Cute kittens in Higgins: Playing candidates on Instagram

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Swinburne has once again turned to social media to examine who’s talking about the electorate of Higgins, and what they’re talking about. This week, we ventured into the world of political Instagram. Despite the platform’s high-profile status and popularity, it has not yet been discussed in this column because Talkwalker — the application we usually use to track social media data — has had difficulty obtaining information on Instagram by electorates. But not to fear: we have instead examined the Instagram profiles of the three major Higgins candidates by scrolling left and right.


It soon becomes clear that the Greens’ ‘jasonballau’ has the most impressive Instagram presence by far. His 7222 followers completely overshadow the numbers of his rivals’ followers — around 967 for ‘drkatieallen’ (Katie Allen) and 336 for ‘laborforhiggins’ (Fiona McLeod). Jason’s profile is also the only one adorned by the prestigious blue ‘verification’ tick. There are a couple of possible explanations for this discrepancy. One, Ball may have accumulated a following from his former AFL career and position as an activist; and two, he has been a member of the platform for over eight years, while Katie Allen’s profile has been around for about two and Fiona McLeod only joined five weeks ago, shortly after she was announced as the candidate for Higgins.


Discounting followers, there are some other striking differences between the three candidates’ profiles. Ball’s feed is abundant with impeccable, professionally taken snaps: he’s photographed giving speeches, posing with community members and holding Greens paraphernalia. Meanwhile, McLeod and Allen are avid selfie-takers, opting for less professional shots and preferring to get behind the camera themselves. They’re seen playing with animals, posing with giant Easter bunnies, and in McLeod’s case, shooting a basketball in a suit with the locals.

In terms of engagement from other users, Ball once again takes first place with an average of 295 likes and 6 comments on each of his 21 most recent image posts, with his most commented-on photo being him holding an adorable 10-week-old kitten. Allen is second, with an average of 85 likes and three comments per photo. Her post about the Coalition’s proposal to fund the removal of the Glenferrie Road level crossing garnered 21 comments bringing up her average. Lastly, McLeod has on average 50 likes and less than one comment per photo, although interestingly enough, all three candidates have several posts with no comments at all.


Overall, Instagram has provided some very interesting data: unlike on other platforms including Facebook, Twitter and mainstream news outlets (where Labor and Liberal reign supreme), Jason Ball seems to have Instagram securely under the Greens’ control — in Higgins, at least. It will certainly be interesting to see if this support translates into votes. Or maybe cute kittens won’t be the key to winning the seat after all.