The role of Twitter as networked communication instrument for elite of Latvia

International Conference on Social e – xperience, Barcelona, 3 – 4 July 2012

 Abstract

This paper analyses multi-dimensional conceptualizations of social presence on Twitter through the components of awareness, cognitive and affective social presence. A special attention is devoted to the aspect of political participation, opinion leaders and involvement of the elite whose presence approximate different groups of society. The article also addresses critique of contemporary public communication of the network society in which presence and participation becomes more important than the outcome of the discussion. The empirical evidence of theoretical assumptions are tested by Twitter users in Latvia community survey comparing the data of 2010 and 2012 and the Twitter data corpus collected in analogical period of time, accumulating tweets of carefully selected community members.

Key words: social presence, Twitter, elite’s political participation, communication

Introduction

Contemporary communication can be characterized as a set of emergencies to which one should react and with which one cannot keep up as it is not even possible.(Dean 2010).The speed and opportunities offered by technologies put an individual into a turning wheel in which thoughts are turned into reactions that have to be fast enough to catch up with the subject. Dean calls it communicative capitalism naming the features of this economic-ideological form as “intensive and extensive networks of enjoyment, production and surveillance”.

Since the invention of Twitter, microblogging has speed up the initiatives what individuals could have only dreamed of a decade ago. Twitter is enabling citizens to maintain mental model of news and events around them (Harmida, 2010). The flow of information has become faster as have the abilities to follow and think. Therefore, the world of communication has become turbulent, networked and focused on immediate issues which can be explored by a heavy presence in the networks of the social virtual world.

The contemporary networked communications have been noted as components of globalized neoliberalism (Harvey, 2005) and central to democracy (Dean, 2010). This is the time of communicative liberalism where focus is primarily centered on individual’s expressive creative activities in the networked public (Kersey, 2011).  Nowadays, social presence in the digital environment is accounted by messages posted, virtual availability for discussion and openness to involvement. This is not any more the feature of the early adopters, but the necessity of any socially active person. Rainie and Wellman (2012) name it a “networked operating system that gives people new ways to solve problems and meet social needs” (p. 9) pointing out that a characteristic feature of the system is networked individualism which is socially liberating and socially taxing and shift people’s social lives from the family and neighborhood level to more diverse personal networks.

Blogging and tweeting has become the forms of active social presence, attitude formation and expression in various society groups. Even though Twitter unites a rather small percent of the society, the more visible part – representatives of the elite, media, public relations and many other professions – have found this tool powerful and effective enough to be a part of it. Technologies connected with communication help to maintain contact with weaker ties and provide social capital. Rainie and Wellman (2012) see it as opportunity “to change the world or at least their neighborhood, organizing major political activity“(p. 19). The abilities of Twitter which unites the most active part of the society serve as a scene where anyone from the elite to a humble citizen can show themselves as caring members of the community. An individual can choose its own level of participation through creation of simple or value content, active or passive replies and retweets. The message of 140 characters can become a trust builder, mistake creator or information flow without particular target audience.

The case analysis of Latvia’s Twitter community explored in this article has been chosen due to the fact of high opinion leaders and the elite representation among the users of this microblogging platform. Even though Twitter users in Latvia position themselves as friend’s community, the results reveal a strong presence of the elite members of the most recognizable occupations: media, PR & advertising, music & art, politics, NGO, business and other. The phenomenon of connected individuals community has brought a high level of the governing elite and opinion leaders participation in discussions of political and economic interests.

The tasks of this paper are to explore whether communication instruments and technical abilities advance the political involvement of society through microblogging platform and to explore the role of networked communication within communicative capitalism – whether active consumption and circulation of information regarding political issues feature just discussion or facilitate an organization of various forms of political participation outside the virtual world.

The empirical data for this research will be provided by the two surveys executed in the Twitter community of Latvia in 2010 and 2012 and compared with independently collected data corpus of Latvia Twitter community tweets during 1 month of the pre-election period in 2010 and an election-free period in 2012.

Social presence factor in networked communication

The classical theory view on social presence assort different communication media along a one-dimensional continuum “social presence”, where the degree of social presence is equated to the degree of awareness of the other person in a communication interaction (Sallnas, Rassmus-Grohn & Sjostrom, 2000), stressing that a face-to-face medium has the most of the social presence, whereas all written and text-based communication has the least. Social presence is a basic architecture component for the telecommunication systems (Venkatesh & Johnson, 2002), the main construct analyzing CMC (Biocca, Kim & Lecy, 1995) and information sharing in CMC (Miranda, Saunders 2003). Walter (1995) has discovered its ability to develop the same intimacy as in face-to-face communication by using CMC over a longer time period which amplifies a strong sense of social presence.

