Understanding What the European Union Means to You: Neuropolitics, Behaviour and Identity

euro+jack_straightOn Europe Day, May 9th 2016, the Neuropolitics Research Lab is popping up at the National Library of Scotland. University of Edinburgh researchers introduce a unique approach to understanding what the European Union means to you. Join our interactive drop-in workshops and lightning talks, exploring what our brains, behaviour and even our activities on social media reveal about our attitudes to the EU. View the #myimageoftheEU gallery throughout the day and even add your own image. In the evening, sign up for the expert Q&A session on What the European Means in Different Parts of the UK.

The daytime event is unticketed so feel free to pop in throughout the day.


10.00 – 12.00 Brain, Behaviour and Attitudes to The European Union

A drop in session for demonstrations of what our brains, behaviour and social media activities tell us about our attitudes to the European Union this includes hands-on workshops. View our #myimageoftheEU gallery and watch or join in our interactive sessions to learn more about what eye-tracking, face-emotion coding, social media analysis and brain imaging can tell us about our attitudes to the EU.

12.00 – 14.00 What Does the EU Really Mean To You?

Catch one of our lightning talks on how the public imagines the European Union and what neuropolitics can tell us about this. A series of different talks, each lasting 10 minutes, will start every 20 minutes. You are welcome to drop in for a specific talk or stay for as many as you can. In addition view our #myimageoftheEU gallery, we asked the public to tweet how they see the EU see a gallery of the best and most though provoking images and add your own.

14.00 – 16.00 Closed session for schools visit and workshop

18.00 – 19.30 ‘What Does the EU Mean’ – Panel discussion and a Q&A

The discussion is to be chaired by Kenneth Macdonald, BBC Scotland Science Correspondent, the speakers include Professor Anand Menon, King College London, Director UK in a Changing EU programme; Professor Micheal Keating, University of Aberdeen, Director Centre for Constitutional Change and Senior Fellow, UK in a Changing EU programme; Dr Huw Pritchard member of the Wales Governance Centre and Professor Laura Cram, Director NRlabs Neuropolitics Research, University of Edinburgh, and Senior Fellow, UK in a Changing EU programme.

Tickets for the evening event can be obtained through eventbrite:


Your Image of the EU: Launch of #myimageoftheEU

The people of the UK are soon to vote in a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. What are your opinions on the EU? What does it make you think of? What do you see in your daily life that evokes thoughts of the EU?

We are inviting you to get involved and be part of the debate! Tweet your images, cartoons, videos and comments that capture your image of the EU. Examples might be EU funding signs, or flags in different spots, but the only limit is your imagination.

We will use your images to create a Twitter gallery that will be accessible to the public, academics, policymakers and political elites. We would particularly welcome images from those who don’t feel a part of the central debate. Get your voices heard. We will be using some of these images in an art installation on Europe Day, 9 May 2016. Prizes will be awarded for the best images.

To participate, tweet images stating where you spotted them, or where you are based, and how the image makes you feel about the EU to @myimageoftheEU, using the hashtag #myimageoftheEU, or email them to us. See the tweets featured here for examples of what to do or visit our Twitter wall.

Our #ImagineEurope 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 membership of the EU and follow us on Twitter @myimageoftheEU for more information on this and other projects.

This article was originally published on the ImagineEurope Storify.

Exploring Bias: Comparing Approaches for Collecting Twitter Data

In our Imagine Europe project, we are tracking the UK’s EU referendum debate to explore the various ways in which the public imagines the European Union. We are using Twitter to map trends in response to emerging events. This analysis allows us to gain a more nuanced understanding of those who are motivated to comment on UK-EU-related topics. See our Twitter demo for interactive visualisations of the data.

We have collected Twitter data on the referendum debate for the past five months. We are using three methods for collecting data from Twitter: 1) Using hashtags chosen by an expert panel as search queries; 2) Collecting a random sample without specified search terms and extracting referendum-appropriate data automatically; 3) Collecting from the three official campaign groups @vote_leave, @LeaveEUOfficial and @StrongerIn.

Each method of collection influences what data will be collected and therefore each data set has certain biases. The hashtag and random stream sample sets are heavily influenced by the terms used for data collection. Those terms differ greatly when automatically extracted (the random stream set) or chosen by experts (the hashtag set).

