Imagining the EU: Words associated with EU and Europe

We are continuing to investigate how people discuss the EU on Twitter. Our aim is to discover common themes which may emerge leading up to the referendum on the UK’s inclusion in the EU. One of the things that we are looking at is hashtags associated with the terms EU and Europe. The following graph shows us hashtags that are used in conjuction with either #EU or #Europe.

We have been collecting data since 9th August 2015 so we are beginning to build up quite a big dataset – as of the 27th October we had 3,109,130 tweets associated with the EU (gathered using a variety of EU based terms). See our previous article for details.

We can see that the majority of the discussion over our collection period has been on refugees and migrants. We discussed these terms in some detail in another post.

Does this suggest that refugees and migrants will be hot topics that people will consider when voting? Or are they just a reflection of what is currently happening? We’ll have to do more research to find out. Keep following us for updates on this question.
Looking at the data in more detail there are also some things in here that we might not expect. For example ‘opkillingbay’ shows up with a high frequency as does ‘yearinspace’. This is because using terms like EU means we have a broad collection strategy. We’ll need to do some post collection clean up before we present a more fine-grained analysis.

#OpKillingBay press release – Anonymous to save dolphins

We can see immediately that the frequency of the hashtags supporting the UK leaving the EU (brexit, no2eu, betteroffout) is much higher than that of those supporting the UK staying in the EU (yes2eu, betteroffin, votein, Bremain). The frequency of the remain-in hashtags is so low that they don’t even appear in this chart. This is not surprising when we look at our basic sentiment analysis over the same period.

2% of the tweets we have collected are in favour of remaining in the EU compared with 98% associated with a desire to leave the EU. Our regular followers will remember however that twitter is not necessarily representative of public opinion. The existence of a term or hashtag does not always indicate support – it can be more likely that people tweet against a subject (Barber and Rivero 2014). We’ll be keeping a careful eye on this and will return to the question of sentiment in twitter in a later post.

Our project is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s The UK in a Changing Europe programme. Look out for our regular updates as the project tracks developments in the debate on the UK’s continued membership of the EU and follow us on Twitter @myimageoftheEU.

Neuropolitics Research Lab – People – Politics and International Relations (PIR)

Neuropolitics research politics experiments using fMRI brain scanning.

Laura Cram is Senior Fellow, The UK in a Changing Europe, investigating The European Union in the Public Imagination: Maximising the Impact of Transdisciplinary Insights (ESRC/ES/N003985/1).