A new study finds that there were high levels of abusive Twitter discussions triggered by MEP candidate Tweets.


The University of Sheffield Department of Computer Science has put together a study that shows Twitter posts by MEP candidates from The Brexit Party, Change UK and UKIP generated an unusually high level of abusive replies in the run up to the EU elections.

And The Brexit Party leader, Nigel Farage, was the most interacted with candidate receiving six times more abusive replies than the second most replied to candidate, Gavin Esler of Change UK.

But the difference was that the abuse in the replies sent to Farage was aimed at other politicians like Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, while the abuse in the replies to Esler's Tweets were mostly aimed at him, mainly due to his use of the term 'village idiot' with regard to the 2016 Leave campaign.

The University of Sheffield said:

"Abusive messages in replies to Farage and other Brexit Party candidates largely centred on disagreement with the UK leaving the European Union, according to the findings. These abusive messages often agreed with and were triggered by the use of divisive rhetoric by the Brexit Party candidates themselves – for example tweets that contained the phrases “betrayal” or “phoney war”."

But it goes on to say that Tory and Labour MEP candidate Tweets did not generate such polarised and abusive replies.

Professor Kalina Bontcheva said: “What these findings, unsurprisingly, demonstrate is that politicians and parties who themselves use divisive and abusive language, for example, to brand political opponents as “village idiots”, “traitors”, or as “desperate to betray”, are thus triggering the toxic online responses and deep political antagonism that we have witnessed.”

On overall Twitter engagement, not just replies, Nigel Farage was way out ahead with Lord Adonis second, with only half the engagement of Farage.

But when it comes to party Twitter activity and generating Tweets, Change UK MEP candidates sent out the most Tweets with the Greens second.

But the Brexit Party MEPs engaged more with the people who Tweeted them rather than author their own Tweets or re-Tweet.

The Lib Dems and Greens got a low level of replies, but did attract a particularly civil tone of reply it seems.

The Brexit Party candidates also received more Tweets than all the other parties combined, but the University of Sheffield does say that:

"…the research has found that it has been impossible to establish how much of this engagement is truly organic…"

The research on abusive replies triggered by Tweets from MEP candidates was commissioned by ITV’s Tonight programme – Angry Britain: Beyond Repair?

Now, this all sounds a mite one way, but I am personally a bit active on social media platforms and have myself been the subject of some pretty abusive language, however logically and politely I try to present my arguments.

Now, one question for me is the eternal free speech one, does Tweeting like this act as a safety valve through which to let off steam? Or is it something that helps to build up a head of steam that could go off elsewhere with unpleasant results?

Then there's the question of what does the result of this study coupled with the result of the MEP elections themselves, tell us?

That abusive Tweeting helps? Or would a more measured approach by Tweeters have won round more support for The Brexit Party? Or maybe it makes no difference at all.



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