ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Online advocacy networks, issue mobilisations and the Coal Seam Gas controversy

Asha Titus, Declan Kuch

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 5 - Law Building, Room 020
Date: 2012-07-12 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-02-16


This paper will chart the evolving dynamics and composition of online advocacy networks and the ‘ad hoc’ online publics that coordinate around the issue of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) by analyzing Australian social content on the popular micro-blogging platform, Twitter. Using Twitter’s public API and parsing Twitter streams for the hashtags #fracking #CSG #lockthegate #gasland, #wewantCSG and other emerging trending topics we will archive and trace this issue trajectory over a period of 6 months.

Beginning with land use concerns raised by affected farmers, to contestations of industry expertise and technologies such as hydraulic fracturing or fracking based on clippings from the US documentary ‘Gasland’ (as vividly shown by an initial data exploration of youtube linked videos where it had high centrality), this issue has grown into a full blown public controversy with aggressive refutations and media campaigns (under the much ridiculed banner of ‘we want CSG’) by the petroleum and gas industry association. Currently a federal inquiry with public hearings is underway and what is interesting to note is the level of civic activism that propelled the momentum with online signature campaigns, calls to direct action, mainstream media debate as well as extensive online discussion. Regional alliances such as Lock the Gate that have recently gained visibility are a heterogenous network of 90 self organised community groups including resident action, Landcare, conservation, and church based groups together with traditional environmental protest groups and the Rural and Regional Greens that have so far conducted several demonstrations, blockades (resulting in arrests) and online campaigns offering legal aid and directions for landowners who wish to ‘lock the gate’ against mining companies seeking to drill on their premises.

The aims of this paper are two-fold: given the complex, diverse networks and unusual emerging coalitions around this issue, we will use network metrics to analyse relative influence of dominant clusters of actors. Secondly, by analysing hashtags and retweeting against key critical events we will examine if the issue publics formed around CSG news discussion topics crystallise into more persistent direct action and ‘communicative communities’; thereby addressing the question of how the structure of twitter functions (such as @replies and #trends) facilitates communicative practices, issue based temporal frame creation and content production to its multiple imagined audiences.

This research addresses the role of participative Web 2.0 dynamics in public debate and the potential of such new forms of political participation that have come to be characterised as the ‘fifth estate’ (Dutton 2008) allegedly enabling new forms of democratic accountability and voice independent of traditional media interests and institutions.