The Social Media Election 2017

Building on our pioneering work in the 2015 British General Election, and the Irish and American Presidential Elections in 2016, the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos brought our leading technology and analysis to the 2017 British General Election campaign.

With our own in-house technology, we explored the role of social media in shaping the campaign – how it was used by MPs and political parties to shape their messages, whether citizens were engaged with political information, and whether misinformation and ‘fake news’ ran rife.

We mapped the tone of the conversations online – who had a good or bad day, which costly gaffes were shared, which celebrities endorsed candidates, and the best campaign memes which broke the internet.

Candidate engagement with Twitter users

As soon as the election was announced, Demos began to collect every Tweet sent by the 1533 candidates for whom we could track down Twitter accounts. We then looked at how many of these Tweets were replies – responses to another message on the platform. The results are shown below:

We tracked the candidates who were not tweeting very much; in the graphic above, they are grouped in the bottom left corner. The candidates moving to the right are mostly interacting in a one-way sense, Tweeting to broadcast the party line, rather than responding and interacting. We also managed to track some outlier candidates, such as Jess Philips and Richard Gadsden, Labour and Lib Dem candidates respectively, who each sent more replies than original Tweets, sharing in-jokes, piling into chains of conversations and generally chatting to people.

Network map of 2017 General Election

We also examined the ways in which supporters of the largest six British parties interacted – what they’re talking about, who they’re talking to, and which information they’re sharing, in order to look at this election through the eyes of a broad cross-section of party supporters.

To do this, Demos selected a group of users on Twitter who describe themselves as supporting one of the six largest parties – Labour, The Conservatives, The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the SNP and UKIP. We looked at people who had sent a relevant Tweet, then randomly selected 400 people from each party who had described themselves as a supporter. Demos researcher Josh Smith, wrote a blog the findings.

In order to better understand who the parties were talking to within our data-set, we used a tool called Gephi to map the connections between users, producing the following graph.

This network diagram shows how users within party groups are talking to each other on Twitter. Nodes represent users, while the lines connecting them represent mentions – every time a user has mentioned another user in our dataset by using their Twitter handle, that Tweet appears above as a line connecting those two users. It also shows up on the recipient’s timeline. These connections are the only factor which determines a user’s position in the graph – the more you talk to a group of users, the closer you will be to them.

Conversation between supporters of all parties on Twitter

The graphic shows that not only have parties tended to clump together, indicating that many users within our collection are talking predominantly to their own party, but the entire system is laid out along something resembling an ideological spectrum – with Labour, the SNP and the bulk of the Greens talking to each other on the left, the Conservatives and UKIP on the right, and the Lib Dems sitting in the middle. Even cross-party conversation, it seems, tends to be taking place amongst those likely to share a broad set of concerns.

To read Josh Smith’s blog about cross-party conversations on Twitter, please click here.

We presented our findings during a weekly slot on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show over the course of the campaign:

The findings were also covered by the Financial Times:

If you are interested in partnering with us on this research, please get in touch.

In the meantime, you may wish to explore some of our research on the Westminster Twittersphere and its political echo chambers.