Over the last fifteen years, immigration has become an increasingly important political issue in the United Kingdom – with growing concern among the settled population about its economic and cultural impact. In 2012, 60 per cent of citizens viewed the rate of settlement of migrants in the United Kingdom negatively, and three quarters wanted an overall reduction in immigration levels – scores which are consistently among the most negative in Europe. Over the same period, there has been a change in the way people access, consume and produce media: a shift away from mainstream media and toward internet- based content and social media. Social media is a new, dynamic and less hierarchical space which has opened up the public portrayal of immigration. It also presents a novel way to research and understand attitudes, trends and media consumption.
This short scoping exercise examines the potential of listening to conversations taking place about immigration on Twitter. We studied: the frequency and type of conversations taking place on Twitter relating to immigration; the traffic flows of those conversations, such as what sort of stories get picked up by Twitter users and shared; the demographic and topographic features of these conversations; the effectiveness of automated data collection and analysis; and the ethical and methodological considerations in doing work of this nature. We conclude by setting out the strengths and weaknesses of using Twitter data as a source of insight and research, and where it might be usefully employed by research and campaign groups.