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Mapping the Twittersphere for the EU Election

The final speaker in the ASMC14 session is Axel Maireder, whose focus is on the structure of the Twittersphere surrounding the recent European Union election. His approach is to examine the follower networks of participants in relevant discussions, and to explore which factors explain their structural patterns – such as shared national and language identity, political ideology, or other factors.

The study captured all tweets containing keywords such as European Parliament, European Election, and relevant hashtags (in the various European languages), and gathered tweets from some 440,000 users in total. Filtering these to users with at least two tweets and at least 250 followers resulted in some 11,000 core users who were retained for the network analysis.

What results from a first network visualisation is a graph which exhibits some obvious clusters and contains a range of leading users for each cluster. Some of this relates to languages (Spanish, Italian, French, German, etc.); some to key European institutions that emerge as key users in the network; some to mainly British-based transnational news media (US media are largely absent due to their lack of coverage of EU politics). Key European politicians and Brussels-based journalists are also central to the network, unsurprisingly.

Within the British cluster, UKIP and the Scottish Nationalists form their own sub-clusters; UKIP leader Nigel Farage is outside of this due to his greater public visibility beyond such issues. Within the French cluster, there is significant polarisation between different political persuasions, from the extreme right Front National to pro-European parties. In Italy, there is a greater mix, with critical anti- and alternative politics groups especially prominent.

In Spain, several sub-clusters around the different parties and political persuasions are again evident. Germany and Austria overlap somewhat due to their shared language, with Net and alternative politics particularly prominent. Most of the top accounts (by network centrality) are political parties, individual politicians, media institutions, individual journalists, etc. Politicians include key European politicians but also national and state leaders.

Overall, the Twittersphere has a strong centre, but remains divided by language; there also remain divisions between different political persuasions in each national sphere. Various alternative actors – net activists, commentators, comedians, etc. – also emerge, and this also raises the potential for transnational communication. New political divisions are no longer just between the left and right, but also between old and new political models; the question remains of how this may also mirror changing political structures in Europe as such.