The State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW) documents life in New South Wales through collecting a wide range of materials covering all aspects of New South Wales life from the time of the coming of the Europeans to the present day. For the NSW State Election (28 March 2015), the Library collected a wide range of materials; foremost amongst them a collection of social media, websites and blogs.
The collection of social media content relating to elections raises new methodological and technical challenges. Firstly, one must decide upon a systematic process for defining query terms to be used with social media search engines; these will collect public discussions from all the electorates and all the election topics. Secondly, monitoring the effectiveness of these terms and the topical relevance of the collected data is a time-consuming task that can quickly overwhelm library staff.
The SLNSW and the CSIRO collaborated on these challenges, using the social media monitoring tool Vizie to select, archive and analyse public digital material documenting the candidates, parties, interest groups and election issues. Specifically, the SLNSW developed a new collection framework specifically to collect digital material for elections, identifying the query terms, digital presences and sites representing the candidates, parties, interest groups, and election issues. These included Twitter accounts and hashtags, Facebook pages, websites and blogs which were utilised by the Vizie tool to capture digital posts.
The CSIRO designed new data organisation tools and analyses to help library staff gauge the effectiveness of the collection framework and the collected data. This included data labelling tools for attributing content to each of the 93 electorates, ensuring that each electorate was represented in the data set. Analyses revealed commonalities in public discussion and provided feedback on which query terms accounted for the collected data.
Primarily from Twitter and Facebook, over 500,000 posts were collected between December 2014 and April 2015, however additional data was also sourced from websites, blogs, and other social media platforms. Post-election analysis of the collection revealed some interesting insights: for example, election issues shared via online sources correlated moderately with the major election issues of the general population. Furthermore, the volume of posts per electorate indicated where the election battles were hardest fought.
This paper details a new election-specific collection framework, including the process for identifying and collecting the material, as well as novel Vizie extensions implemented to provide ongoing feedback on the collection framework. This contribution has the potential to benefit other institutions wishing to capture meaningful collections of social media posts around specific public events, such as elections. The paper will thus also include lessons learnt and thoughts for future election digital collections.
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