As the battle for online political campaigning continues to intensify ahead of the December General Election, social media offers an extremely low-cost way of reaching millions of potential voters.
Whether it’s amplifying messages through organised ‘Twitterstorms’ or producing controversial and disruptive content, with Twitter now banning all forms of political advertising (stating ‘political message reach should be earned, not bought’), having a large following is a huge advantage for Parliamentary Prospective Candidates (PPCs) and parties campaigning on the Twitter battleground.
At ICS-digital, we’ve analysed the top 100 most followed PPCs and Party Leaders on Twitter and, using market-leading software, calculated the percentage of fake followers.
This is what we found out…
Bots, fake followers, and inactive accounts
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was found to have the highest percentage of fake followers on Twitter; almost 65% of his 295,000 followers were determined to be ‘fake accounts’.
Hampstead and Kilburn PPC for Labour, Tulip Siddiq, had the second-highest number of fake followers (61.1%), followed by the Conservative’s Jacob Rees-Mogg in third (34.5%) and Boris Johnson in fourth (34.4%).
The top 20 political accounts with the highest percentage of fake followers are:
Looking specifically at the ‘Big Five’ party leaders, Boris Johnson was found to have the highest percentage of fake followers, while Jeremy Corbyn had the lowest percentage of fake followers.
The table below compares party leaders by follower count and fake follower percentage:
Across the top 100 most followed PPC and Party leader Twitter accounts, our research found that the Lib Dems had the highest percentage of fake followers overall (21.8%), followed by The Brexit Party in second (21.70%), and the Conservatives in third (21.45%).
For reference, 20.30% of The Scottish National Party’s followers were deemed to be fake, with 19.80% for Labour.
In terms of raw numbers, the Labour Party had the highest number of fake or ‘bot’ followers – 1,633,674, followed by the Conservatives in second (1,274,858) and The Brexit Party in third (506,986).
Flipping the analysis to reveal the PPCs with the lowest percentage of fake followers found that the Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato came top with just 9.3% fake followers.
Fellow Green Party PPC Amelia Womack came second with 9.4% fake followers, ahead of the Lib Dems’ ‘Mr Stop Brexit’ Steve Bray in third (9.6%) and Labour’s Faiza Shaheen (9.8%) and Laura Piddock (11.2%) in fourth and fifth, respectively.
The top 20 political accounts with the lowest percentage of fake followers are:
Twitter’s ban on paid political adverts
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, in October 2019, Twitter banned all forms of political advertising on their platform. Based on the top 100 most followed PPC and Party Leader Twitter accounts, we can gain insight into who benefits the most from this policy change.
Accounting for nearly 50% of the most followed PPC accounts in the top 100 list, Labour have the highest (combined) number of followers at 7,723,221. Such a large following manifests itself in a 63% follower advantage to the second-placed Conservatives’ combined follower count of 4,725,702.
What is surprising to see is that (based on the top 100 most followed political accounts) The Brexit Party have more followers than the Lib Dems – 1,671,335 combined followers vs 1,380,859 -impressive for a party only formed in April 2019 (and this is without excluding the fake followers, of which the Lib Dems have the most).
Looking at average follower counts, Labour PPC Twitter accounts once again have an advantage over their competition: 167,896 followers per account to the second-placed Conservatives’ following of 162,955 per account – a 3% margin.
As a top-level analysis, the Labour party would appear to be the biggest beneficiary of Twitter’s focus on organic political reach in the UK.
What will be fascinating to monitor is whether this social media advantage will convert into votes at the ballot boxes.
All data sourced from SparkToro’s Fake Follower tool, from the 28th of November 2019 – 02nd December 2019.
SparkToro defines fake followers as:
“Spam accounts (those that purely send spam tweets)
Bot accounts (those that have no real human actively operating them)
Propaganda accounts (those designed to propagate dis/misinformation)
Inactive accounts (those that no longer use Twitter or see tweets).
This tool considers a ‘fake’ follower to be someone you cannot truly reach.”
PPC and Leader data sourced from mpsontwitter.co.uk.
For data analysis purposes, only the top 100 PPCs and Party Leaders with the most followers on Twitter were investigated.
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