Today, social presence is demonstrated by the way messages are posted digitally and how these messages are interpreted by others. It is strongly related to online interaction (Loeng, 2011) as the actual quality of communication sequence or context (Gunawardena, 1995). Being with another (Biocca, Harms & Burgoon, 2003) is a theory principle for the mobile and online media (Ames & Naaman, 2007) and Facebook usage (Chui, Cheung & Lee, 2008). Social presence defines how the participants relate to one another, which in turn affects their ability to communicate effectively (Kehrwald, 2008). Communication interaction has become the main component, leaving the medium per se for the past contemplations (Biocca, Harms & Burgoon, 2003). The new theoretical insights highlight the shift of this theory interpretation from a physical face-to-face to a perception of the actual presence which can be of different time and location (Lowry, Benjamin, Romano, Cheney & Hightower, 2006).

Steinbruck, Schaumburg, Duda &Kruger (2002) in their research have found that social presence brings closer virtual interactions to face-to-face communication and improves human communication contributing to the effectiveness of the virtual worlds (Yeh, Lin & Lu, 2011).

The more contemporary is the theory, the more it stresses different social factors that influence the success of communication. It means that in order to have an efficient communication with meaningful information exchange, the communicator has to have a multidimensional nature of social presence and has to find an appropriate subject, a medium and a communication partner. Tu (2002) has defined three dimensions of social presence: social context, online communication and interactivity where each dimension consists of a set of variables. The properties of communication interaction are bounded by social affordance of communication technologies, that is, the properties of technical environment which act as social-contextual facilitators relevant for the users’ social interactions (Kreijns, Kirchner, Jochems & Buuren, 2004).

The multidimensional meanings of social presence have been articulated in the researches of Biocca (Biocca, Harms & Burgoon, 2003) which highlight the approach on social presence as sensory awareness of others often achieved through such self-presentation features as signatures, avatars and personal profiles from the psychological aspect. The behavioral view stresses the importance  of the social experiences encountered in virtual places and provides a sense of having been present somewhere else by moving only virtually. Heeter (2003) has discovered that presence is an experience that varies in moment-to-moment fashion, and it can be learned experience.

Social presence plays an important role in establishment of online community in which the Internet-connected individuals interact with common interest, need or purpose (Preece, 2000). Whether it is sharing of knowledge, a status update or an information gain, being one of a community gives a feeling of social presence. The aspect of face-to-face communication theories developed before the raise of CMC has lost its importance. Shen & Khalifa (2008) state that compared to unidimensional conceptualizations of presence/social presence, multidimensional conceptualizations can better capture the user’s experience with online communities and therefore can indicate more valuable implications for community design. They have introduced a three-dimensional conceptualization of the social presence for online communities which mean that the social context is accompanied by an affective and cognitive engagement with the other members of the online community. It has transformed itself to such more psychological dimensions as awareness, affective social presence and cognitive social presence. In the online communities, awareness can be achieved “through users’ continuous participation in online discussion forums in the form of posting” (Shen & Khalifa, 2008). Awareness is secured by continuous communication as participation and interaction with other community members, display of online status and a feeling that other social actors are around to engage in communication (Heeter, 1992). Cognitive social presence refers to the extent to which a user is able to construct and confirm meaning about his or her relationship with others and the social space. Affective social presence shows person’s emotional connection with the particular virtual worldCognitive social presence refers to the belief about the user’s relationship with others and the social context.

Social presence conceptualized as the properties of the communication interaction, may better capture user perception of the online community and account for automatic or habitual aspects of community participation. To facilitate online community participation, Shen and Khalifa’s (2008) three-dimensional conceptualization of the social presence could be integrated into the motivational theory. It could create a direct effect of social presence on participation over and above those effects which are mediated by the motivational variables.

Past research of social presence factor analysis in Twitter

Online technologies and related practices for social interaction and engagement have originated a new form of shared virtual interpersonal communication. One of the most popular microblogging tools Twitter, authorizing its over 500 million[1] participants that acts also as social network and social media, “informing oneself about breaking news” (Teevan, Ramage & Morris, 2011) and expressing attitudes, emotions and opinions (Wohn & Na 2011). The popularity of Twitter since its establishment in 2006 is based on CMC stipulated by the fact of social presence of its participants. Social interaction via communication tools in real time give a great number of opportunities for self-expression, social networking, exchange of information and other virtual actions which an individual requires.

