Analysis: Jo Swinson has a Facebook problem

Analysis: Jo Swinson has a Facebook problem
By: Technology Posted On: November 05, 2019 View: 13

Analysis: Jo Swinson has a Facebook problem

The rhythm of an election is heavily influenced by polls, those regular snapshots of the nation's political mindset.

But what about the biggest poll of all: the one run second-by-second on social media?

We've run the numbers on the accounts of the party leaders.

It's far from scientific, but it does tell us some interesting things about the state of this campaign.

In particular, it shows how Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson is at a disadvantage on the key battleground of Facebook, the place 35% of people describe as their most-used source of news, behind only BBC One and ITV.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson
Image: Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has a Facebook problem

When Ms Swinson launched her party's campaign today, she proclaimed her ability to compete on equal terms with the leaders of the main parties.

But when measured by Facebook "likes" she lags well behind her political rivals - as this graph shows.

More from General Election 2019

Click the arrows to see how the party leaders compare:

Likes are important because they are one of the signals Facebook uses to decide whether or not to show people a page's content.

But they are not the only signal - and because people hardly ever unlike a page, some pages can have "legacy" likes, which don't necessarily add that much to their influence on Facebook.

We also measured the growth of each page - and here there's better news for Ms Swinson.

This tells us something important about Facebook: it's a star system, where the biggest gains go to the biggest pages.

We found that when we looked at interactions per page, Ms Swinson also fails to keep up with their her rivals.

Facebook's star system isn't the only reason for Ms Swinson's struggles on the social network.

Even though Facebook is normally seen as the best place for politicians to get engagement, our analysis shows she's chosen to post less frequently there than other party leaders.

As well as looking at likes, we also analysed how people react to the party leaders' posts.

On Facebook, people can react to posts with one of five emojis: love, wow, haha, sad or angry.

This chart shows how the leaders look in the language of emojis.

To see what this means in practice, take a look at this post by Jeremy Corbyn.

Over the period we analysed, it received the highest number of "sad" reactions, an emotion Corbyn's page prompts in unusually high numbers.

By contrast, the post with the highest number of angry reactions came from Nigel Farage, the politician who receives by far the most angry responses in total.

What does this tell us about Facebook? It's no coincidence that the two politicians that prompt the most angry reactions are also the most popular.

Put simply, success on Facebook often relates to riling people up - another reason why Ms Swinson may find it hard to generate the same kind of response as her rivals.

The one politician who seems able to buck this trend is Mr Johnson, who gets an amazingly high number of "loves" for his posts.

Although as many people have pointed out, some of these don't look totally authentic: there are far too many "Brilliant Boris" comments to appear natural.

The BBC have reported that most people posting these reactions are just doing it for fun, so there's no accusation of wrongdoing.

Just a health warning: as interesting as they are, the numbers on Facebook might not necessarily be any more accurate than the polls in the last two elections.

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