The social media battle for control of Brighton and Hove’s three constituencies will be analysed by Sussex University researchers in the run up to May’s election.
Academics will use ground-breaking ‘intelligent’ technology to scan and analyse thousands of political tweets as the election campaign officially gets underway.
They will be investigating the impact of social media on the battles for 15 key marginal constituencies on the south coast, Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown and Hove.
Experts in the University’s Informatics Department have developed unique software, called Method52, that uses complex algorithms to analyse and understand thousands of tweets to give a detailed portrait of public opinion on a particular issue.
With the Demos think tank, they have set up the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) to learn how to ‘listen’ to conversations on social media.
They have already successfully used the technology to analyse ‘cheers’ and ‘boos’ during the 2014 football world cup, to monitor online misogyny, and to deduce the ‘winner’ of last year’s debates about Europe between politicians Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.
Now they have joined up with media and politics academics to undertake this wide-ranging study of Twitter’s role in the battle for Downing Street, focusing on possible swing seats across Hampshire, Sussex and Kent.
Professor Ivor Gaber, Professor of Journalism at the University of Sussex, is leading the project. He says: “I don’t think we can say that this is ‘the social media election’ – tweets don’t win votes. As with all new communication technologies, the change is gradual.
“But I think that almost everybody agrees that social media will be very noisy in the campaign, which gives us a rich, largely untapped, resource to undertake some interesting analysis.
“For example, will we see a discernible ‘issues agenda’ that arises from social media? How will the different parties use tools like Twitter? What will be the balance of negative, supportive and humorous content?
“We have focused on the south coast because of its importance to the major parties and newcomers alike. If polls and forecasts are right, around half of the seats we are looking at could change hands.”
As well as analysing tweets, the team will also track key Facebook pages, blogs, YouTube videos, and party and candidate web pages.
In addition, local, regional and national media will be monitored to pick up all references to social media activity during the election campaign.
CASM has also partnered with the Sunday Times to provide weekly analysis of the major digital moments of the 2015 general election campaign.