The broader concept of social presence on Twitter has not been widely analyzed; therefore, the author of the article will explore the main theoretical concepts which will be illustrated by facts and researches executed on Twitter.

Twitter can be explored from Shen and Khalifa’s (2008) three dimension online community model perspective with components of awareness, cognitive social presence and affective social presence. Measuring awareness, an important factor for most of the Twitter users, can be illustrated by a research implemented by Cha, Haddadi, Benevenuto & Gummadi (2010) estimating a user’s influence on others by indegree, retweet and mention influence. Following the analysis of a little over 6 million active users interacted with a set of 52 million users, the authors concluded that indegree represents user’s popularity but it is not related to other notions of influence. Retweets are driven from the content value of the tweet but mentions are driven from the value of the user. The most influential users can hold an influence over a variety of topics and they have a disproportionate amount of influence, caused by the power of law. It was discovered that none of the influence is gained spontaneously because to gain and maintain influence users have to keep high personal involvement.

Affective social presence can be illustrated by research done by Barnes and Bohringer (2009) whose conclusions on the causes of Twitter popularity is based on the fact that “continuance behavior of Twitter users is strongly determined by their perception of the value” (p.11). This emotional connection has aroused by virtual interaction with particular social network, whose “size influences development of the past use behavior and of perceptions of the critical mass, as users see the value of interacting with significant group of nodes in their network” (p.11). The results suggest that the continued use is strongly affected by satisfaction and habit.

Dunlap & Lowenthal (2009) research addresses very practical application of the affective social presence dimension – the possibility of an extensive use of Twitter in the study process. The results from incorporation of Twitter in two study courses intensifying just-in-time communication have brought to practical conclusions suggesting a succession of institutional benefits of Twitter use in particular: writing concisely, writing for the audience, connecting with professional community of practice, supporting informal learning and maintaining ongoing relationships.

Cognitive social presence referred as extent till which user is able to construct and confirm meaning of the relationship with others on the social space has common ideas with Naaman, Becker & Gravano’s (2011) research in which Twitter is called a social awareness system which has been shifting the way of how information is produced and consumed. Researchers’ aim is to interpret the emerging temporal trends of information appearing on Twitter by categorizing them and distinguishing features of trends. Investigation of 48 million tweets posted by Twitter users in New York City within the period of 7 months showed that trends originated from outside of Twitter are more informational than conversation. They generate more independent contributions while endogenous tweets originates within Twitter require stronger ties to be transmitted and these tweets differ in content, interaction, time, participation and social characteristics. People are keen on discussing but they forward less, in the context of local events as compared to other exogenous trends.

One of the basic concepts defining social presence by Biocca is “being with another” explains the main principle of Twitter – you have to follow Twitter users and you should be followed for an effective communication. Being with others mean interaction on physical and social levels. The capabilities of Twitter have enabled coupling of the physical and social systems. Publishing status updates, links to newspaper articles, hashtagging the conversation topic or retweeting “makes the communication space of this medium, on the one hand, a big arena, on the other hand, a very complex arena to navigate in” (Taekke, 2011, p.11). The events of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia, mirrored in Twitter as one of the fastest information tools of the 21st century, proved communication ability articulated by social presence to give pressure and influence through “an effect chain from the social media through mass media, through public opinion” (Taekke, 2011, p.12). The interdependence of physical and social systems “has produced new audience configurations” (Murthy, 2011, p.780). The audience has taken an opportunity to generate media content themselves because the physical location and the social necessity for expression has guided this action.

One of the first examples of the social presence broadcasted over Twitter occurred when Janis Krums posted a picture of a crashed plane on the Hudson River.[2] It has become a classic of the citizen journalism. Production, participation and consumption on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other user-generated media outlets represent a gradual involvement of its participants, starting just with consuming “after breaking through some barriers, individuals participate through interacting with the content and other users” (Shao, 2009, p.15). From the perspective of uses and gratifications, the more an individual is engaged with the social media, the bigger is the personal and the society gain (Haase & Young, 2010).

Network communication impact on political participation

Networked communications are the cause for disruption of the axis of control between the political elites and journalists, the new media environment in particular diminishes the role of both to influence setting and framing of the political agenda by opening the space for public to interpret politics (Williams & Carpini, 2000). The increased opportunities of public towards to the elite within communication networks originate a new level of interaction and participation in public life. Only a limited number of persons possesses the necessary skills to make meaningful contributions to public discourse (Ferree, 2002). Depending on whether it is the elite or the general public, political participation via communication instruments is either professional or amateur. A person can be an elite politician but the lack of technological and communication skills in the virtual world brings the individual to the same level on which somebody from the general public is located with his opinion about the processes in the society. In such contemporary public communication, the noble amateur replaces the professional journalist; the celebrity replaces a cultural hero (Kersey, 2012). Such a platform as Twitter concentrates opinion leaders and influencers by the fact that everyone can become a publisher (Rainie & Wellman, 2012).

