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Twitter in Brexit and the 2017 U.K. General Election

The first paper session at Future of Journalism 2017 starts with Max Hänska, whose focus is on the role of social media in political debate during Brexit and the 2017 U.K. general election. Max's study tracked tweets including a set of keywords for both events, as well as following the Twitter accounts of some 2,100 candidates in the election.

The Brexit 'Leave' campaign was slightly more active in its tweeting efforts; more users participated, and they were more active at tweeting. In the general election, Labour supporters turned out to be more numerous and more active. Leavers outtweeted Remainers by a factor of 1.75 to 2.3; Labour supporters outtweeted their conservative opponents by a factor of 3. There also seems to be a correlation between the respective Leave and Remain activities in each voting districts, and the eventual referendum outcome in those districts.

Leavers and Remainers also differed clearly in the URLs they shared; interestingly, Breitbart features prominently amongst Leavers here. Remainers were considerably more active in engaging with Leavers than Leavers were with Remainers, while Leavers were also significantly more likely to use all-caps text in their tweets.

In the election, leaders emerged as central to the discussion in either camp. Jeremy Corbyn was clearly central to the Labour network; on the Tory side, Theresa May is clearly central early on, but from around 28 May is notably rivalled in centrality by Boris Johnson.

There is a need to further investigate the role of bots and trolls in such tweeting activity, however; this has yet to be explored in full, and recent media reporting suggests that it might uncover the presence of Russian-operated disinformation bots, for instance.