clune 2014).
Source: (Given & Radywyl 2013)
How has Q&A changed since Twitter?
The integration of the on-screen ‘#QandA’ hashtag in people’s homes has greatly transformed the level engagement of Q&A audiences over time. Above all, this convergence of new and old media has made public discourse more accessible across a broader range of people due to the spreadability and accessibility of the internet. The one-to-many model of communication that traditional broadcast media promotes has been radically contemporised to enable a many-to-many exchange of information, as well as a back-and-forth exchange between people in politics and their democratic citizens.
Politicians who appear on the show are now compelled to consider interactive audiences and their new capacity to question, challenge, redistribute and modify the messages they are receiving (Given & Radywyl 2013). Not only do they have to face the scrutiny of the live audience on set, but also the audiences that extend to the household viewer on their internet devices (Hawkins 2013). The spread and variety of opinions represented by audiences has undoubtedly grown due to the integration of the ‘#QandA’ hashtag as an estimated 2 million Australians use Twitter (Wood 2014) – this is a potential 2 million viewers and tweeters for the program in the future.
We currently live in an age of communicative democracy wherein surveys, focus groups, deliberative polling and online petitions are prevalent and social media only serves to heighten this movement. The introduction of the live Twitter feed has empowered audiences to voice their opinions. Social media has enabled a participatory mode of governance which encourages further communication and makes citizens responsible for their own political opinion (Keane 2009). The greater accessibility of expressing one’s opinion means that society can no longer remain submissive to the actions of politicians.
Young audiences responded immediately to the integration of the live Twitter feed on ABC’s ‘Q&A’. OzTAM television ratings service has measured the behaviour of the 5 mainland metropolitan markets in Australia – Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney (Given & Radywyl 2013). Data displays that following the introduction of Twitter in April, audiences aged 18-29 grew by 44% from April to May 2010. This is much more than 11% increase shown in the total five-city audience (Given & Radywyl 2013). Furthermore, during the August election in 2010, nearly twice as many viewers aged 18-29 were watching and tweeting during the six shows before and after the election, than were watching in the 3 months before the integration of Twitter (Given & Radywyl 2013).
Source: (Given & Radywyl 2013)
These television ratings statistics show that the Internet has enhanced the potential of young people to engage in politics by opening up innovative means to pursue old political strategies.
Degrees of Engagement
It is true to conclude that there had generally been a positive correlation between the integration of the live Twitter feed on ABC’s ‘Q&A’ and television ratings, however, it is important to note the extent to which ratings and tweets can display viewer political engagement.
The 3 main activities that are associated with the use of the ‘#QandA’ hashtag are original tweets, retweets and comments. Each of these activities can be said to display a different level of engagement with the program. Much of the traffic of the hashtag is due to retweets (48.7%) and original posts (43.3%) while comments and replies make up the remaining percentage (Keyhole 2014).
• Retweets = 48.7%
• Original Posts = 43.3%
• Comments/Replies = 8%
The Q&A episode on 19th May 2014, heavily discussed the release of the federal budget with special guest, Joe Hockey. This episode received a record amount of tweets resulting the servers crashing and tweets vanishing from screens. Youth were especially engaged during this episode, showing huge concern for their education and welfare regarding cuts to education funding (Davidson 2014). Some of the mixed tweets surrounding this issue are as follows:
Our apologies for losing onscreen tweets. It seems we smashed the #QandA tweeting record and our servers with over 65,000 tweets tonight
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) May 19, 2014
"The fact is, if your parents can afford to send you to private school then you'll be fine at university!" #qanda
— Clementine Ford (@clementine_ford) May 19, 2014
Why is it okay for university students to get into ridiculous debt, with huge interest repayments but Australia's debt is a crisis?? #qanda
— Willisa Hogarth (@WillisaH) May 19, 2014
Are you telling me I'm going to be an intern until I'm 70?! Shiiiiiiiiiiit. #qanda
— ABC News Intern (@ABCnewsIntern) May 19, 2014
During this episode, the tweet that generated the most retweets was from 24 year-old Marian Rakosi, who received 253 retweets (Keyhole 2014) for the following tweet:
— Marian Rakosi (@MarianRakosi) May 19, 2014
Hashtracking.com, a website which monitors any hashtag that is trending on Twitter, was used to track the activity of the ‘#QandA’ hashtag during the episode which aired on the 26th May 2014. Findings from the data included that
- 26, 696 tweets were posted by 6, 144 users
- There was a potential reach of 6, 308, 362 twitter users
- There were 13,797 original tweets; 11,734 retweets; and 1,165 @message tweets
The following graphs detail the amount of tweets and the type of user engagement for the ‘#QandA’ hashtag between 5pm and 11:55am on 26th May, 2014.
Source: (Hashtracking 2014)
Engagement or Disengagement?
The live Twitter feed displayed on ABC’s ‘Q&A’ undergoes a rigorous moderation process which works at random to select appropriate tweets to be published. There is a six-stage process which works to eliminate tweets that are too long; are aggressive; use swear words; use URL links; contain spam; contain personal details; breach copyright; are off-topic; breach defamation laws; impersonate politics etc. (Q&A 2014a).
This moderation process, while completely necessary, can work to simultaneously deter and promote the engagement of certain users. Certain regulations work to promote viewer engagement and fairly distribute the tweets being displayed on-screen. These include:
- Tweeters do not need to identify themselves beyond their Twitter ID (Q&A 2014a). This can mean that people who are afraid to voice their opinion do not need to fear the consequences of freedom of speech.
- No one user will have their tweet broadcast more than once in a single show (Q&A 2014a). This ensures that all viewers are allowed the chance to have their tweet nationally broacast.
- Individual tweeters are not required to be impartial (Q&A 2014a). This shows that Q&A does its best to incorporate all members of the democratic system and display political views from all areas of the spectrum.
- The producers are more likely to display original tweets that have been highly retweeted (Q&A 2014a). This allows for opinions with overwhelming support to be chosen for live display, broadcasting a view that is shared by many.
These positives aside, there are aspects of the moderation which could potentially work in ways that deter people from engaging with politics and ‘Q&A’ through the twittersphere. The moderation of tweets has deliberately created a stylised community (Given & Radywyl 2013). The program promotes a certain type of tweet that is respectful, thoughtful and insightful. This may annoy certain twitter users who are more passionate and slightly aggressive where their rights are concerned. For this reason, certain tweeters using the ‘#QandA’ hashtag may become disheartened that their tweets are not being broadcast, causing them to be disengaged.
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