Twitter communicative autonomy provides tools for citizen involvement and creation of content instead of turning them into “unsophisticated consumers of information” (Carpini & Williams 2000, p.65). Presence, participation and communicative action have created a new feature of “politics as circulation” (p.98) where information is fetishizated but the political judgment is absent (Barney 2008). In result – no decisions are made because of persistent introduction of new information. Persons with access to information become voices to be heard due to their ability to form a substantial number of networked followers. Žižek’s (2006) critical approach points more at the individual enjoyment of the process rather than productive actions provided by the tools of the network systems. He also indicates a loss of the binding power of words because a person can erase himself from the system and “further incentives for their word to their bond” (Dean 2010, p.7). The boundary between the reality and the identity in the virtual world is slippery in terms of fulfillment of fantasies by using the keyboard.  From social presence point of view, the social experiences approach is dominating by giving the ability to move virtually through the issues of one’s own interest.

Even the architecture of the microblogging platform Twitter is oriented on the individual; the community awareness is represented through affective social presence as emotional bounds to particular audience with whom the person communicates. The border between a quality community member contributing value information with judgment content and just somebody who communicates whatever communication, communication of communicativity (Dean, 2010), is hard to draw. Terranova (2005) turns attention to the evaluation of the contribution of every community member going beyond just the coded signal and noise. According to Peters (2008), the influential elites have an influence over a large general public while the segmented elites hold a debate within their own circle, spreading the influence over other general public’s only randomly.

Discursive processes between the public elites and the general public should lead to integration of well-considered public opinions into political system. The distribution of political opinions in the pre-election phase resembles a production process where the arguments are distributed over different segments of networked public with a hope for good sales. On the contrary, after the election period, when the public political participation is not that important, the status of being influential as a public elite member is reached via communicative liberalism caused by the elite competition of keeping track of public interest.

Methodology and design

The aims of this study via survey of the Twitter users of Latvia are: 1) to define the aims, perceptions and habits; 2) to explore multi dimensionality of social presence; 3) to highlight the most visible elite groups in the community. The data will include responses gathered via the microblogging platform during the pre-election period in 2010 and a non-election period in 2012.

The aims of the study via analysis of an independent dataset are: 1) to test Twitter users of Latvia  behavior according to the tweets collected during the same period of time as survey; 2) to test the communication interests of Twitter users of Latvia according to the groups identified in the survey.

Dataset

As mentioned before, there are two blocks of data to be used for this study – the survey and the independent dataset of tweets. The first Twitter users of Latvia survey was executed within the period of 10 days (July 19–July 28,, 2010) gathering 403 valid responses for further statistical data analysis. The second Twitter users of Latvia survey took place for 17 days (April 24–May 10, 2012) gathering 471 valid responses. In 2010, the survey consisted of 37 questions; in 2012 it comprised 39 questions. The accounts surveyed are in the Latvian language[3]. Even though Latvia can be considered a bilingual country in which the mother tong for a little bit more than a half of the population is Latvian, while for the other half is Russian or other language, it is possible to analyze only Latvia Twitter community which communicates in Latvian because of the uniqueness of the language which is spoken only by a couple of millions of people in the world. The communication in Russian even by the inhabitants ofLatvia cannot be tracked due to the reason that Russian is a widely spoken language.

There is no publicly available official data about Twitter users in Latvia. According to local media experts, in 2010Latviahad estimated 32393 Twitter users, 19 848 of them had used Twitter during the month before, 14 666 were hyperactive users who had tweeted 3 times during 7 days.

The first set of tweets dataset was collected within the period of 28 days (September 23–October 20, 2010)[4]. The dataset from 2010 is based on data collected during the study of Latvian parliamentary election (Skilters, 2012). It was formed from a set of Twitter user accounts that represent opinion leaders in the Latvian Twittersphere who are active in discussing political and other issues. The set of accounts for collecting the data was seeded of 179 accounts to follow. To view the broader scope of the discussion, the poll was enlarged by including accounts mentioned in the tweets collected. For the research purposes accounts were manually selected to correspond to the relevance of the topic. As relevant were considered: (1) media organization accounts; (2) most active Twitter individuals; (3) analysts and individuals discussing the elections and politics; (4) accounts of political parties and their candidates for the parliament. This process was repeated several times. As the result, 1217 accounts were acknowledged as valid for further exploitation. The collected data used for research are composed of 162808 tweets from which 53% are regular tweets, 33% are replies and 14% are retweets.

