It’s widely expected Jean Charest will dissolve the Quebec government today, leading to a September 4 general election in La Belle Province. One of the issues driving the election is student resistance to proposed tuition increases.

Student rallies have made headlines across Canada and even drew international attention, particularly when Arcade Fire wore red patches (one of the symbols of the students’ resistance movement) while backing Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live. There was also significant media attention for student interference with traffic, vandalism, looting, fires and clashes with police. The movement was also called out when a group of students outraged the Jewish community for their use of the Nazi Salute.

There was a significant online component, as well. Students took to Twitter using the #manifencours hashtag before, especially during, and after their rallies to express their displeasure over the proposed tuition hikes and Bill 78, an unpopular law imposed by the Quebec government in an effort to control the frequency, breadth and depth of student rallies.

#manifencours Twitter volumes from February 1 through July 31, 2012

By sheer volume, Twitter traffic was impressive; 199,165 #manifencours tagged (English and French) tweets were issued between May 19 and May 26, the most active period of #manifencours tweeting. Of those, 107,666 were issued by Twitter handles identified as Canadian-based. The most active day was May 22 when a total of 38,246 #manifencours tweets were issued.

A global total of 501,227 #manifencours tweets have been issued between February 1 and July 31; 277,612 issued from Twitter handles identified as Canadian-based (83%). The non-Canadian Twitter handles suggests three things:

  • there was participation by international students attending Quebec universities
  • some participants have not yet set their Twitter profile location at all
  • the issue inspired tweets from elsewhere in the world

#manifencours global Twitter density from February 1 through July 31, 2012

By the way, the United States accounted for 9.7% of non-Canadian Twitter handles participating in #manifencours, and France 2.4%. The remaining 5% was distributed around the world.

Not surprisingly, 95% of Canadian #manifencours tweets originated from Quebec.

Canadian distribution of #manifencours tweets between May 19 and May 26, 2012

While the volume of Twitter traffic is impressive, participation rates are much lower than tweet counts suggest. There were 203,484 #manifencours tweets issued globally in all languages from 27,131 unique Twitter accounts between May 19 and May 26. That averages to be 7.5 tweets per account. However, the numbers tell a more interesting story. Among the top #manifencours tweeters were The Montreal Police, Jason Keays and journalists Patrick Sanfaçon and David Santerre.

Gender distribution of #manifencours tweets issued between May 19 and May 26, 2012.

Like many issues I research in the public affairs and political space, the #manifencours online traffic predominantly retweets (RTs) or rebroadcasts of other people’s tweets(68%), sometimes with brief commentary pre-pended. Regular tweets, or fresh content, accounted for less than a third (27%) of relevant Twitter traffic and replies, or conversation, represented a very small portion of the traffic (6%).

#manifencours tweet types from May 19 through May 26, 2012

Summer break and the need for income means student protests have largely vanished. With that, Twitter traffic has dropped off almost completely. Even the July 25th rally didn’t rank very well by comparison. I expect a lot of that will change during the election campaigns.

I’ll be following digital activities related to the Quebec election. I’ll publish some of my findings throughout the election and plan to prepare a post-election digital analysis report with a colleague of mine who does public affairs consulting in Quebec. Stay tuned.

All analysis performed using Marketwire/Sysomos MAP.

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