PoliMonitor research uncovers increase in Twitter abuse received by candidates in 2019 General Election

Published by samcunningham on


– 16.5% of Tweets mentioning candidates abusive or insulting –

– 2,503 candidates received over 130,000 Tweets in 1 day –

– Boris Johnson receives the most amount of abuse out of all candidates –

New analysis published today found candidates standing in the 2019 UK General Election received abuse or insulting remarks in 16.5% of mentions or replies about them on Twitter. This is over four times the amount of abuse candidates were estimated to receive in the 2017 General Election.

This new analysis by PoliMonitor, a political technology company was supported by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The research analysed 139,564 Tweets published on the social media site Twitter on Monday 11th November 2019, which either mentioned or where replies to the 2,503 candidates standing in the 2019 General Election who are on Twitter.

Key findings of the analysis includes:

●      Most candidates did not receive abuse.  Of the 2503 candidates on Twitter, 1988 candidates (79%) received no abuse in the period analysed. Although this was commonly due to receiving few or no mentions at all that day.

●      Most abuse concentrated amongst 150 candidates. Of the 515 candidates who received abuse, the top 150 candidates received 96% of abusive and insulting Tweets (22,230 abusive Tweets out of total of 23,039 abusive Tweets.)

●      Abuse concentrated towards existing MPs. Of the top 30 most abused candidates in the 24 hour period, only 3 were not incumbent MPs at the time the election was called: Richard Tice (BXP), George Galloway (Ind) and Liz Jarvis (LD).

●      Female vs Male Candidates. Female candidates received slightly more abusive Tweets compared to Male candidates, 17.3% vs 16.2%, with many Tweets directed towards female candidates based on appearance and gender. 

●      Limited use of most abusive terms. Many of the most abusive terms identified in previous research – including the most derogatory and inflammatory racial slurs were not found in the data collected.

●      Conspiracies. Numerous conspiracies suggest a strong distrust amongst the British electorate politically engaged on Twitter.

Top Ten GE Candidates who received the most abuse and insults:

 Candidate PartyTotal Number of Replies/Mentions TweetsTotal Number of Abusive/Insulting TweetsPercentage of Replies/Mentions Tweets which were Abusive/Insulting (%)
Boris JohnsonCon23870544422.80687055
Jeremy CorbynLab19151255013.31523158
Jo SwinsonLib Dem10683207019.37657961
Michael GoveCon3943169142.88612731
Caroline LucasGreen2668118044.22788606
Diane AbbottLabour247088535.82995951
Sajid JavidCon492778916.0138015
Matt HancockCon229158225.40375382
James CleverlyCon124451641.47909968
Keir StarmerLab256140015.61889887

CEO of PoliMonitor Sam Cunningham said:

“Social media holds the promise of better connecting the public and would be politicians.

“While most candidates received little or no abuse, the most prominent candidates received thousands of abusive messages, deterring politicians from having constructive conversations about policies which matter. For some, this abuse is deterring them from taking part in politics altogether. 