The total size of the dataset from 2012 is 122602 messages consisting of: 50% regular tweets, 32% replies and 18% retweets. It was collected during 28 days in 2012 (April 16–May 13) by collecting Twitter messages from the set of user accounts used for collecting the dataset in 2010, amended by 163 new accounts of politicians and other opinion leaders that were discovered on Twitter since.
For the qualitative analysis of data, key words were selected representing political (politics, voting, parliament, etc.), economical (euro, money, budget, etc.) and entrepreneurial (company, brand, discounts) communication to account the frequency of topics discussed in 2010 and 2012.

Latvia Twitter user survey analysis

The demographical data of Twitter users of Latvia is one of the basic elements that determine Twitter functions in the country. The community age composition is persistent: 37% from 20–24 years, 25% from 25–29, 14% from 15–19, 15% from 30–39, 4% from 40–49, 2% over 50. Accordingly, the age of the biggest part of individuals – 62% (2010) and 63% (2012) – is 20–29.

Comparing the data of Twitter users in the US, the proportion looks different in favor of the older age group of the main users – 54% of 25–44 years old users leaving behind 44% of 18–34 year olds[5]. The Twitter community of Australia is older as well because 53% are 35–54 year old persons and only 19% are 18–34 years old[6].

The demographics by occupation depend on the age division of the users, marking students proportionally the biggest part of the respondents, followed by IT, marketing, advertising, PR and media. The increase from 15% to 23% of “Other” professions marks a positive change towards widening of the Twitter user scope

Table 1. Occupation of surveyed Twitter users of Latvia

.

Occupation 2010 2012
Student 27% 29%
IT & Telecommunication 16% 13%
Politics 1% 1%
Finances 3% 3%
Marketing & advertising 12% 10%
Public relations 10% 7%
Media 5% 5%
Academic 4% 3%
Sales 3% 3%
Tourism 2% 2%
Production 2% 2%
Other 15% 23%

Tu and McIssac’s analysis (2002) established three dimensions of the social presence – social context, online communication and interactivity. This theory is tested with research of Twitter users of Latvia  and gives an empirical evidence of the correctness of these assumptions, particularly that microblogging platform is powered by a social presence of its participants.

One of the dimensions defined by the authors of the theory – social context – is viewed through the following criteria: users’ characteristics and perception of online environment (Steinfield 1986), task orientation, recipients’ social relationships (Williams, Rice 1983), trust (Cutler 1995) and social process (Walther 1992). The reflection of the mentioned criteria can be found in Twitter users of Latvia survey results. The survey data of 2010 show that 42% of the respondents are using Twitter for more than a year but 8% – more than 2 years, which leads to an assumption that 50% of the respondents are experienced users of the microblogging platform. In 2012, the tendency is even more evident because 86% of the respondents are using Twitter from 1 to 3 years. However, the amount of newcomers have dropped from 50% (2010) to 13% (2012). This fact leads to an assumption that Twitter is becoming a firm community for people who have found this platform corresponding to their needs. In 2012, 90% of the respondents approved their ambition to continue to use Twitter in the future. 84% of the surveyed saw the Twitter user as a socially active person. In correlation to that, logical seems the increase of perception that Twitter is a powerful tool to call for action outside the virtual world from 77% in 2010 to 86% in 2012. These results correspond with Linkoln Dahlberg (2001) idea that networked communications are best utilized by individuals to become informed about political issues and to organize various forms of political participation, rather than to form alternative structures of political decision making.

The users’ habits of tweeting have not experienced essential changes in both survey periods. 43% of the respondents tweeted every day, 42% – several times per week, making total 85% of the active participants. Besides being active on Twitter, 57% of the respondents had their own blogs in 2010.

The Twitter user patterns can be featured in 2010 and 2012 surveys as deliberate and task-oriented because recipients’ main reasons for a use of Twitter are gathering of information, expression of one’s point of view and communication with other users. The resembling intensions have also been noted in Java’s research (2007), in which he states four main reasons of the Twitter use: daily chatter, conversations, sharing information and reporting news. Looking deeper in these issues, the ranking of reasons why people use this social platform is as follows: widening of mental outlook, entertainment, substitution of TV & press, use for work purposes.

