Social media and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum: The Twitter dimension

Dr Mark Shephard, Dr Stephen Quinlan, Dr Stephen Tagg, University of Strathclyde and Professor Lindsay Paterson, University of Edinburgh

This project sought to examine the role of Twitter in the referendum campaign, while tying in with the existing ESRC funded/AQMeN supported project on social media and its impact in the referendum. Social media is becoming an ever more important part of politics, with Twitter and its 30million active UK accounts at the forefront of this development. However, investigations of Twitter and its impact on politics, particularly referendum campaigns, are few and far between. This project aimed to fill this void.

Specifically, the project used quantitative methods to examine Twitter interactions associated with the ‘#indyref’ to establish who was using this medium to communicate, what issues were being discussed, and what sentiments were expressed in respect of Independence, political parties, national identity, and politicians. The project also sought to assess whether sentiments and opinions expressed in the ‘Twitterverse’ were different to those expressed in other online forums and whether Twitter content mirrored public opinion sentiment as measured by opinion polls.

The outputs of this project were a large-scale new dataset encompassing Tweets associated with the ‘#indyref’, made publically available upon the completion of the project; an academic workshop for AQMeN members which focused on handling large scale data sets, Twitter, and quantitative approaches to analysis of social media; a knowledge exchange presentation summarizing the results of the project and a press release for the media; an academic article in a peer-reviewed journal; and an article in the AQMeN newsletter summarizing methodological issues and results from the project.