In the spirit of collaboration and information sharing, we would like to draw attention to the wonderful compilation of sources already curated by Serdar Günes, who has built an online archive of news articles around the Holocaust and Postcolonialism debates dating back to 2005. Please consult here for German-language articles around the #CatechismDebate. They are being continually updated. On this page, you can also submit additional entries, as they are published: https://serdargunes.wordpress.com/2021/06/04/a-debate-german-catechism-holocaust-and-post-colonialism/.
The #CatechismDebate is an excellent example of a multi-platform networked public. Communications scholars like my colleague and collaborator Sandra Robinson here at Carleton are analyzing how these complex platform assemblages come into being and work — there is more than meets the eye! We do know from research into the digital platform multiverse (see how fun it is to study communications) that the migration of ideas from site to site, and the conversations that are triggered there, generate not just conversation but as those that followed along here know real emotion, sometimes entrenchment, and complex ideological positions. One of the aims here, in this debate, was to challenge our readers to move beyond the echo chamber, to consider voices and perspectives they might not encounter in their own work, and to linger over the things that might not sound right to our ears. We can’t know for sure from the analytics side of things how well this worked. But we can see all sorts of interesting patterns as to how the material was consumed and what entries—quantitatively measured at least—made the largest dent. And some of these findings will surprise you! Below Brandon Rigato and I map out some of what we saw.
Ideas moved from online blogs like Geschichte der Gegenwart (GdG) which first published Moses’s account May 26, 2021 to Facebook, Twitter, the cultural magazine Perlentaucher, and several other German-language news outlets of greater and lesser renown. Conversations born on Facebook had the capacity to spill over into the legacy news media with Volker Weiss’s critique the most notable, published in taz on June 6, 2021. Ideas also moved from social media to the New Fascism Syllabus blog and back to more established news outlets, as with the FAZ’s Patrick Bahners’s tweet that formed the basis of Helmut Walser Smith’s NFS critique, which was also mentioned in Perlentaucher. The most notorious example, of course, was Identitarian Martin Sellner’s blog, which featured Moses’s polemic, a point that surfaced in nearly all the German responses to date. As of today, aside from Perlentaucher, no major German newspaper has addressed any of over 36,000 word commentaries in the NFS, with several of the blog entries translated into German and featured in GdG, although as we’ll see below, there is every indication in the site analytics that these submissions are being read in Germany proper. It will be interesting to track when and how (or if?) they surface in German dailies and feuilletons.
The NFS blog series was made possible thanks to the personal and professional networks sustained through Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly, Google Analytics tells us that most readers were driven to the NFS site through Twitter, despite lively conversation on the New Fascism Syllabus Facebook group page and daily postings there.
In the first week of the debate, the largest number of site visits came overwhelmingly from the United States and UK, with Germany a distant second. Due to Twitter traffic and day to day synopses in Perlentaucher, German interest gradually increased and surpassed US hits early June 12th following the publication of Fabian Wolff’s blog entry, which became the most accessed after Zoe Samudzi’s. Wolff and Samudzi—owing to their large Twitter footprint and crossover audience of activists, traditional news media, and scholars—had the most reach in terms of raw impact although their contributions were glossed over in Perlentaucher and, as with virtually all the NFS entries, have yet to be taken up by the German-language newspapers.
The data around Perlentaucher is also interesting for the way it represented the debate in its pages. The NFS series included 11 contributions by men and 6 by women. Perlentaucher devoted 168 lines of text to male contributors, mentioning all but one, while giving 33 lines to women and neglecting to mention two. There was no consistency in who it chose to spotlight. Aside from the obvious gender imbalance, choices highlighted positions from across the debate spectrum. When pressed by two male contributors to the blog series about its choices, one was given a quasi-apology (and 6 lines of text), while the other was told “it was hard to find the blog entries” leading to some lively conversation on Twitter about whose voices are acknowledged in the mainstream press and whose remain shunted to the margins.
There is, of course, much more analysis to be done on the media side to the debate. We’ll continue to track its evolution, and share findings here.
Twitter and Gephi Analysis
In terms of the datasets we collected, we are able to make some preliminary comments on the network side of things. Following the hashtag #CatechismDebate we can unpack the digital influence of many Germanists impacting the discussions across Twitter for the past 2 weeks based on the data we collected. In this summary, I will detail how conversations were circulated and how key contributors played a role in this debate. Lastly, this overview will provide insight to how such data collection can benefit Twitterstorians by showcasing the kinds of information that can be extracted from a dataset that contains 400 tweets.