67% of Twitter users of Latvia community  interacted with personally known accounts in 2010 but 2 years later this number has increased till 75%, leaving just 5% possibility to communicate with unknown accounts and 20% – with recognizable persons. The most of accounts in 2010 (75%) and in 2012 (56%) have chosen to follow from 100–200 persons. This is very different from the general Twitter statistics in the world where 81% of Twitter users are following less than 100 people[7]. The essential increases from 5% (2010) to 15% (2012) have experiencedLatvia accounts that follow from 500 – 5000 persons. This explains the fact that 14% has a high level but 48% a medium-high level trust to information published on Twitter in 2010 and tendency has remained stable. The social process as the element of social context dimension can be characterized by respondents’ attitude as 87% of them consider their personal accounts the best way how to address the audience.

Perception of Twitter in cognitive social presence context marks a definite attitude towards the platform because 58% agree versus 35% that do not agree to the fact of Twitter influence on their thoughts; however, on the contrary, 56% deny Twitter influence on their behavior. Dynamic adaptation of the Twitter social process has brought its users to a particular match scene because 51% of the respondents in 2012 admit the existence of competition with other users. 34% deny this idea and 15% have no opinion about it. 70% of the people surveyed acknowledge the possibility to spot other users’ behavior and learn from it.

A facilitator for social presence and active communication could be the fact of 99.99% recognition of the elite members’ presence within the community, ranked by professions as follows: media, PR & advertising, music & art, politics, NGO, business and other.

The next dimension of social presence is online communication perceived through computer literacy and language skills (Gunawardena, 1991), characteristics of discussion boards and use of emotions and paralanguage.

The professional and the age divisions, percentage of personal blogs, habits of being active tweeters leave no room for doubts about the level of computer literacy in Twitter users of Latvia community. The content of messages ranges from personal status updates to opinions and information sharing (Naaman, Becker & Gravano 2011) that characterizes the microbgloging platform users’ habits. In 2010, 36% of the surveyed considered themselves content creators, 43% – respondents of already created content, 13% preferred just to read and retweet, 9% – only to read the content. In total, 91% was engaged in social action of various levels. Data of 2012 show a decrease among the content creators (27%) and the just-readers (6%) and an increase in among the reactors (44%), the readers and the retweeters (22%). The slight changes can be explained by maturity of users and more extensive social presence through more communication and less content creation. This tendency reflects Dean (2010) argument that communicative capitalism reduces political action in favor of “consumption and circulation of information and transformation of governance into the production and assessment of public opinion” (Kersey, 2012, p.137)

The creators of almost any content expressed on the microblogging platform consider the content important. The ranking of tweets by importance in the survey of 2012 is the following: attitudes towards processes in the society, events in one’s own life, one’s own thoughts and ideas, one’s own political and economical views, just minor unimportant issues. When communicating, 75% of the respondents can see other active platform users and 92% are positive about collaboration with other users.

The significant proportion of the active content contributors and the consumers acknowledges the high level of computer and language literacy because 140 characters require skills to formulate the idea of the message as well as technical skills to attach the necessary audio/visual material which is often an integral part of the message. In 2010, only 32% of the respondents were aware of the behavioral and communication rules of Twitter versus 45% in 2012, whereas 51% of the unaware of the rules in 2010 have turned to 16% in 2012. The experience of platform use has diminished application uncertainty.

Theoretically, Twitter is considered a popular and significant form of communication (Hermida 2010, Dann 2010, Naaman 2011) but practically only a little percent of the society uses it. In such a small nation as Latvia, this social platform has become a communication circle of people who know one another. Probably, despite this fact 73% (2010), 61% (2012) of people are open to hear different opinions even if they contradict people’s views. Openness and ability to communicate with anyone on Twitter is proved by 66% of respondents who acknowledge discussion and communication with followers versus 40% of active message retweeters.

The third dimension of the social presence – interactivity – is characterized by active communication and learning activities communication styles (Norton, 1986), topics (Walter, 1992) and size of the groups. As the main gain from using Twitter, 86% of the respondents mark the chance to get to know information faster than others followed by assumptions that Twitter is a good entertainment and self-presentation tool. These responses correlate with the opinion of 84% of the respondents who assume that the Twitter user is a socially active person.

