Tweeting the referendum. Who shouts loudest?

As #Brexit and #Bremain gather momentum ahead of next week’s vote, it goes without saying that the EU referendum is the hottest topic in UK politics right now; one which – unless you’ve been living in a cave in the Outer Hebrides – has been impossible to ignore.

Whether it’s opening a newspaper, switching on your TV or listening to the radio, it seems like everyone has jumped on board to share their viewpoint(s), whether they are a politician, business leader, a famous musician or even (apparently) a fictional character.

The conversation online is no different and is (in many respects) even more intense. As covered in my Masters thesis (where I analysed the Conservative’s use of Twitter in the 2015 election), the rise of the digital world is keenly changing how people participate in political discourse and activism.

What could all this data teach us about how politics works?

Well the area  I’m personally super psyched about, is that it teaches us about the tactics political parties and politicians use to fight elections online, both in terms of their individual objectives and the way in which they approach each platform (not to mention how effective they are compared to their peers/rivals), but also how they perceive the platform itself (as just another soapbox or an opportunity to open a dialogue with their audiences).

ANYWAY, every hour of the referendum campaign, thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of messages flood Twitter, either as short statements arguing one side or the other, or sharing the latest campaign image or publicity stunt. Although this shows that social media is drawing people closer to politics (allowing new opportunities for politicians, journalists to engage with their publics), its simultaneously increasing the number of distinct influence/ego networks around key media outlets, campaign groups/members, or commentators such as those referenced by leading cross-party think-tank, Demos.

Alongside ITV’s Peston on Sunday program, Demos has also conducted a fair bit of research over the last few months at how UK politics is being discussed on Twitter, analysing approximately 100,000 tweets sent to or from UK MPs containing EU referendum hashtags.

They not only found 10,000 more tweets sent between the 4th and 10th of June compared those sent the previous week but that the result is largely down to the shocking rate of tweets sent by those supporting #Brexit (three times the number compared to those in favour of #Bremain).

By excluding all ‘Other’ chatter (approximately 50% of tweets), their research also showed the different focuses of each movement, with Remainers emphasising the economic benefits of staying in the EU compared to our position outside it, and Brexiteers more keenly stressing the issues of immigration and sovereignty – which, when you think about it, isn’t all that surprising.

Still though… I have a fascinating new resource to follow and wanted to share it all with you because let’s face it, nerding out needs to be shared 🙂

 

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