Background

Since the Four Corners report on the ABC detailing cruelty in slaughtering cattle in some Indonesian abattoirs the subject of the Live Cattle Trade has been in the media, traditional and new, every single day. The trade was quickly suspended after protests from animal welfare groups like the RSPCA and some members of parliament expressed the horror that everyone felt from those images. Since that initial suspension there have been some calling for a permanent ban on the trade whilst others have called it an illogical reaction and called for the lifting of the suspension. On July 6th the suspension was lifted. There have been reports of backbenchers in the Labor party being in ‘revolt’ over the lifting of the ban and some of the independent members of parliament are introducing private members bills to stop the trade altogether. All claim to be overwhelmed by their constituents reactions.

But what has been the ‘social intelligence’ on this subject? What has been the general tone and frequency of conversations in the social web regarding the trade? We decided to have a look at the social forums, blogs, twitter etc to see what the sentiment has been.

Before detailing the analysis, a fairly major point on transparency. Besides working here at iGo2, I run a small beef farming operation. I do not supply to the Live Trade but I clearly have an opinion on the subject which is somewhat coloured by my knowledge of the industry and my participation in it. Anyway, I believe I have kept my personal views out of this analysis.

 

Data

We looked at the social data in a couple of different ways. We searched on the terms “live cattle trade” and “live export trade” as well as “ban live cattle trade” and “ban live export trade”. We used proximity searches – looking for these words within reasonable proximity to each other but not necessarily as an exact phrase. All data was searched over a six month period from Jan 11th to July 12th and focused on conversations between people or sources who identified themselves as Australians.

For the first set of terms – without the word ‘ban’ in them we found 360 blog mentions, 6903 news mentions and 261 forum mentions. So there is no question that the traditional news channels were pretty active but there was not really that much activity in other channels. Surprisingly, for the second set of searches, when we included the word ‘ban’ the activity dropped to 81 blogs, 1650 news mentions and 23 forums. So most of the coverage did not necessarily focus on the aspect of banning the trade.

We also searched specific hashtags – ‘livetrade’, ‘banliveexport’ and ‘liveexport’. The first had so few tweets that we decided to remove it from the analysis. The #banliveexport had 20,417 tweets during this period whilst the #liveexport had 1098 tweets during the same period.

Just for a comparison we had a look at the data for Indonesia (the recipient country of the cattle in this case and the place where the animal cruelty took place). There were so few references to these terms as to be quite meaningless in terms of analysis. So whilst this received, and continues to receive a lot of coverage in the social and traditional channels in Australia; no one in Indonesia is too deeply immersed in any conversation on the trade.

 

Our Analysis

So firstly, lets look at how this issue has appeared:

Not surprisingly, the issue was not getting any attention – in any of the social channels until the Four Corners program aired on television on the 30th of May. From that point there was just an explosion of conversations on all the channels – blogs, forums, twitter, Facebook and in traditional on line media.

And again, pretty much regardless of the channel, when you look at the volume after the program ran there are a number of spikes. One immediately adjacent to the program airing on television and then pretty much each week and especially when it was included in the issues being discussed on another television program – Q & A. In fact, for those who spend a deal of time analysing the digital social communications in this country this is a very well known cycle and is called the ‘Q & A Effect’.

Equally interesting though is that once the export ban was lifted the conversations on the social web have died away very quickly. So I am not sure that the social channels support the claim of the backbenchers that they are being overwhelmed by their constituents comments on the issue.

When examining the sentiment in the blogs whilst searching on the terms ‘live export trade’ or ‘live cattle trade’ then it appeared that despite all the headlines – not everyone was overwhelmingly in favor of banning the trade. And indeed if you recall that this search would pick up those that include the word ‘ban’ and from the numbers at the start of this post those searches returned about 25% of the volumes of the more generic search – it pretty much adds up to the negative sentiment seen here. It stands to reason that most posts with the term ‘ban live cattle trade’ would have a negative sentiment on the broader term ‘live cattle trade’. The result was remarkably similar in the traditional media as well.

When looking at the demographics for the blogs there are few surprises in the age demographics. What is surprising is the gender demographics which shows 20% of the blogs were posted by women. In Australia at least, blog posting is dominated by men and this is more usually 95% male.

It was even more startling in the demographics on Twitter where more than half the tweets were posted by females – this is almost never the case on public issues like this.

But lets recall this is when searching twitter for the overall ‘live cattle trade’ tags and comments. Wait till you see what it looks like when the hashtag ‘banliveexports is analysed:

Women, or more precisely females, took to the social channels in numbers to voice their concerns on this issue. And they particularly engaged on Twitter – at least in comparison to their male counterparts. And finally, when it came to the hashtag created for ‘banliveexport’ they absolutely dominated the conversation.

My own wife reacted to this finding as ‘well of course women are more sensitive and care more about the treatment of animals!’

Which brings us to some further interesting data. Without inserting another image here, the hashtag ‘banliveexport’ went from zero to stratospheric levels overnight in terms of tweets. But interestingly, it has died almost as quickly since the trade was restarted. There are a lot of issues in the public arena in Australia at the moment – carbon tax, immigration, mining tax – and so perhaps when the traditional media moves on so too do the social conversations.

The three groups most associated with the move to ban the live cattle trade would be the Animals Aus group, GetUp and the RSPCA.

When you view the top sources for the #banliveexport stream the only one of these groups who turn up is @animalsaus. GetUp were active on the hashtag when they were getting a petition together but once that was completed they just stopped conversing on Twitter on this hashtag. Which really reduced the conversation quickly because they are far more authoritative on Twitter than either AnimalsAus or the RSPCA. The second top source of tweets on this hashtag was @ka4charitywater whose profile indicates her main issue is around water and whose 250 odd followers are mainly in the US.@animalsaus has some 3380 followers which is a large group and about 80% of them are in Australia. The most important follower of @animalaus is PETA – the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals group and they have more than 110,000 followers globally. It is also an organisation that tends to send a shiver of fear into farmers hearts – they are well organised, high profile and have an agenda of stopping all farming of animals for any reason. Since this analysis was done @didifrench has remained very active on this hashtag and is now the second top source of tweets. @didfrench is based in Perth and has 468 followers – of whom less than half are in Australia – showing the gap between the top and the rest.

 

Conclusions

As always, when you really dig into the social web there is an awful lot of ‘social intelligence’ to be found. And with issues like this one the social conversation is never as clear cut as either the interest groups or the traditional media try to portray it. What we can say is that as an issue in the public mind it seems to be retreating as quickly as it came. With the lifting of the suspension, the announcements around the carbon tax and the focus of traditional media going elsewhere, the social channels have also moved on. That includes the interest groups as well as individuals. Of course, if there is a follow up program or it is covered again on Q &A then flair again at anytime. But its doubtful that backbenchers are getting ‘an earful’ any longer.

What we can say is that this issue seemed to resonate with women in particular and to take part in the conversation they used Twitter over other social media channels like Facebook, bogs or forums. And we can say that a number of activist groups went long on the issue for a short period of time. We can also say that whilst its been a very much public top of mind issue in Australia it certainly has not played any part in social discussions or traditional electronic media in Indonesia.

I wonder what we will say about this issue in a years time?

Will B