Even though architecture of Twitter does not mark particular groups of interests, their existence is shown by 64% of respondents of 2010 and 78% of 2012. Friends and politics are the two most remarkable groups. In the pre-election period, the main identified in the survey was politics, closely followed by friends. In 2012, these groups have exchanged their positions. The entrepreneurship group has increased its significance in 2012, which can be explained by the growing amount of commercial accounts on Twitter. The identification of the economy group has slightly diminished but kept stable attitudes of this group, in particular, composition of society’s view on important economical issues, involvement of society groups in economy processes and lobbying of established interests. Perception of political group functions has also remained stable in both surveys ranking the tasks by their importance as follows: creation of an opinion on political issues, a pre-election campaign in favor of a particular political force, the support in the image creation of the preferred politician, discreditation of the competitive political personalities.

Independent dataset analysis

The independently collected data around the time of the parliament election period in 2010 marks 91 accounts that have tweeted every day and several times per day, highlighting 7% as very active communicators. In 2012, this amount has increased till 114 accounts, reaching 10% of the users.

As this dataset contains not only individuals but also media, some commercial, political party, NGO and other initiative accounts, for research purposes it is useful to look at accounts whose owners are recognizable individuals. After the selection process, there are 1085 accounts containing 130166 tweets, making 11% less accounts and 13% less total amount of tweets than the startup data. Here the composition of communication is dispersed among 48% regular messages, 37% answers and 16 % retweets.

The most of regular, reply and retweet communication is set within the frame activity of 1–200 tweets in a 4 weeks period in each sector which reflects the harmonious use of possibilities provided by Twitter. The more perceptible changes of tweets’ dynamics lie in the data range of persons who do not reply and retweet. The difference in recognizable individual replies (+34%) and (+26%) in retweets versus the overall data shows the early Twitter users’ tendency of one way communication via regular messages. The data of 2012 already show a decrease in these numbers – correspondingly (+20%) for replies and (+12%) for retweets.

The qualitative analysis of the dataset executed by the selection of the words included in tweets provides an opportunity to detect the main discussion topics of the selected set of the Twitter users. The results of the analyzed keywords in both years regarded politics above economics and entrepreneurship.

Table 2..The frequency ranking of used words

Keywords 2012 Keywords 2010
State 14,01% Elections, electorate 19,57%
Politics, politicians 8,71% To vote, votes 19,47%
Saeima 8,71% State 9,48%
Money 8,47% Politics, politicians 9,02%
President 7,86% Party 8,66%
Company 4,98% Saeima 6,89%
Elections, electorate 4,94% Money 4,81%
Party 4,87% Deputy 3,19%
Deputy 4,48% Company 2,41%
To vote, votes 4,41% President 2,21%
Economics 4,33% Economics 2,09%
Euro 3,60% Budget 2,00%
Finansing 3,25% Banks 1,88%
Business 2,91% Business 1,69%
Banks 2,76% Euro 1,05%
Budget 2,63% Enterpreneur 0,99%
Discount 2,24% Discount 0,98%
Enterpreneur 2,01% Parliament 0,84%
Parliament 1,47% Brand 0,82%
Democracy 0,83% Democracy 0,72%
Brand 0,69% Finansing 0,46%
Credit 0,67% Credit 0,27%
Enterpreneurship 0,61% Enterpreneurship 0,20%
Elite 0,50% Elite 0,16%
Sales 0,06% Sales 0,14%

As the dataset of both periods slightly differs, the evidence shows that Twitter users in Latvia community are interested in the same issues, only their topicality changes according to the agenda. In 2010, the main event was the election, correspondingly “elections” and “voting” were the main subjects to be discussed but even in a non-election year, the same keywords do not disappear from conversations. The economic issues in both years keep the ranking in the second tenth. It should be noted that the frequency of tweets in the first tenth is doubled or tripled in the pre-election period.

Discussion

The issue of the elite structure and its role in Twitter users in Latvia community is based on several factors. The age of the biggest community part makes us question whether the elite can be found in the age range between 20 and 29 years. In the political elite context, the latest parliament elections have speeded up the generation change in the highest decision-making body, giving 14% of the seats to individuals of this age group. Together with the age group of 30–40 years, the youngest deputies make 38% of the mandates.

Table 3.The age structure of the parliament members in Latvia

Election 1998 Election 2002 Election 2006 Election 2010 Election 2011
Age 21–40 34 31 20 26 38
Age 41–50 37 37 34 33 30
Age 51–60 22 22 22 29 24
Age over 60 7 10 14 12 8

On the contrary, the survey data of participation in the elections revealing the age structure of the voters note that the age group between18–24 is the most passive, constituting just 41% versus 73% in the age group of 35 – 44[8].

