Analysing Facebook Election Coverage 2017

British Publishers’ Facebook Coverage of UK Party Leaders

This blog post is based on a large dataset of British news publishers’ (such as BBC News, Daily Mail and The Independent) mentions of UK party leaders in Facebook posts. We look at how much engagement (reactions, shares, and comments) the posts that mentioned the party leaders got. As Engagement and Facebook Reach (i.e. the number of users who see the post) are highly correlated we can assume that on a publisher level, higher engagement implies greater exposure.

Summary

  • The Conservative leader and Prime Minister Theresa May has been covered the most, but engagement for stories on the Labour and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn went past her towards June
  • May and  Corbyn both get more engagement from left-liberal-leaning media
  • During the spring of 2017, The Independent (left-liberal-leaning publisher) saw the biggest increase, whereas the Daily Mail  (right-conservative-leaning publisher) went down the most
  • The Conservative publishers benefit more from video and live video
  • Publishers are viewed on a political spectrum ranging from left-liberal-leaning to centre to right-conservative leaning publishers
  • Mentions do not include any form of sentiment analysis

The data was formed by searching EzyInsights database for posts by keywords “Theresa May” (the current Prime Minister and Conservative leader), “Jeremy Corbyn” (Leader of the Labour Party), “Nicola Sturgeon” (First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party), “Tim Farron” (Leader of the Liberal Democrats) and “Arlene Foster” (Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland). The resulting dataset of circa 9K rows consists of posts by 196 different UK publishers. The time range is 6 months (from the end of December 2016 to the end of May 2017).

Political Spectrum: Left went up, right went down

The UK publishers can be put on a political spectrum ranging from the left  to the centre to the right in reference to a study by YouGov, Wikipedia classification of the UK publishers and the publishers’ Wikipedia pages.

The motion chart below shows monthly engagement for UK publishers’ Facebook posts. It presents the publishers’ total monthly Facebook engagement, including all the posts made by the publishers. It follows the political spectrum classification by YouGov: The Guardian is perceived as the most left-leaning, followed by The Independent and The Mirror. On the farthest right are the tabloids Daily Express and Daily Mail, while The Times and Metro are in the middle.

The classification does not contain broadcasters.

The situation from January to end of May has been relatively static. Most notable changes occur with The Independent whose engagement grows towards the summer, and Daily Mail – the biggest of these publishers – that drops towards the summer.  Thus, the left-liberal side (The Independent) and right-conservative side (Daily Mail) saw the most dramatic changes.

Mentions of Politicians: Corbyn overtakes May 

Theresa May has been covered the most in 2017, which is natural, as she is the Prime Minister. Coverage on Corbyn flatlined from February through to the start of April, began to pick up mid April and continued to rise all through May. By the end of May, engagement for posts about Jeremy Corbyn went past Theresa May.

 

Including the Broadcasters in the Political Spectrum

When the broadcasters are added to the political spectrum, the publishers can be ordered into three groups. We will use the left/liberal-leaning and right/conservative-leaning groups to look at the coverage of party leaders.

 

Engagement for Party Leader by Publisher: The Independent is the Biggest

The chart below represents how much engagement the biggest publishers got for the Facebook posts mentioning the party leaders. On the left side of the chart is the publisher and on the right side of the chart is the politicians’ name, connected by a line whose thickness shows the proportion of engagement each politician got from each publisher. For the most publishers, the share of engagement is dominated by posts on Theresa May.

 

The Independent is the biggest publisher in terms of engagement formed by posts on the politicians. The Guardian and BBC come next. In other words, the Left/liberal-leaning publishers are getting most visibility on their Facebook posts on the party leaders regardless of their political leaning. Posts about May rather than Corbyn dominate almost all publishers, but Channel 4 is an exception: its engagement comes from posts about Corbyn rather than May.

Conservative-leaning Publishers Benefit More from Video

The charts below represent what portion of the engagement for each politician comes from links, video, live video and status posts.

In both groups each politician gets roughly the same percentage of engagement from different content types – first links, then video and live video. The proportions are very different for each group. The liberal/left-leaning publishers’ engagement comes mostly from links, whereas the portion of live videos is very small. The conservative/right-leaning group of publishers is clearly different, generating much more engagement from video and live video.

The pie charts below show the difference in the volume of content types between right-conservative-leaning publishers and left-liberal-leaning publishers for mentions of all politicians.

 

The high amount of video posts at right side of the spectrum is partly explained by broadcasters like Sky News and ITV News. However also BBC and Channel 4 are broadcasters that do a lot of video posts. It is noteworthy that also Daily Mail‘s engagement comes predominantly from video. The Independent and The Guardian generate much less video engagement, relying heavily on links posted on Facebook.

Conclusion

The UK publishers were viewed on a political spectrum ranging from left-liberal-leaning to centre to right-conservative leaning publishers. A dataset consisting of ca 9K Facebook posts was analysed as to the engagement (reactions, likes and shares) to mentions of the British politicians Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Foster and Tim Farron.

Posts about the Prime Minister Theresa May have inevitably been more important for the UK Publishers’ engagement. This is not necessarily related to the political leaning of the publishers – both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn get more engagement from left-liberal-leaning media. Towards June, the engagement for content mentioning Corbyn overtook those mentioning May.

Conservative leaning publishers have benefitted more from video and live video content.

The Independent‘s monthly engagement has risen in-line with the rise in engagement for posts about politicians.

 

 

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