Twits, Not Tweeps – Journalists Conflating Tweets into Psychological Analyses

It’s not new for old media journalists and editors to hate Twitter. We have had a variety of journalists selectively edit Twitter commentary on issues to suit their purposes. These journalists have wilfully misrepresented the way Twitter works – that comments come from all angles, all of the time.  It’s not something that can be pinned down in the same way we can traditional media forms. One can excuse this kind of reportage in the earlier days of Twitter, where many didn’t use it well or have interns who did.  There is little excuse for that to happen these days – but it continues apace.

Andrew Bolt doesn’t see the need to have a Twitter account – his audience would feed him all he needs for his deliberate misrepresentation of everything that occurs on various platforms. This is his blog post, posted on April 28 at 5.55 am.

Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 12.03.26 PM

Bolt is less a journalist, more a self created ringmaster of a circus built for lunatics. (Though the other day, I was speaking to a reasonable fellow netball dad who came out with the phrase “I agree with Andrew Bolt…” which startled me).  What is surprising, however, is that the source of his post is a senior journalist in a non News Ltd outlet. It’s from Chris Johnson, National Political Correspondent, writing in the Age.  This article highlights much of what is wrong with media’s relationship with politics and social media. As ever in my deconstructions, the original article is in italics.

The left takes a turn for the ugly as power slips through Labor’s grasp


Rising desperation has inspired the use of gutter tactics.

We know from the bald, high modality assertions that this isn’t going to be a nuanced analysis. That and “the left”


Tony Abbott is pushing his pedals between Adelaide and Geelong this week, feeling pretty chuffed about putting in a decent performance on the ABC’s 7.30 program last Wednesday.

I don’t know of many, other than Andrew Bolt and the Liberal Party, who believe that Tony Abbott put a “decent performance” in the 730 interview. Also, whether Abbott is or isn’t participating in a cycle based event isn’t relevant to the subject matter, even though it’s the only time Abbott makes an appearance in what is essentially an anti-ALP piece. 

He was on message, disciplined and, as usual, pretty light with details.

This seems to be a “decent” performance in Johnson’s eyes, rather than as a calculated tactic. Not exactly an objective analysis of the interview.

The same can’t be said about the rabid social media commentators who critiqued not Abbott’s performance, but that of the show’s presenter Leigh Sales. As interviews go it was somewhat pedestrian – no killer question or knockout punch.

“The rabid social media commentators”. Rabid?  There were critics of the interview – yes, we had the offensive and disgusting, but -many of them reasonable and constructive – but these are ignored so Johnson can use the sensationalist, amplified “rabid” word. It’s little wonder Bolt put it on his blog.

Yet because Abbott emerged from the 13-minute conversation unscathed, some threw the blame directly onto Sales. That’s probably to be expected and there is nothing wrong with an interviewer’s performance being discussed publicly.

No, that’s true. There is nothing wrong with such a discussion about a performance. Not that Johnson would know about how that is often conducted, considering that he does not use Twitter.

What was alarming about the Twitter debate following Abbott’s 7.30 appearance, however, was its ugly tenor. Elements of the political left thought it just fine to describe Sales in abusive and sexist terms because her grilling of Abbott did not meet their expectations.

It’s not OK, yet the debate rolled on for most of the week, sending mixed messages about what the left is up to.

Have they resorted to antics more often employed by the far right?

Sales was accused, in some instances with very vile language, of being too easy on Abbott and even biased towards him. How soon they forget and how quickly they turn.

“Elements of the political left”, “alarming”. This makes it sound like that there are groups of militant “lefties”, abusing people in sexist terms who don’t do what they want. There was, as far as I am aware, one tweet that was widely retweeted that was crude and sexist and a small number of abusive tweets directed at Sales’ performance.  There were also a number of reasonable people posting their concerns about the interview, as well as “lefties” expressing the opinion that Abbott’s performance and circular logic made it hard to get any answers of substance. In other words, a vibrant and diverse conversation, as Twitter can have. The abusive people were hardly elements and hardly a “tenor”.  Yes, the abusive tweets were wrong and yes, it is a concern, but isn’t particularly surprising to those who regularly use Twitter. 

