Naked Politics Blogger
Two months ago, the Conservative Party had a 20-point lead over Labour, had their best local election performance since the 1990s and the Labour party was dominated by in-fighting. Fast forward two months and one surely has to question how the DUP came out on top. Due to the Labour party making some key gains and the Conservative party losing their absolute majority, the DUP have reached an agreement with the Conservative party to form a ‘supply and demand’ deal, including an extra £1bn of funding for Northern Ireland.
Some have referred to the successful campaigning of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, others the ‘hard’ and distasteful Conservative manifesto or the rise of the young voter to explain how this might have happened. However, the rise of social media in the 2017 General Election is key to explaining why the Labour party managed to make the gains they did and was utilised in such a way that has not been seen in any previous elections. As such, social media platforms- particularly Facebook and Twitter- changed the 2017 general election more than ever before.
Data analysts at Further.co.uk found that after the release of the Conservatives’ manifesto, Tory search visibility shrank by 23%, whilst Labour’s visibility increased dramatically (31%). This demonstrates a shift in favour of Labour, as people were less inclined to learn about the incumbent party following their manifesto release. The use of social media displayed that social media users were more inclined to find out more about Labour than the Conservatives after the release of their manifestos.
Moreover, Further found that although the Conservative party received most of their traffic (62%) from organic searches, the Labour party gained more social media and referral traffic than the Conservatives’ campaign. Fittingly, the Labour party were involved in 62% of tweets published in June, according to the Guardian. This was not only apparent on Twitter; AOL found that Facebook posts published by the Labour Party were shared 1,000 times more than their Conservative counterparts. Evidently, social media platforms were key in reinforcing Labour-friendly views. Substantially, amongst young voters, who traditionally use social media more than older generations, statistics demonstrating Labour popularity on platforms such as Facebook strongly correlate with the ever-increasing support and momentum the party and Jeremy Corbyn attained. The data from Further indicates that there had been a ‘Facebook effect’ during the general election.
Further also found that people searched “register to vote” 1.2 million times, mainly on 22nd May — the last eligible day to register. The impact of social media helped encourage a massive 620,000 people to register and as a result assisted in raising the turnout overall; 418,000 more votes were cast than in 2015. The amount of 18-24 year olds voting also increased significantly. This all suggests that social media has helped reach out to those who were previously unaware of, alienated or disillusioned by politics.
From the statistics, we can see how social media had a huge impact in many ways. Firstly, through encouraging people to vote, social media had a significant effect on the youth vote. Labour’s ‘youth-friendly’ policy proposals (such as no tuition fees from the start of September 2017) really gained student support and this was seen on social media; the reported 63% of young people who voted for the party certainly shows that.
From my own perspective, what I saw on my personal Twitter and Facebook feeds was an abundance of pro-Labour and Corbyn tweets. Conversely, finding a pro-Conservative tweet on any social media platform was a rarity. Notably, Twitter pages such as ‘Britain Elects’ were far more likely to get retweets and replies in the form of Corbyn related vines/memes from Labour supporters when there was a positive shift in the polls towards them. Such replies and pro-Labour ideas being constantly spread undoubtedly influenced those who were leaning towards the Labour party or even those who were undecided but were eligible to vote. It created the mirage of a loud majority on social media which would inevitably influence those on social media without an opinion. Of course, the silent minority in the form of older voters who are not as vocal on social media proved otherwise through the still strong performance from the Tories in comparison to Labour. Nevertheless, the internet’s impact on the youth and those without an opinion was seen on Facebook and Twitter.