Twisted Twitter: Are you getting both sides of the political debate?

8 Feb 2017

There’s a common phrase that those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it. When it comes to politics and the internet, new research suggests that social media users do just that - they are more likely to engage with those who share their political beliefs.


According to a study of 2,000 Twitter users of those who publicly identified as Labour, Tory, Ukip or SNP, between May and August last year, the results found that supporters were more likely to retweet or mention other users from the same party. The research carried out by the think-tank, Demos, does not shock. Rather it places a question mark over the amount of political debate on social media platforms such as Twitter.

The crucial point to take from the research is that those of a Nationalist persuasion were much less likely to engage with people holding different beliefs. The study found retweeting other twitter users from the same party higher than average - with three-quarters of retweets from SNP supporters and 71 percent of those from UKIP supporters of someone from their own party.


However, it must be noted that supporters of all political parties in the UK were far less likely to discuss and interact with their rivals. Birds of a feather really do flock together, particularly in the new era of 'alternative' facts.


Of course, this report is just a snapshot. But, the rising popularity of alternative news now caters to specific ideologically driven groups intent on bringing about the existence of an 'echo chamber'.


Tribal politics is nothing new, but it’s imperative that we are able to compromise, read and understand opposing views. The public now consumes and shares more and more information from social media, and in turn makes it much easier for different groups to hold competing truths.


The irony is that we’re left with a 'twisted twitter’, whose aim to connect us has instead fragmented us. Among other things, Twitter was, and still is to some, a way to learn about the world through another person's eyes. Tweets from your traveling cousin in Europe who shares their daily discoveries, or tweets from a rugby friend at the Rugby Six Nations - we are all microbloggers. Yet, with so much of our politics now playing out online, we’ve strengthened existing biases and political prejudices. Consequently, we have narrowed our political, cultural and social awareness.


Technology has divided us. Those we choose to follow, in all likelihood, fall into a similar social or intellectual tribe. The lesson for us all is to switch it around and follow others who espouse a radically different view. That’s what makes social media. Next time you open your news feed remember to collide instead of divide; you may well surprise yourself.




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