Beginning with the social network analysis we can see from a bird’s eye view (please look at the Gephi screenshot) how the communication channels of the catechism debate unfolded. Not surprisingly, given her role as coordinator of the New Fascism Syllabus, Dr. Jennifer Evans, is firmly situated in the middle of the social network analysis generated by unpacking the #CatechismDebate. Around 70% of those engaging with the content interacted with it through the posts of Dr. Jennifer Evans. However, other key figures were instrumental to spreading this dialogue to those on the periphery of this discussion. These included Dr Anna Hájková, Dr. Joseph Cronin, Dr. Svenja Goltermann, Serdar Günes, Dr. Tiffany Florvil, Dr. Mirjam Brusius, and Dr. Philipp Sarasin. These seven users were instrumental in spreading the conversation beyond the strict Germanists that were immediately engaged with the content and helped the debate reach other historians and interested individuals.
Lets look at what the Tableau data reveals through #CatechismDebate.1 Each one of these tabs will reveal different nuances to the data captured. Beginning with the time series, we see a simple chart tracing the discussion beginning June 5th (when we began tracking) to June 16th when the final post in the series was published by Evans summarizing the debates. This includes a simple visual display that shows when conversations rise and fall depending on the interactions of those utilizing the hashtag #CatechismDebate. These peaks are only visual markers; we can access the data that makes up the peak to unpack why conversation spiked during this timeframe.
We then can examine “most active users” tab. This tab tells us which users interacted the most with the data through a combination of original tweets, retweets, and mentions overall. Essentially, the most engaged. The top three most active users taking part in the discussion are: Dr. Svenja Goltermann, Dr. Mirjam Brusius, and Dr. Jennifer Evans. So, these three voices played an incredibly important role in both circulation and generation of content. The individuals here have the most contributions across the debate. However, we can further unpack this data found within most active users by examining the tab “most active users by type”. By examining the other users engaging with the data we have a clear picture that rather than contributing original tweets, most users using the hashtag #CatechismDebate engaged through retweets. Particularly influential in retweeting the catechism debate was Dr. Svenja Goltermann, Dr. Serdar Günes, and Dr. Philipp Sarasin. These individuals were the most prominent re-tweeters of original content and helped circulate the conversation of the top three original tweeters. Still, this does not necessarily lend weight or success of their contributions in terms of attracting attention through retweets and mentions. The users whose individual contributions had the most impact (despite not necessarily tweeting the most) are those in the “most visible” tab.
So, while the most active individuals were those that contributed the most interactions, we will now examine the most visible to see whom had the greatest impact of those in this debate. Unsurprisingly, as we can witness from the Gephi graph, the top three most visible users are Dr. Jennifer Evans, Dr. Mirjam Brusius, and Dr. Joseph Cronin. This means, of all the other highly central users, as visible from the Gephi graph, these three were the most influential in generating conversation and attracting attention to the #CatechismDebate.
Aside from the data of individual users and how they shaped the debate, we can see other topics being invoked using secondary hashtags.2 Interestingly, commentators utilized a total of 8 secondary hashtags in conjunction with #CatechismDebate. In order of popularity, they are:
- #historikerstreit – used 13 times.
- #ichbinhanna – used 5 times.
- #germancatechism – used 4 times.
- #BLM – used 3 times.
- #HumboldtForum, #holocaust, #marx, and #twitterstorians – each used 1 time.
Although this is not an exhaustive list of the insights gleaned from the Twitter data harvested tracking the #CatechismDebate, we have a preliminary understanding of who played a central role in this debate and contributed to its longevity. Further, the data is still being collected and should the conversation spring up again we will be able to see what gives rise to this. It is important to note that while this summary was focused on key contributors, we did not unpack the tweets themselves for qualitative analysis due to the time this takes. But we do have all the data so as to unpack in the future why scholars felt so passionately at this particular juncture to engage in an impromptu debate, and track how ideas flowed from one platform to another.
Jennifer Evans is Professor of History at Carleton University, and member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars
Brandon Rigato is a PhD Candidate in Communications at Carleton University
- When engaging with this page please note the individual tabs with labels “time series”, “retweet patterns”, “most active”, etc. Each tab contains different insights gleaned from the data.
- Secondary hashtags are those hashtags that are utilised in a tweet alongside the one being tracked and mined. In this case, the hashtag that is being tracked (and responsible for the data we’ve generated) is #catechismdebate. However, tweets often contain multiple hashtags. The secondary hashtag is for us to understand what other topics are being inserted into the discussion through the use of other hashtags.