IndyRef Twitter Analysis: New & traditional media

Today we provide another snapshot of one week’s coverage (20-26th January 2014 – c.27,000 connections[1]) of the debate about the Scottish Independence Referendum on the social media platform, Twitter. The patterns are broadly similar to those we reported in January (based on one week’s traffic in December 2013). Typically those in support of a yes position are more pro-active in their use of Twitter as a means of communication, not just in terms of volume of tweets but also in the diversity of sources. We remarked previously on the role of nodes such as Celebs for Indy and National Collective and they continue to play a prominent role.


In our analysis of January’s data, we noticed interesting patterns of interaction between social media and traditional media. During the week preceding our snapshot, several tweeters using the indyref hashtag, commented negatively on BBC coverage e.g. “@BBCNews and @BBCScotlandNews. Anyone looking for accurate objective coverage of #indyref issues should look elsewhere. It’s getting silly!” Those supporting the No position were inclined to be more supportive of what was broadcast e.g. “Good interview on BBC news this morning. William Hague putting the nats right on re-joining the European union. Join the queue. #indyref”.

Those criticising the BBC were encouraged to compare news reports across different media outlets. For example one user tweeted: “#Indyref SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: Reuters BBC”. Tweets critical of the BBC made reference to a report “Fairness in the First Year?” produced by the University of the West of Scotland, which analysed BBC (and ITV) coverage of the independence campaign between September 2012 and September 2013 and suggested that the balance was in favour of the No side. Many of the tweeters re-launched and circulated an article from the NewsNetScotland website (which is a not for profit organisation that “[supports] major constitutional change for Scotland”) “Breaking News…BBC threatens academic”, The assertion that BBC coverage was biased towards the Better Together Campaign explains some of the hashtags used during this week (e.g. #bbcbiasexposed, #bbcbias). Examples of tweets in this vein included:

“RT @NewsnetScotland: BBC Scotland sent “very stern” email to academic who conducted indy TV news study”
“BBC bully YES academic!!!Amazed how they HATE Scotland!”

During the week we looked at, BBC Question Time hosted a debate about Scottish independence in Dundee on 23rd January (details and BBC iplayer). It included Scottish Government finance secretary John Swinney, the Scottish Labour’s shadow education secretary Kezia Dugdale, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson, and the former deputy leader of the SNP Jim Sillars.

Given the criticism previously expressed of BBC coverage via Twitter, it was interesting to see the extent to which both sides used Twitter during and after the debate to talk up their case and the performance of their champions on the programme.

In addition, the context for the debate included tweets expressing appreciation for Jim Sillars (@naefear), following an interview with him broadcast on STV’s Scotland Tonight in the evening of January the 22nd, as for example these:

“RT [@…]: This is why Sillars @NaeFear so admired he captures true soul of the #IndyRef debate in a couple of sentences”

“RT [@…]: Jim Sillars absolutely awesome so charismatic #indyref #scotnight”

The debate about Question Time on Twitter was characterised first of all by appreciation for John Swinney, with retweets of: “Great positive performance from @JohnSwinney tonight; positive WILL win! #indyref #bbcqt” Secondly, it was marked by retweets of this message: “John Swinney says he doesn’t comment on hypotheticals…. Obviously hasn’t read the white paper then #bbcqt #indyref”. The third, most relevant strand of tweets (including retweets) highlighted the existence of a “true face” of the BetterTogether campaign, a dismissive attitude towards Scotland, and evaluations of the SNP. Users re-tweeted these messages:

“@RuthDavidsonMSP reveals the true face of @UK_Together by telling Scotland to pipe down after #indyref #bbcqt”

“Not a good record for the @theSNP is it? #indyref #bbcqt #BetterTogether #Motherwell_North #cowdenbeathbyelection″

General support for the Yes campaign was prevalent, with retweets of: “Some examples of the “best of both worlds” in reality #IndyRef #bbcqt”

Finally, the data revealed that tweeters in favour of the BetterTogether campaign engaged more in the debate during Question Time. For example, one tweeter offered a variety of tweets during #bbcqt, while others retweeted this message:

@UK_Together: “Fewer than 1 in 10 Scots think they’d be better off outside UK. Results of impartial survey this wk #bbcqt #indyref” (sent 11:56 PM – 23 Jan 2014).

So overall, this second snapshot analysis showed the prevalence and more dynamic attitude of the pro-independence twitter users, with a variety of themes and material circulated on Twitter. At the same time, it also revealed that twitter users in favour of a No vote particularly engaged with #indyref when traditional media intersected with the twitter debate.

Our team is composed of Michael Comerford, Des McNulty, Ana Ines Langer and Giuliana Tiripelli.

By making the network graph available in an interactive form we hope people will explore it for themselves. if you spot interesting patterns please share them with us by commenting below or contact us via twitter @PolicyScotland.

Exploring the interactive network graph:
The interactive network graph can be found here[2].

  • Users and hashtags are circular nodes in the graph.
  • Connections (mentions) are the lines between nodes.
  • Nodes are colour coded by degree (the number of connections) on a red blue scale. Red nodes have less connections, blue nodes have more, beige nodes fall in the middle of scale.
  • Connections are also colour coded. They are coloured the same colour as the target node.The thickness of connecting lines is weighted by the number of repeat connections.
  • The search function at the top of the graph allows you to search for nodes by name.
  • When a node is selected the sidebar shows a list of inbound and outbound links. This indicates whether the node was the target (inbound) or the source (outbound) for the connection with the node listed.

[1] Our interactive graph only provides access to a slimmed down version of the full graph so that patterns among more active nodes can be seen more clearly.
[2] Currently the visualisation works with Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It may not work using Internet Explorer.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.