Twitter adding 50,000 Australians a month

New research shows that Australian Twitter accounts have mainly been created to keep up to date with breaking news, particularly during major crisis such as earthquakes and flooding.
Written by AAP , Contributor and  Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

A new survey by the Queensland University of Technology has uncovered that there were 2.8 million Australian Twitter accounts out of 750 million accounts globally at September 2013.

The study by the QUT Social Media Research Group (SMRG) showed that while Twitter adoption in Australia grew slowly in the early days, it eventually peaked to more than 100,000 new registrations per month by early 2009. Following that, since 2010 the monthly growth rate has averaged some 45,000 accounts, gradually trending upwards to reach 80,000 in August 2013.

The study looked at users based on their profiles' location, description, and time-zone information for identifiably Australian keywords and locations.

"The early hype that saw substantial numbers of early adopters flock to the service may be gone, but as an established social medium Twitter now enjoys a relatively steady influx of new Australian accounts," said SMRG leader professor Axel Bruns, who noted that the amount of Australian Twitter accounts would translate to a national Twitter adoption rate of 12 percent.

"What we cannot see from our data, however, is the number of existing accounts that were deleted each month."

On a state-by-state basis, the study identified that Queensland and the Northern Territory are among the leading adopters, while Western Australia and South Australia lag slightly. Meanwhile, ACT residents are "especially enthusiastic" with the study attributing the concentration of national media, political, and administrator personnel who have Twitter accounts live in area.

The study showed events such as the Queensland floods drove a considerable spike in Queensland-based accounts during 11 and 12 January, following those days, account sign-up rates also increased in other states, including Victoria and New South Wales. Similarly, the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand saw a larger number of Australians sign up than usual. However, the same pattern did not follow when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on 11 March.

"I think one of things we're seeing from this kind of work is that Twitter plays an important role in a broad range of content, certainly for professional people in news, politics, and marketing, as well for crisis communication or anything to do with breaking news. We're seeing a lot of valid use of Twitter," Bruns said.

While the research did not identify exactly which industries were using Twitter, Bruns said clusters of topics were mainly around news and politics, business and industries, as well as sports and lifestyle.

According Bruns, there was also a larger-than-average spike in generally 'Australian' accounts during January 2013 and that was caused mainly a large number of spam bots. For example, of 1,106 new accounts on 16 January, 170 accounts claimed to be 'Australia's support member for the global information network'; 153 offered "Australian business for sale listings"; 155 promoted "software and services in Singapore, Australia, China, and Japan"; and 164 accounts claimed to be an "independent mortgage broker in Australia".

"I'm assuming there was a bit of lag between new accounts being created on Twitter and Twitter itself running whatever detection tools it is to identify spam bots. There's always going to be some spam accounts on Twitter," Bruns said.

"We could find them easily most of them had mostly identical description and they were sometimes deliberately varied a little with a bit of misspelling in the description so they wouldn't look exactly the same, but they would be descriptions about a real estate agent selling this and that, and you get a hundred account with the same description.

"I think Twitter can improve its own detection of repeat creation of accounts with same descriptions, same locations, within the same week or so. I don't think we'll get to a point where we'll be able to detect them reliability and eliminate them immediately, but I think there is a way to go to detect them."

Last week the social media company acquired Mitro Labs, a startup in Lower Manhattan with a service designed for sharing passwords safely for a single account. This is in addition to the company's effort to step up its password security where in May 2013 it added two-factor authentication option.

Previously, the company has found itself victim of a widely reported cyberattack where 250,000 user accounts were compromised.

Bruns said he expects to repeat the survey process soon to uncover the progress of Twitter usage in Australia.

The study is part of a two-year project funded by a $710,000 Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grant from the Australian Research Council.

QUT is collaborating with Deakin, Curtin, and Swinburne universities and the National Library of Australia to develop large-scale research into Australian uses of social media.

In a separate study, the Australia National University (ANU) and China's Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) has used social media to detect people suffering depression.

The joint study showed based on analysing data from Chinese social media site Weibo those who suffer from depression have a higher activity level on social media between 11pm and 3am compared to other social media users based.

Co-researcher Jin Han, a PhD student with the ANU National Institute for Mental Health Research, said the study identified these people had specific linguistic patterns and were most likely to use negative words such as "death, depression, life, pain, and suicide".

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