A new study from the University of Nottingham has revealed the Twitter habits of UK politicians and how they use social media to influence and participate in public debate.
Dr Roderick MacKenzie from the Faculty of Engineering conducted the research over a 12-month period, while based as a parliamentary fellow in the House of Commons Library.
Key findings include:
- For the past year the mood of MPs’ tweets was overall very negative, with the hashtag #brexit being the most common
- Labour MPs tweet more prolifically than Tories
- The most retweeted MP is the Labour Party leader
- @jeremycorbyn with @theresa_may coming in second
- the Guardian is the most cited publication by MPs on Twitter, suggesting it is the most read/influential, this is followed closely by the BBC and Facebook
- Most MPs tweet between one and 10 times a day although some as many as 60 times a day
- Most tweets are about party politics, followed by health policy coming a distant second
- A tweet from an MP only influences other MPs for around 24 hours after it is written
Using data mining techniques Dr MacKenzie analyzed historical tweets from Members of Parliament. Sentiment analysis showed that the overall mood of the chamber averaged –0.4 (a very negative score).
The data also suggests when the Conservatives become more positive in mood, Labour MPs often become more negative, and vice versa.
“Out of 1.7 million tweets issued in the last year only 22 per cent link to other sources of information, therefore the majority of tweets can be thought of as reaction or conjecture,” explains Dr MacKenzie, who specialises in data science.
Dr MacKenzie also found that the number of tweets relating to party political issues outnumbered tweets relating to specific policy topics by a factor of 100.
“The most popular website to link to is Twitter, so perhaps the best way to get research and information noticed by an MP on Twitter is to already have it pre-packaged within a tweet. Gov.uk is cited more by Conservatives, perhaps because MPs in the governing party are more likely to link to government statements and policy.”
The study also found that after 24 hours, there is a sudden drop in the likelihood of a tweet being retweeted by MPs, making 24 hours not a week a long time in politics.
“Interestingly only seven per cent of Labour MPs and 25 per cent of Tories mention their party affiliation in their bio instead identifying themselves as ‘the MP for X constituency’.
This is possibly due to strategic political considerations and their perceived social media audience,” Dr MacKenzie adds.
The full report: The use of social media by MPs in parliamentary debate is available from the House of Commons Library.