Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


13 June 2018

Max Hanska & Stefan Bauchowitz - Twitter activity and homophily in the Brexit Referendum and the 2017 General Election: Preliminary results from mining 17m Tweets.

Presented By Max Hanska & Stefan Bauchowitz, De Montfort University
  • 1:00-2:00 pm CRCC Seminar Series
  • Brockington U1.22

About this event

How did Eurosceptic (Leave) and pro-European (Remain) activity compare on social media in the run-up to the EU referendum, and how did Conservative and Labor supporting activity compare in the run-up to the 2017 GE? What kind of information did users share, and did this confine the two camps to informational echo chambers?

To answer these questions we collected more than 7.5 million Brexit-related tweets before the referendum, and over 9.5 million tweets before the GE. We enriched our data using a support vector machine to identify which tweets clearly supported Leave or Remain/Labour or Conservative, mapped Twitter users within our data to their location, and mined URLs shared in tweets.

We find that Leave (during the Referendum) and Labour (during the GE) users were more numerous, and more active in supporting their cause. Furthermore, districts with a greater share of Twitter users supporting Leave also tended to vote for leaving the EU, so that Twitter activity correlates with voting in the referendum (no such relationship could be reproduced for the GE).  Leave users also tended to be less open, and more engaged within their own echo-chamber, something that is reflected in the URLs they shared. Surprisingly, The Express was one of the most prominent domains shared on Twitter during the referendum campaign. During the GE Labour activity was driven more decisively by leadership, than Conservative activity (the Corbyn effect?).

Overall, Twitter users who supported Leave, and Labour appeared to be much more active and motivated in advancing their cause, than Remainers were in advocating continued EU membership or Conservatives in rallying behind their candidates. The use of Twitter in the Brexit campaign demonstrates how, what Castells calls, mass self-communication can successfully drive public discourse by countering and drowning out elite opinion. In so doing, social media users pushed a hitherto marginal political agenda to the front and center of public discourse. During the GE social media was a critical alternative conduit for Labour to circumnavigate the overwhelmingly negative coverage it received in the press.