ABC cuts X accounts from 20 to just 4 including qanda, prepared to pay just 0.0045% of its budget

    This afternoon news broke that ABC, Australia’s National Broadcaster was ending all but 4 Twitter accounts on the platform.

    One of their highest-followed accounts @qanda which has 396,200 followers has now been archived. QandA is a show on Monday nights at 9.35 pm on the ABC and focuses on current and future political and societal issues.

    All ABC accounts will now be archived with the exception of the following 4. From the number of followers, you can see this decision wasn’t simply to cut the accounts that weren’t performing, or that people weren’t engaging with, this appears to be a captain’s call on which ones stay on or are binned.

    • @abcnews: The main account for ABC News, with over 2.2 million followers.
    • @abcsport: The account for ABC Sport, with 159.9k followers.
    • @abcchinese: The account for ABC Chinese, with 379k followers.
    • @abcaustralia: The master account for ABC Australia, with 123.5k followers.

    The ABC Managing Director, David Anderson told The Guardian,

    We want to focus our effort and resources on where our audiences are

    Back in 2016, I had the opportunity to attend Twitter HQ in Sydney for a Hello World event, where ABC’s use of Twitter during their live TV (and online) broadcasts allowed the Australian to engage and be part of the conversation in a way we’d never seen before. QandA was in many ways, a pioneer when it came to audience participation via social media.

    Behind the scenes, integrating Twitter into the program was a battle and the way it was approved was by proposing a multi-tier system that meant 2 news directors approve.

    With a show that discussed some issues that affected everyday Australians, this was a way that Australians could engage with politics between elections. Everyone wanted their say, and with that came a flood of tweets that created a problem of determining what was displayed on the screen in a lower 3rd.

    The brains behind Twitter’s integration in #qanda was developer Leslie Nassar who unfortunately passed in 2016.

    Nassar explained that they have one of the fastest (if not the fastest) Tweet-to-screen times on the planet. Given how rapidly the show switches from one topic or question to the next, displaying tweets needed to happen fast to be relevant. That timeframe is as little as 5 seconds from the time you hit post, to the time you see it on screen.

    Back in 2016, social media was still fairly new to many and knowing that as many as 60,000 tweets were coming in per episode, was seriously impressive. The #qanda model is now shared by many other shows, showing a #hashtag on screen and asking for audience contributions so TV didn’t feel so 1 directional, that you weren’t simply being talked at, that they could in a small way, be closer to the 2-way conversation that happens online.

    The system required an integration between Twitter and the on-screen graphics package, which as you can imagine was incredibly difficult because of its age. It’s the sign of a great developer who can get through these barriers and ship the very public product.

    The first tier of the platform is a 2-level automated algorithm to filter out tweets that had unacceptable content. At this stage it’s firstly about being practical, then it’s about content acceptability.

    Tweets that contain the following are immediately eliminated.

    • Tweets with links
    • Tweets with media
    • Retweets
    • Tweets with offensive language

    Now we understand these filters, you can craft your tweets and increase your chances of getting them on-screen during an episode of Q&A. Then your task is to get past the next layer of the system and that’s the human layer. Nassar built a platform that sat the 2 news directors in front of the filtered Twitter stream and based on the pithy, on topic and relevant nature of each post, they decide which to approve to go live to the screen.

    Finding technical solutions on a budget doesn’t always lead to glamorous solutions at the ABC. During the speech we discovered the big displays behind the guests which display the trending terms, updating frequently, are run from an iPod strapped to the back wall, and output to the screen via HDMI.

    In the Guardian article, they quote Anderson saying,

    “We also found that closing individual program accounts helps limit the exposure of team members to the toxic interactions that unfortunately are becoming more prevalent on X.”

    When it comes to interacting on social media, people can and do say whatever they want. This is certainly likely to offend people, however by the time you’re important enough to be on a show like QandA, I’d expect you have pretty thick skin and a negative comment online would be water off a duck’s back, particularly when it’s from an account with numbers or underscores in the username.

    There are obviously times when people step over the line and there’s no excuse for that. Where that crosses a legal line, the police should be involved, but everything up to that is the best effort from the platform, usually to prevent and block this nonsense using sophisticated algorithms. No human or computer technique is perfect, so the best advice is to not let the opinion of strangers impact you.

    This feels like a political decision rather than one that puts everyday Australians first, many of which do use X.

    Anderson also went on to say, what is perhaps the actual reason successful accounts like QandA are being pulled.

    “Concerningly, X has reduced its trust and safety teams. Additionally, it is introducing charges which make the platform increasingly costly to use.”

    Recently X (formerly Twitter), made a change to the API which results in organisations needing to pay to use Twitter data.

    API v2 is offered in a number of tiers. The Pro tier costs US$5,000 per month / $60k per year which entitles developers to pull up to 1 million tweets per month.

    Twitter also charges businesses to be verified. This costs A$1,500.00/month (plus any applicable tax), so A$1,650 after you add 10% GST. Each additional affiliated account is A$75.00 per handle per month (plus any applicable tax). Here’s the kicker, ABC has only verified 2 of the 4 accounts they have remaining.

    At this point, it’s worth highlighting that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) receives its funding from the Australian Government, which receives its income from the Australian taxpayer. In the 2022-23 financial year, the ABC will receive $4.58 billion in funding.

    This means they are spending A$1,650 for @ABCNews and A$82.50 for @ABCSport. At A$20,790 per year, this equates to just 0.0045% of their overall budget, this point about it being costly to use is completely false.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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