The Way Tweets Travel

JRNL 103 – Task 1

One of the many wonders of social media is the way that it lets word to spread & conversation grow. Websites and apps such as Instagram and Twitter allow chatter to develop from a singular tweet or post into threads upon threads or expand into trending hashtags that are used globally. This is evident in the instance of a post made by Israel Folau on the 10th April 2019. What started as an Instagram post from Wallabies player Israel Folau enforcing his Fundamentalist Christian views soon escalated into a plethora of hashtags and tweets that either sided with or opposed the stance that the rugby union player made. The responses varied from death threats and severe backlash referring him to as homophobic & bigoted, to lobby groups defending his freedom of speech and views all within social media platforms.

The original Instagram post from Folau that caused the controversy (via Instagram)
Method & Conduction of Research

The question I am going to shed light on is how much chatter or public conversation was created surrounding Israel Folau following his post? Taking into account the fact that “chatter” and “conversation” are impossible to accurately measure and also extremely subjective I will be utilising and Google Trends as means to see the way in which Folau’s comments initiated a spike or decline in his name being looked up on search engines or brought up in conversation on Twitter. Despite the fact his post was released on Instagram I believe that Twitter is truly where the most debate was created. I also believe that despite the fact that he was already an extremely relevant athlete prior to his post the controversy it sparked resulted in his name and hashtags about him receiving more traction than ever before, therefore once the legal issues were settled I expect a sudden drop regarding trending hashtags and Google searches about Israel Folau.

Google Trends will allow me to view the peak popularity of searches regarding Folau and when they began to surge. It’ll also allow me to see similar searches in order to work out if the rise correlated with his comments. Hashtagify will allow me to observe the growth of hashtags that related to Folau and see which ones were used more and the amount of times he was mentioned, thereby identifying how much conversation was started during the peak of the controversy. 

Later on I will use this information to manually view Twitter & Instagram and find tweets and posts that show both sides of the spectrum regarding the controversial comments to identify people’s thoughts on the situation and the way they interacted over social media about it.

Background & Initial Reaction to Israel Folau’s Post

On the 10th of April 2019, Israel Folau posted an image to his Instagram account which stated the following “Warning – Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters. HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES”. The post itself received widespread news coverage and media attention causing conversation nationwide regarding the consequences he should face or whether his words and opinions fell under free speech and Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil & Political Rights. A month after the post, a Code of Conduct hearing was undertaken, during which the CEO of Rugby Australia, Raelene Castle, stated she would’ve terminated Folau’s Rugby Union contract if he had “photocopied Bible passages” and posted them to his account. Prior to all this controversy however, Folau was still a relatively prominent figure in the world of sports, representing Australia in multiple World Cup’s and even being the recipient of the 2007 Rookie of the Year Dally M in the NRL. It is therefore evident from these honours that the attention brought about by the media following his Instagram post were not what gave relevance to Folau’s name as he already had established himself as a sports personality in the public eye.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 09: Israel Folau arrives at the 2008 Dally M Awards at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney September 09, 2008 (Photo by Gaye Gerard/Getty Images)
Hashtags & Social Media Findings

Following the lawsuit and the measures taken by Rugby Australia an array of hashtags began to rise to prominence surrounding the matter. These included #IsraelFolau, #AusPol, #TeamJesus, #IzzyFolau, #iStandWithFolau & #FreeSpeech. 

According to a Google Trends graph that examines the interest the term “Israel Folau garnered over time it is obvious that search activity and public interest spiked around the time of his Instagram post, reaching a value of 47. The value itself is an indication of how much interest the term attracted at that point of time therefore meaning that his score of 47 means that is roughly the point in time where he received half of what his peak interest became. Prior to this the highest value the term “Israel Folau” had was 10 in 2018, proving that the post definitely created significant interest amongst the internet. However, peak engagement was created in late June of that year when his score reached 100 as a result of the news coverage surrounding his court case following his alleged unfair dismissal, according to the Google trends this was the most ‘relevant’ his name had ever been as a search term.

This was also around the time that a GoFundMe was started to help raise money for Folau’s legal fees as the case began. The GoFundMe itself raised over $500,000 before later being shut down and refunding donors. By the end of 2019, Google Trends found that Israel Folau was the 3rd most searched public figure in Australia that year. Due to all of these occurrences happening in such a brief period of time and with being under such media attention it was inevitable that his name would garner so much attention online.

A similar situation was also created on social media via the use of the aforementioned hashtags. Data collected from proved that hashtags that mentioned his name were also linked to terms like “GoFundMe” and “Free Speech” on Twitter. Hashtagify discovered that by May 1st 2020 the #IsraelFolau had accumulated over 135,000 impressions making it the most used hashtag surrounding the matter by a landslide, whilst data of Instagram regarding the hashtags discovered that it was used on over 4,100 posts and received more than 12,600 interactions. This evidently proves that ‘chatter’ and ‘conversation were not just created but it also resulted in an array of popular hashtags to be used that expanded across multiple platforms.

Reactions from Journalists & Social Media Users

Across the multiple tweets that began trending there were various reactions and responses from prominent figures and journalists that personified the two sides of the controversy.  When outspoken journalist on the matter, Miranda Devine posted on Twitter the statement made by Folau, it instantly sparked debate within the comment section.

Miranda later made a post that called out ‘haters and Christophobes’ that she claimed caused the GoFundMe to be shut down with the website still taking 5% of the donations but was met with quick resistance from multiple twitter users and verified journalists who claimed her fact-checking was lacking and thereby false. Columnist Paul Syvret retorted arguing that the website was not taking a 5% commission but rather giving full refunds.

Through the research conducted, the general similarity I found within the tweets amongst most news outlets was that they all ignited conversation within their comment section with upwards of 100 replies per post. Due to the simplicity in being able to compose a tweet and send it to be shared across the world it is no wonder that the conversation regarding such a sensitive issue grew as large as it did. This level of interaction on the platform certifies that when the matter was a talking point at the height of it’s relevance it created significant conversation and chatter on social media platforms as seen in the mix reactions of replies below.

Screenshots of tweets and replies to posts regarding the Folau controversy arguing both sides of the situation (via Twitter)

After gathering and concluding all my findings, it is without question that the amount of conversation created on social media regarding Israel Folau’s Instagram post was to a significant degree. The statistics gathered using Google Trends proved that at the height of the controversy not only was the search term “Israel Folau” at the peak of it’s popularity but it also was relating to terms such as “GoFundMe” and “Free Speech” which were incredibly relevant to the case. Hashtagify also was imperative in accessing the amount of impressions the post itself and hashtags garnered. The fact that there were also over 135,000 impressions on posts regarding the matter on Twitter and 12,600 on Instagram are evident that conversation traveled from one platform to another but also that it was a conversation that caused major attention on social media and eventually became trending and is even still relevant today. Due to these reasons it is clear that the Israel Folau situation engaged a lot of chatter within social media and became a trending issue at the height of it’s coverage.


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