Where’s Boris?

John Swain
May 26, 2016 · 4 min read

On Sunday 23rd May I published a short analysis of the activity on Twitter of the preceding weeks conversation about the Brexit Debate.

Dave Reynolds asked the following question.

One small question from me: Boris Johnson shows as the top ‘interesting’ influencer overall, but is then not visible in the Vote Leave Top 40. Did the different dataset for Vote Leave compared to Overall result in him no longer being in the top 40 ranking? Or is he not being categorised as Vote Leave?

Here are the tables showing the top influencers Overall and for Vote Leave accounts. Boris Johnson is not listed in the top influencers for the Vote Leave campaign.

At face value this seems odd. The explanation is illustrated by this view of the conversation.

This view illustrates that Boris Johnson along with David Cameron are special cases in the debate. Both occupy central positions in the conversation between the main Leave campaign on the left and Remain campaign on the right. Neither account is strongly associated with either campaign.

The colours on the map denote communities or tribes of users that group together. Analysis of the the tribes illustrates this point further.

Our dashboard provides further information about the make up of these tribes.

Here is a screenshot showing some of that information and highlighting how to view the list of users in each tribe.

Here is the list of users in the Boris Johnson Tribe.

The same view for the David Cameron Tribe.

Notice that both these tribes contain a mix of users from both sides of the debate.

This serves to further illustrate that neither David Cameron and Boris Johnson are closely associated with either camp as reflected by the conversation on Twitter.

For comparison here is the users list for the vote LeaveEUOffical tribe. This is a group of users very tightly associated with the Leave campaign.

The conversation on Twitter indicates that Boris Johnson is a special case and that he has a broad influence across both sides of the debate.In this article Nicky Tyrone outlines a case for Boris Johnson being a liability for the Leave campaign. The article is a commentary on the wider world and Boris Johnson’s overall impact on the debate in the public at large.

This analysis of Twitter cannot say whether Boris Johnson is a liability or an asset to the Leave campaign, but it can illustrate that his impact is likely to be very significant due to his special position in the debate and also illustrate how impact in the wider world is reflected in the conversation on Twitter.

There is one very interesting factor in the analysis of the Twitter conversation about Boris Johnson which shows that Twitter can shed light on the wider world.

Here is a table of the top influencers showing the numbers of Retweets and Mentions. Notice that Boris Johnson has zero ReTweets but 6k Mentions.

The algorithms used to calculate influence and importance use (amongst other elements) the number of Retweets and Mentions a user receives. The fact the Boris Johnson has a very high Mentions to Retweets ratio indicates that his influence comes from outside of Twitter. Even though he is not active on Twitter other users mention him in their Tweets.

The following chart illustrates the size of that effect. The size of the points indicates the amount of external (of Twitter) influence the user has as measured by Mentions v Retweets.

When someone is important in the wider world they will be talked about on Twitter and included in a large number of mentions, therefore social media analysis is a useful tool for measuring the overall influence of people involved in a debate such as the Brexit Campaigns.

John Swain

Written by

Data Scientist, Photographer, Golfer. Cloud Solution Architect (Data & AI) at Microsoft. Thoughts are my own and not representative of Microsoft

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