Interesting correlations can be drawn from the second demographic indicator “users by occupation” and individuals’ views of the represented elites on Twitter. The surveyed individuals have marked media as the number one elite of Twitter. Statistically, they make a small portion (in survey – just 5%) but the number of their followers and opportunities to spread opinion also out off the Twitter community make them influential. As an example, the chief editor of the weekly analytical magazine “Ir” Nellija Ločmele is one of Latvia’s Top 10 influential Twitter persons[9] along with the Prime Minister and other ministers. Politicians, represented in the survey just by 1%, are the fourth biggest group identified as the elite on Twitter. The use of microblogging platform for political communication requires ideas, skills and regular involvement. There is no evidence of tendency for those politicians who initiate active tweeting to stop communication after the election period if they stay in politics. The established number of followers gives more value to the content if participation is regular. It gives an opportunity for the general public to follow the politician not just professionally, but also personally. Twitter is preferred more by the younger generation political elite who do not have a lot of parliamentarian and political experience. As the survey revealed an increase in perception of the existing rules and norms on Twitter, open communication and regular involvement are one of the components along with a quality content that makes Twitter the political platform for those who are ready to play under the rules.

According to Zaller (1992), Twitter users in Latvia community has a high level of political awareness because the fast information gain is seen as the main benefit of the platform use. The highlighted factual political knowledge and interest in politics can be explained by many conversational topics regarding this theme.

The differences of perception whom to trust in the general  public and the Twitter community can be noted considering the annual survey of the economically active persons between 18 and 55 years[10]. Trust to parliament is estimated at 0.3%, trust to government and president at 1% and trust to social networks and media at 2% versus the Twitter community which shows 62% of trust to the Twitter content.  Respectively, as the members of the parliament and other politicians are among the active Twitter users and are recognized as the 4th biggest  elite group in this microblogging platform, it can be concluded that the access to information from the primary sources and the abilities to communicate directly with the elite enhance the general trust.

The survey data pointed out that only 1% of the participants regard their occupation as politicians, so hypothetically – decision-makers. The selection of Twitter accounts for the dataset analysis, identified about 150 accounts of decision-makers (the members of the parliament, ministers, heads of the political parties). The small set of “potential decision-makers” that is regarded as the 4th biggest elite group identified on Twitter can be explained by Peters’ (2008) idea of influential actors who affect circulation of ideas without having visibility or authority. The rest of the recognized elite by the survey can be regarded as the level between the general public and the decision-making elite, according to Kersey (2012), due the increased “capacity of the public relative to the elite public actors within the public sphere” (p.205). The classical set of the elite – the general public is demolished on Twitter. The new setup within the networked public is called “intermediate production and active consumption” (Kersey, 2012, p.222) where production occurs on the elite level and reflects creation of the content (regular tweets) but consumption – replies and retweets – on the segmented elites’ level (Peters 2008). As Kersey (2012) notes, “at the elite level, processes are primarily oriented at strategic competition for influence; at the general public, processes are primarily forms of consumption” (p.230). Topicality of the information gain, expression of the opinion and interaction with the other members of the community have positioned Twitter as a set of communicative action platform whose members see opportunities to take the actions out of the virtual space but the hurdle of the authority and instruments of influence in the real world prevent it. This can be applied to one of the biggest represented groups of around 20% (marketing, advertising, PR) which is also identified as the second biggest elite group.

Although the members of the political elite and opinion leaders are among the active communicators on Twitter, the instrument of the survey and the dataset analysis do not reveal their personal aims being reflected on Twitter. It can be speculated that the elite is here – on Twitter to collect public opinions and discuss the current political issues with the opinion leaders and the general public. The further research of the elite networks, their conversation objects and tweet content could give a better affirmation of their actions.

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[1] 500 million of Twitter users reached February 22, 2012. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/02/22/twitters-500-million-user/..

[2] Janis Krums posted on Twitter the picture of a US Airlines plane crashed on January 16, 2009. This picture became the first eye-witness of the moment of the crash and was later used by the traditional media all over the world.

[3] The latest population census of 2011 gathered information about 2070371 inhabitants of Latvia where 59.5% are Latvians. Retrieved from  http://www.csb.gov.lv/en/statistikas-temas/population-census-2011-key-indicators-33613.html,

[4] It is important to note that parliamentary election took place on October 2, 2010.

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[8] The survey of Latvia inhabitants. August 2009. Retrieved from http://web.cvk.lv/pub/upload_file/atskaite_CVK_082009.pdf.

[9] Study by Burson – Marsteller, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.g20influencers.com/country-page-latvia.php

[10] Survey by TNS Latvia, executed in 2012. Retrieved from http://www.tns.lv/?lang=lv&fullarticle=true&category=showuid&id=3738

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