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The structure of political e-expression: What the Brexit campaign can teach us about political talk on Facebook

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Social media represents a space where the more politically engaged can commune around issues and events of importance and exchange views. Often the spaces created, especially when hosted by a partisan or campaign organization, tend to be ideologically homogenous eschewing debate or critique. The UK’s referendum on EU membership represents an opportunity to explore how citizens use social media, in this case Facebook, to express their political views in relation to a controversial and polarizing issue of significant national importance. The data extracted from the public pages of the four most important Leave and Remain campaigns are used to explore the strategies of Leave and Remain campaigns as well as the reactions of subscribers. The data show the Leave campaign the most proactive posters, creating more engaging content and, in turn, gaining an advantage in terms of visibility online. Leave supporters were also more prone to act as cheerleaders for the campaign applauding attacks on Remain leaders and spokespeople and promoting campaign slogans. Remain subscribers similarly endorsed negative messages but were keener to debate the detail behind slogans and critique the ¬≠official campaign strategy and messaging. Endogenous factors relating to the demographic of the supporter groups and the campaign messages, as well as exogenous factors relating to the social norms of behaviour with the pages, are discussed as explanatory factors for the different dynamics observed. Notwithstanding the limitations of big data discourse analysis, we thus suggest the Facebook communities around each campaign page can be seen as microcosms of wider supporter groups and thus we propose that analysis of discourse within social media platforms such as Facebook allow better understanding of wider societal engagement with political communication and the dynamics of contestation that exist around political issues and events.
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Keywords: Brexit; Facebook; big data; campaigns; political discourse; public attitudes; referenda; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Bournemouth University 2: University of Zagreb

Publication date: 01 November 2017

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  • The International Journal of Digital Television will describe and explain the transition to digital TV and wider trends in television. As switchover happens across the globe and television's operations and audiences are transformed, the International Journal of Digital Television will be at the forefront of efforts to understand the changes and developments.
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