19th Mar 2018

Lefty and eurosceptic MEPs tweet the most

  • Ukip leader Nigel Farage during a chat in 2012. In a data sample, his account was the one to receive the most messages. (Photo: European Parliament)

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the smaller political groups are more likely to be active on social networking website Twitter, researchers from UK think tank Demos have found.

The most active MEPs belong to the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, which is home to Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party (UKIP).

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Farage is also the MEP who receives the most messages, or tweets, according to the report 'E-democracy in the EU', which was published on Monday (21 December).

The authors looked at one month of Twitter activity last spring, involving 504 MEPs. The Parliament has 751 MEPs, but not all of them use the platform, or could be identified by the researchers.

Between 12 March and 12 April 2015, they found the MEPs sent 39,556 tweets “though some sent just a single tweet during the period and others sent almost a thousand.”

However, the volume of tweets that were directed at MEPs was 27 times higher: the parliamentarians received over 1 million public messages from almost 240,000 users. These, too, were not evenly distributed.

The 10 MEPs who received the most tweets were mostly eurosceptic and/or anti-establishment.

Farage received 131,110 tweets, followed by Spanish far-left MEP Teresa Rodriguez-Rubio (120,189), and Italian Matteo Salvini (119,747), now a member of the eurosceptic ENF group.

French far-right MEPs Marine Le Pen (87,174), Florian Philippot (41,891), and Jean-Marie Le Pen (28,671) were also in the top-10 of recipients.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Spanish anti-austerity Podemos party, was another MEP to receive many tweets. He has since left the parliament to lead his grass-roots party to a third place in Sunday's Spanish elections.

Tweeting Spaniards and Britons

When it came to sending tweets (which includes replies), the top-10 of the most prolific MEPs is dominated by Britons and Spaniards.

UKIP MEPs Margot Parker and David Coburn sent, respectively, 990 and 984 tweets in one months time.

Members of the largest political group, the centre-right EPP, sent only 54.4 tweets on average.

“UK MEPs were the most active, accounting for around one third of all tweets sent, followed by Spanish MEPs (16 percent), Italian (12 percent) and French (8 percent),” the report noted.

The researchers also found that EU politicians from mainstream parties mainly used Twitter as a broadcast tool, while smaller parties were more interactive.

MEPs from the Green group were most responsive: 22.2 percent of their Twitter messages, or tweets, were replies. The socialist group's MEPs had the lowest share of replies among their messages - 13.3 percent - but MEPs without a group were even less interactive, with 3.9 percent.

The report also noted that from a sample of 500 tweets in English, they found that almost two-thirds of citizens addressing an MEP on Twitter discussed domestic politics. One-third tweeted about EU issues. They note that this may be partly explained by the period in which the sample was taken: it coincided with the election campaign for the House of Commons.

The findings about mainstream politicians being less engaged on Twitter than those from smaller parties are similar to those reported by The Economist last month, and to an EUobserver report from 2014.

However, adoption of the medium by the eurodeputies has been a recent affair. Less than five years ago a majority of 62 percent of MEPs had never heard of Twitter.

While the report showed interesting results, it must be stressed that Twitter use varies across the EU. In the UK, around a third of internet users have been estimated as using the service, while in Germany, France, and Poland, less than 20 percent are estimated to be on Twitter.


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