What is a concern here is that Johnson is not putting this Twitter response into a wider context about Twitter usage. Members of the political “right” have hardly been pure in regards to sexist abuse hurled at a person with which they don’t agree. The variety of sexist memes created in relation to Julia Gillard have been manifold and dizzying.  Johnson does make a passing comment about the “far right”, but doesn’t elaborate. 

Last August Sales had Abbott not only on the ropes but flat out on the mat and wishing for an early end to that bout. During that interview, Sales got Abbott to admit he hadn’t actually read a BHP statement he wrongly claimed was blaming the carbon tax for the suspension of the Olympic Dam mining project.

It was all downhill from there for the Opposition Leader as Sales got stuck into him on a number of fronts.

Abbott haters were more than pleased with that exchange, leaving the right angry and feverishly circulating their own nasty claims of bias.

But now it’s the left that is furious. The commentary says more, however, about where the left is at psychologically in this stage of the electoral cycle. Facing the likelihood of a conservative government and a prime minister Abbott, parts of the left have taken to desperate gutter tactics.

This is where the article becomes ridiculous. A few abusive tweets doesn’t point to “the left” being furious nor does it point to where “the left” is at psychologically. This is one of the longest bows I have seen drawn by a member of the Fairfax press for a while (other than by Paul Sheehan, whose bows are so long he could shoot an arrow the size of a cricket bat).  

To say that these tweets point to anything “the left” are thinking would be akin to saying Larry Pickering and the #auspol Liberal shouters on Twitter speak for “the right” alone.  If Johnson did think that, then the entire “right” have been abusive and sexist for two and a half years. Yet he doesn’t address that idea here. The earlier passing reference to the “far right” does not adequately balance the conclusion he is making about “the left” on the basis of a few tweets.  Nor does he address the idea that Twitter has so many voices and opinions and approaches that it’s next to impossible to authentically identify anything like an approach or element. Truth is, there are a few in “the left” and on “the right” that are using gutter tactics.  People who know how Twitter works, however, generally slam them and then ignore them. 

Going by the reaction to the Sales interview last week, they seem to be now insisting that media interviewers push their cause and help them prevent a Coalition victory in September.

More conflating – “they”. There are some who seem to come across that way, but again, a small number.   Having said that, I am not surprised that journalists unaware of the way Twitter works are continuing to take tweets out of context and make poor analyses of them. It is partly suspicion of that occurring that led me to write my Megaphones piece in Ausvotes 2013 – commenting that repeated shouting and abuse doesn’t help the cause of the ALP, it could hinder it. Having articles like this appear in The Age does hinder rather than helps. On the other hand, maybe it was inevitable, no matter the caution of people tweeting support for the ALP, that some journalists would still conflate isolated tweets into representing some kind of “psychology”.

This is the article that keeps on providing evidence of the malaise in journalism – We then get more leadership nonsense from Johnson.

Meanwhile, Julia Gillard’s ability to win over the electorate remains far from where she and her party would like it to be, but Labor MPs have mostly now resolved they must fall in behind her.

As obvious a statement as that might be, it is only over this past week that most inside Labor have reached that conclusion. Just two weeks ago there were rumblings that despite her vanquishing yet another move to bring back Kevin Rudd, Gillard would be facing renewed leadership pressure before the election. The possibly honourable, but certainly kamikaze, move by Simon Crean last month in calling for a spill sent the member for Hotham to the backbench.

Rumblings? From where? 

But it also fuelled speculation that he would throw his own hat into the leadership ring. Even as Gillard’s newly promoted frontbenchers were moving into their plush ministerial offices, word was getting around to some of them that their reward for loyalty to the PM would not last long.

They were not referring to the likelihood of losing government in September, the message was that a post-budget leadership challenge was on the cards and the old frontbench would be back to reclaim some jobs.

And the leadership contender? None other than Simon Crean.

I thought the Crean, Get On Top movement ended a while ago. Yet Johnson is bringing it all back from the place of irrelevance in which it should belong.

That’s what the previous Rudd backers and some of the wider anti-Gillard forces in the ALP were mooting among themselves.

They considered Crean would be a ”safe pair of hands” following a budget they expect won’t go down too well with voters.

Crean helped fuel the fire with a recent Fairfax Media interview in which he talked of Gillard’s ”tin ear” for sound political strategy and her apparent wont to engage in ”class warfare”.

