With just a few days to go until Britain goes to the polls all communication channels are near-overloaded with last-minute messaging from both sides as they seek to bolster their arguments, sway undecided voters and get their cause across the finishing line on June 23rd.
Social media comes into its own at this point with the two camps’ hashtags trending on a daily basis, the names of any public figures who their allegiance doing likewise, uncounted and uncountable memes, pictures and videos spreading like wildfire across all platforms and of course increasingly shrill and vituperative arguments raging on newsfeeds up and down the country.
This discussion is not a new one and public debate about Britain’s place in Europe has been ongoing since the entry in to the common market in 1973 but this time as well as the old measurements of column inches, air time and public debates won and lost by campaigning figures we have a vast wealth of data taken from social media channels which can be delved into to see how the debate rages online in cold, hard numbers.
Vyacheslav Polonski, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper programme which seeks to empower exceptional young (20-30 year-old) people to develop, lead and help their communities, has recently posted a fascinating meta-analysis which you can read in full here which tackles some of this tsunami of freely offered electoral data.
In it he took 13 310 commonly used hashtags and tag groupings on Instagram and used them to build a semantic map of their usage and a whole lot more. His conclusions are intriguing and say a great deal about how users map their emotions onto this space, the nature of reactive posting, the danger of an echo-chamber-like experience when a user surrounds themselves with other users of a similar opinion and plenty more.
To draw a few of them out, Polonski notes that in his sample there are nearly twice as many pro-Brexit posts as there are pro-remain but that this does not mean necessarily a greater absolute number – rather than Brexit supported are more like to be outspoken about their beliefs. That the debate online is often less of a debate and more a case of preaching to the converted rather than directly engaging with the opposing camp. With geotagged content the main locations are predictably in the UK but there are also clusters around Europe – Germany, Italy, France and Spain -as well as in the wider Anglophone world – USA, Australia – and world at large – Indonesia and Brazil.
The analysis is as intriguing and inconclusive as the debate has been elsewhere but one thing is for certain – social media analysis is here to stay and law-makers ignore it at their peril.