“More positively, the most extremely abusive terms were absent in the data analysed, suggesting social media companies and the public are getting better at stamping out the most abhorrent and unacceptable language.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. The research analysed Tweets published in response to, or mentioning, a General Election candidate during a 24 hour period on Monday 11th November – the first working day of the first week of the General Election campaign. It was chosen to take place before Party manifesto launches and TV debates that may have skewed or exacerbated the percentage share of the online conversation towards a particular Party or grouping.
  2. Methodology 1. Identifying candidates. PoliMonitor manually researched 3,322 known candidates for an official account on Twitter, identifying 2,503 active candidate accounts. More information HERE
  3. Methodology 2. Collecting Tweets. Tweets in reply to or mentioning candidates on 11th November were collected on 3rd December from Twitter’s API.
  4. Methodology 3. Identifying “abusive” Tweets. Abusive and insulting Tweets were identified using a machine learning algorithm. The model was trained on a manually coded, randomized sample of 5,000 Tweets by PoliMonitor. The sample Tweets were coded as abusive or strongly insulting based on the judgement of researchers – specifically if the candidate would feel abused or insulted should they read the Tweet. A candidate’s or Party’s Twitter handle to whom the abuse was being directed would also have to be present in the Tweet to be coded as abusive i.e. they would have been likely to have seen it. Similarly, simply naming the candidate would not count as they would not be likely to see it.
  5. Terms. Key identifying terms were used as a guide for the research including a list of words which fell into three categories: Slur, Offensive and Sensitive. A Sensitive term is a term which indicated a sensitive topic. These terms and categories were used by researchers at the University of Sheffield to help identify abuse in their analysis of the Tweets during the 2017 General Election. A full list of these terms can be found HERE
  6. Additional Terms. PoliMonitor researchers also identified other insulting, abusive or derogatory terms which suggested the candidate would likely take offence or feel chastised if read or repeated to them verbally. Terms included – clown, liar, traitor (or accusation of treason), dopey, dog-whistle (connotation of racism), thieving, racist (direct personal accusation), tax-dodger (direct accusation).
  7. Previous analysis on abuse received by candidates in the 2017 General Election by the University of Sheffield found that approximately 4% of Tweets mentioning candidates were abusive. This analysis used a different “keyword methodology” rather than a Machine Learning approach used in this study and the results are therefore not directly comparable. More information HERE
  8. PoliMonitor is a political technology start-up helping professionals and members of the public alike better understand and engage with political discussions online, tracking more than 10,000 Parliamentarians on Twitter in more than 20 languages across Europe and the United Kingdom. More info can be found HERE
  9. The research was supported by a grant awarded to PoliMonitor by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) “to capture, measure and highlight the public hate speech on Twitter directed towards candidates standing in the 2019 General Election”. More information on JRRT can be found HERE
  10. Examples of Conservative-Russian conspiracies:
    1. RT @RemainerTony: @Keir_Starmer A vote for Boris, is a vote for Putin. https://t.co/638c3U9gqr
    2. RT @JAMESOHARA: Remember when @BBCNewsnight had this as their backdrop about Corbyns reaction to the poisoning in Salisbury? I wonder how @BBCNews will visually portray @BorisJohnson and his comrades now we know his party is awash with Russian money? https://t.co/lIXCX3cdmN
    3. RT @nomore_unicorns: Well @michaelgove, glad to see you RTing that Tweet re: @BorisJohnson w/#Russianagent! R U also ready to answer @IanCLucas’ questions re: what you knew and when about the illegal Vote Leave activities? Here is Mr Lucas on #Newsnight, in case U missed it: https://t.co/v359BW74tb https://t.co/CWHUtAUliR
      RT @RespectIsVital: Why is nobody talking about the US Senate concentrating on a photo of @BorisJohnson, with whom they allege is #Russianagent? They want to know if he’s “been compromised.” This should be BIG news. #ReleaseTheRussiaReport https://t.co/kCaK53K9OM
    4. RT @vespasian91: @August05398614 @BlayneyDeborah @BorisJohnson THIS MAN IS PAID BY THE KREMLIN TO THROW A GRENADE INTO BRITAIN..(HIGH TREASON ⚠️🔊) https://t.co/Zgie06z322
    5. RT @August05398614: This is the truth 🏼 @michaelgove Retweeted my video about @BorisJohnson then deleted it they know we know the truth #ReleaseTheRussiaReport @jeremycorbyn @joelbaccas @ChukaUmunna @LibDems @joswinson @IBlackfordSNP @HoC_Speaker_MP @EnglandYankin @DominicGrieve1 @Femi_Sorry 🏼🏼🏼 https://t.co/ehNdiiS2Ci
    6. RT @trevorw1953: This is tragic news and at a time when there are disturbing reports about a Russian connection with Johnson and the Tory party. @BorisJohnson @Conservatives #ComradeBoris https://t.co/Jdwtg17iHt
    7. RT @August05398614: @MSNBC quote “ like @realDonaldTrump @BorisJohnson he made it to the top with the support of #Russia #putin #russianmoney #ReleaseTheRussiaReport #GeneralElection19 #DitchTheTories #DitchJohnson #RussiaReport #Russianagent 🏼 watch 🏼 share 🏼retweet this #Brexit #RevokeA50 https://t.co/mfspwFoyu7
      RT @sullo_58457: @Pam15094627 @RespectIsVital @BorisJohnson MI6 think hes a threat to national security and with good reason https://t.co/5BYe9dDY1u
  11. Pro Boris/Anti-Corbyn BBC conspiracies/bias Tweets

RT @redsarah99: After the @BBCBreaking edited footage of #RemembranceDay

To protect @BorisJohnson,Can anyone actually say with a straight face that the @bbc aren’t just stenographers for the @Conservatives? It’s shameful. #ToryLies @bbclaurak Article from 2017 https://t.co/Et5dSnqdRz

RT @quiscustodis: #r4today Emily Thornberry asked whether @JeremyCorbyn had backed a war in Falklands in 1982. #radio4 bias in an election is shameful. Propaganda persists with @BBCr4today peddling outright lies.Corbyn wasn’t an MP until 1983.

RT @RedBlackWhite8: @RobBurl @bbclaurak @Jo_Coburn @JamesCleverly @AndyMcDonaldMP @LOS_Fisher @Miatsf @IainDale Any comment on doctored footage on BBC Breakfast of Cenotaph yesterday? Johnson appeared to have mastered time travel. Or was it just more pro Tory government propaganda from BBC?

RT @smartysue: @BBCBreakfast I’m sure if it had been @jeremycorbyn looking as scruffy , disinterested and laying the wreath upside down we wouldn’t have had the same ‘ production ‘ error

  1. Sexist Tweets abuse towards high-profile female MPs:
    1. @GMB @EmilyThornberry @piersmorgan Nuclear weapons have like it not ensured peace since the second world war, this stupid woman would let go of our deterrent whilst our enemies are developing theirs what a stupid thick useless cow.
    2. @CarolineLucas @michaelgove @thetimes Ugly old witch. Why don’t you top yourself? Eliminate your carbon footprint and make the rest of the country happy at the same time. #brexit #Election2019
    3. @SkyNews @joswinson BREAKING NEWS! @joswinson is going to take every one in the uk through the courts that do not vote @LibDems as it “fundamentally disrespects the voters that back staying in the EU” ,! This delusional bitch is on another planet.
  2. And a few “nice Tweets”

a.     RT @pinccushion: @jeremycorbyn @barryoleary77 You will be our honourable PM December 12

b.     RT @ScouseGirlMedia: @Ian4WestDerby Total respect Ian x Best of luck. I’d be very proud to have you as my MP.

c.     RT @HHepplewhite: I’m watching the Royal British Legion Festival from last night. I have never seen such raw emotion on ANY PM’s face as I just have with @borisjohnson He is 100% #British through and through. He is without a shadow of doubt our #PeoplesPrimeMinister 🇬🇧🇬🇧

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