Those who shout loudest…

Why I don’t think social media can be used to accurately predict election results.

Facebook today released figures which illustrate the scale of conversation taking place digitally about the Scottish referendum. Zuck’s company says that more than 10 million interactions about the referendum have taken place in just over one month, over 85% of which were in Scotland.

According to our own research at Sky News there have been 2.7million tweets about the Scottish Referendum in the past 30 days too. This is quantified by people who used the hashtags #ScotDecides, #IndyRef or #ScotlandDecides — so we’re almost certainly missing a fair chunk of people who didn’t use a hashtag when discussing the referendum.

Here’s how the Twitter conversation has played out:

Twitter Reverb

This Reverb graph illustrates the two main peaks in conversation around the TV debates. The five blobs underneath the graph represent the most retweeted tweets during the same 30 day time period. (Two of the five are from Sky News by the way; #humblebrag)

Incredible isn’t it? The people of Scotland are truly engaged. But what the figures don’t show you is sentiment. How many of the Facebook posts or tweets have been positive? We don’t know. What we do know is how overwhelmingly vocal the ‘Yes’ camp have been on social media.

Here are some stats that back that up:

  • @TogetherDarling has 20k Twitter followers; @AlexSalmond has 90k
  • @UK_Together has 39k Twitter followers; @YesScotland has 90k
  • The top Yes hashtag (#VoteYes) was tweeted 166k times in the last 30 days; The top No hashtags (#BetterTogether) was tweeted just 23k times (Source: PeerIndex)
  • Out of the top 20 performing Scotland-related hashtags on Twitter, there are three for ‘No’ and six for ‘Yes’ (Source: PeerIndex)
  • The Yes campaign Facebook page has attracted 258k likes while the No page has 182k

The experiences of campaigners on either side from many journalists hasn’t been wholly positive, but it’s been noted by more than a few reporters that Yes campaigners have been particularly aggressive on social media. ITV’s Political Editor Tom Bradby has today written a piece laying out the abuse he’s been receiving while editor Ian Dunt tweeted this earlier:

So the Yeses have it on social media in terms of volume, they’re definitely shouting the loudest, while the polls suggest it’s still neck and neck.

Regardless of the result we can already safely assume that social media can be a useful tool for gauging conversation around elections but it can’t be deemed a reliable tool for predicting an outcome... yet. Whatever happens the result will likely be much closer than social media numbers would suggest.

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