Social media did not have significant impact on #GE16 outcome - analysis

‘Now, engagement is a two-way street. This is an evolution ,’ Mark Little tells DCU conference

Mark Little, vice-president of media for Europe and Africa with Twitter, referenced the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, and said he had ‘bypassed all the traditional structures’.

Mark Little, vice-president of media for Europe and Africa with Twitter, referenced the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, and said he had ‘bypassed all the traditional structures’.

 

Social media did not have a significant impact on the outcome of the general election, but a “revolutionary shift” is underway in journalism and politics, a conference on the media’s online coverage of the election has heard.

The event, Election Aftermath: Insights and Analysis, took place on Thursday in DCU and outlined some of the data and trends that emerged from the election.

An analysis of the media coverage found that Independent News and Media framed the campaign as a face-off between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, while The Irish Times was more focused on the choice facing voters between Mr Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin.

Dr Derek Greene, a lecturer at the School of Computer Science at UCD, said 70 per cent of candidates had a Twitter account, but that many of these had been “dormant” before the campaign swung into action.

“Building a brand on Twitter takes time,” he said, and Twitter engagement was “not predictive” of election wins.

“The Social Democrats did well in terms of a proportional increase in Twitter followers, which may have been down to Stephen Donnelly’s performances in the second debate,” he said.

In terms of whether this was a “social media election”, Dr Greene said: “It would be great to say it had a significant effect, but the reality is a lot more complex than that. “There was not a strong correlation between Twitter popularity and activity and the actual outcome.”

Content that trended on Twitter was “not a serious discussion of issues” and tended to involve “jibes at other parties”.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were “far less active” on Twitter than the smaller parties, but “the majority of mainstream media coverage went to established parties and candidates”.

Dr Greene said the relative success on social media of the smaller parties and Sinn Féin compared with the mainstream parties may have been down to demographics, as 50 per cent of Twitter users are in the 15 to 24 age-bracket.

Mark Little, vice-president of media for Europe and Africa with Twitter, referenced the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, and said he had “bypassed all the traditional structures”.

“There was no gatekeeper,” he said. “He could engage directly with voters.”

He said social media is “where people live” and that politicians were beginning to learn more and more how to engage with it.

“Stephen Donnelly was excluded from the first debate, but was able to draw thousands of engagements on Twitter while it was happening,” he said.

“There is a revolutionary shift in journalism that is happening slower in politics. It used to be that the politician came to you, came to your door, and you had no participation until you put your ballot paper in the box on polling day.

“Now, engagement is a two-way street. This is an evolution and an advancement.”

UTV Ireland political editor Mary Regan was critical of the media’s performance during the election. “Most of the coverage was about the horse race element of the campaign and less focused on the issues,” she said.

“Journalists talking about how boring the election was didn’t just engage in an act of self-indulgence, but also missed the point of what their job was, which was to explain the significance of events to the public.

“Journalists were blinded by the shiny objects that spin-doctors would throw them. All the time, journalists were missing out on what was actually happening.

“If you take water charges, people were becoming active on the streets and on social media, and the media missed that.”

She said the result of the election showed not just “a lack of trust in the political establishment, but also shows a lack of trust in the media”.