When a backbencher criticises his government, it’s a leadership challenge? Apparently so – and so is criticising Kevin Rudd for not contest for leadership. 

During the same interview he declared Rudd to be ”finished” because he refused to contest the leadership spill his backers had encouraged Crean to call for – implying he might put himself forward as a leadership choice.

But it seems cooler heads have prevailed, probably with the realisation that if Crean couldn’t mobilise numbers behind Rudd, he most likely wouldn’t be able to muster up a majority for himself either.

Again, this is old news. Nothing of Abbott’s avoidance of media questions about the GST, silly billboards and the Gillard win in gaining a Gonski agreement from the NSW Government.  Like the opening of this article, it’s hard to see this article as anything but partisan, desiring to make the ALP look divisive and their supporters as unhinged cyber bullies. 

At least voting Australians who can’t stomach either Gillard or Abbott now have another choice, thanks to Queensland’s billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer, who declared on Friday he wanted to be Australia’s next PM.

But then he said he didn’t.

Chances are he won’t.

Personally, I can’t stomach journalism like this whilst good journalists are freelancing and desperate for a job. And Fairfax wonder why people don’t buy the paper as much as they once did.



By prestontowers

I had been a teacher observing politics and the media from the outside for some time. I became a political insider, didn't like it much, and hightailed it back to watching it again. And still loving teaching.

15 replies on “Twits, Not Tweeps – Journalists Conflating Tweets into Psychological Analyses”

Sorry but your rant seems to lack an internal logic or clear point As a non Lefty and someone who is not in any way a fan of twitter I can see the point of Bolt’s commentary and I have seen the desperation of the left very clearly evident it various blogs, Twitter is the same but turned up to 11.

I am on twitter and have been using it for a number of years however my criticism here is focused upon your long form dialogue which seems to be rather less succinct and somewhat confused.
My criticism of twitter is per see is that it fails to be anything like the medium for serious political discourse that its enthusiasts claim for it and that any serious intent is attempted soon gets lost under the avalanche of snark and attempts to be a witty smart arse. the only value that medium has is to share links to other writing or news items which can cover the issues in more depth. Thus I just don’t expect anything but rubbish from twitter and if I come across anything of value its a bonus.

I agree with you about Twitter to an extent, which is why I find myself less and less engaged with it. There are a lot of hollow smart alecs on the medium who do little but snark at those who want to take things a bit seriously. I find myself dragged into becoming that to an extent, to the end of hating myself for it. This is why I am trying to cut myself off from the hollowness and snarky subtweeting that is all too easy to do. Thank you for the comment.

I have been around blogs and blogging for going on eight years now and the way twitter is now is how it used to be in the commentary on Blogs frankly I’m quite happy that most of the annoying idiots have migrated there because it means that those who have stuck to commenting on blogs are generally more grown up and far more sensible.

Thanks Preston. I enjoyed reading that analysis.
I am one that no longer reads Fairfax or News Ltd for the very reason you suggest.

The funny thing is that you don’t confront the left biases claim by the author of the article.
The ABC left? Really?
It’s run by neoliberal hacks; Howard won, New Labor failed, move on.

“My criticism of twitter is per see is that it fails to be anything like the medium for serious political discourse that its enthusiasts claim for it and that any serious intent is attempted soon gets lost under the avalanche of snark and attempts to be a witty smart arse”

This criticism is, in the opinion of a great many, increasingly applicable to the “mainstream” media. Perhaps that’s why Twitterfolk engage as they do.

Good article. Simple crap by the journo – a real story would be who was the source of the rumblings (names please) and until he provides that he is simply a jerk-off not worthy of his salary. Is he trying to be the new Peter Harcher?

I am very new to Twitter and have enjoyed the political debate viewed. You do have to filter for genuine discussion, but hey I found your blog, so its working OK still I think. I too was finding Fairfax stale and ceased subscription.

Nice evaluation. l hold no faith in finding `valuable` information on politics (or much else) via the embedded media. They have pretty much vacated the field. What l do find strange is both Mr-Rabbit`s and Joolya`s mobs don`t kick up about the crap media coverage of `this_verses_that` which fails to represent both big parties and policies accurately or fairly. lnstead, both sides are strongly disliked by the general voting public, with the exception or very small and loud rusted-on`s for each side.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s