Reason vs. emotion in the Brexit campaign: How key political actors and their followers used Twitter

  • Jorge Martins Rosa ICNOVA, NOVA FCSH, Universidade Nova de Lisboa
  • Cristian Jiménez Ruiz IN+, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa
Keywords: Twitter, Brexit, Referendum, Social Network Platforms, Politics

Abstract

Online social network platforms have been, since their rise to prominence, considered as relevant gateways to study individual behaviors. One of those realms is politics, from massive movements and demonstrations to institutionalized events like general elections or referendums in democratic countries. In this paper, we are interested in the behavior of professional politicians in the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum of June 2016, colloquially known as the “Brexit referendum”. We ask how, during the final weeks of the campaign, four key political actors (Jeremy Corbyn, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage) used Twitter through their official accounts regarding this popular consultation and how that action was received by their followers. To be more precise, we ask if they predominantly appealed to emotions or to rational arguments (Usage Axis), and what was, in each case, the impact of the tweets (Impact Axis). We conclude that, regardless of the way each actor used Twitter during the campaign, the appeal to emotions and the debasement of the opposing views tended to have more relevance, which may be a distressing hypothesis for democracy.

Author Biographies

Jorge Martins Rosa, ICNOVA, NOVA FCSH, Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences Department, NOVA FCSH
Cristian Jiménez Ruiz, IN+, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa

Junior Researcher, IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology and Policy Research, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa

Published
2020-02-24
How to Cite
Rosa, J. M., & Jiménez Ruiz, C. (2020). Reason vs. emotion in the Brexit campaign: How key political actors and their followers used Twitter. First Monday, 25(3). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v25i3.9601