The expert method is designed to follow a wider variety of terms that the experts expect will become discussion topics over the longer-term referendum debate, whereas the automatic method extracts data using terms which are commonly associated with known referendum-specific terms. Examining the three different sets allows us to contrast what is being collected and gives us the ability to have a broader understanding of public and elite opinion. In particular, we are examining how topics differ between these data sets and how they influence each other.

The hashtag set is the largest by a considerable amount. During the five-month period, the set collected using hashtags contained 5,556,027 tweets. The set extracted from the random stream has 8,777 tweets and the official campaigns 2,606 tweets. To determine how relevant the data collection is to the debate, we extracted 100 tweets from each set and asked three annotators to consider the relevance of each tweet in two ways: 1) whether it is directly relevant to the UK-EU referendum debate, and 2) whether it is about a topic that would likely influence voter opinion.

We found that the data from the official campaign groups and data automatically extracted from the random stream are more relevant to the topic than the data gathered using hashtags. The hashtag set has a low relevance score for ‘directly relevant to the referendum debate’ but this rises significantly when the topics that will influence the debate are considered.

This was as we expected. The differences can be explained as follows. The official campaign set contains the information from the campaign groups which are publishing tweets in order to influence the debate. This gives us a small, very specific, very opinion-driven set. The random stream set gives a set of data from the wider public, but only tweets that contain terms that are closely related to the debate, therefore providing a very topic-specific set. The hashtag-gathered set is a much larger set, collected using a wider variety of terms. It contains more non-relevant information but also covers the topics likely to influence voters not identified in the other sets.

We did find that much more data was collected by the hashtag method in early September. On further inspection this data relates to refugees and migrants. This shows that the campaign groups are not talking about the refugee crisis or related migration issues. It is not being directly related to the UK-EU referendum debate, but instead it is being widely discussed.

Analysing the frequency of commonly used hashtags gives an indication of topics discussed in each of the datasets. Much of the discussion in the tweets from the official campaign and the random stream data are directly related to the UK-EU referendum. This is echoed by the hashtags #brexit, #leaveeu, #voteleave and #euref being the top four most frequent in both collections.

Hashtags with a pro-Leave sentiment appear more frequently in all three of our data sets. We do not see any pro-Remain hashtags appearing in the hashtag-gathered set, and only #strongerin and #remainineu in the random stream set. We have a very small number of pro-Remain hashtags in the official campaign data.

Since we are collecting from the three campaign groups and only one is pro-Remain, we would expect a lower level of pro-Remain hashtags in the official set – but not as low as we are seeing. This suggests that either pro-Remain supporters don’t use hashtags, use them in unexpected ways or there is a strong pro-Leave sentiment on Twitter.

We also see another phenomenon within the data – where hashtags are used to draw attention to specific themes. Within the official stream, certain hashtags have been heavily used by the two pro-Leave campaigns. For example, @LeaveEUOfficial launched #theknoweu, #justsaying, #fudgeoff and #twibbon and @vote_leave launched #wrongthenwrongnow and #theinvisableman. We can see that #twibbon also appears in the random stream data set and therefore has cross-pollinated and is being discussed by the wider public. The @StrongerIn campaign does not seem to be using hashtags to the same extent and rarely uses any beyond #strongerin. It is possible that the lack of use of hashtags by the @StrongerIn campaign means that their supporters are not using hashtags as well. This is something we will need to investigate further.

In the hashtag-gathered data, many of the top hashtags indicate a focus on the topic of refugees (#refugeeswelcome, #refugee, #refugeecrisis) and in discussing particular countries (#uk, #usa, #syria, #germany). In the random stream data, we also see a discussion of the referendum-specific terms #brexit and #leaveeu, but very little occurrence of the #strongerin hashtag.

Our #ImagineEurope 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 membership of the EU and follow us on Twitter @myimageoftheEU for more information on this and other projects.

This article was originally published on the ImagineEurope Storify.

Volunteers needed! (Neuropolitics fMRI study)


We are inviting healthy volunteers from Scotland who are interested in participating an exciting fMRI study from our newly launched NRLabs Neuropolitics Research (see also our website http://www.pol.ed.ac.uk/neuropoliticsresearch), School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.

We are currently looking for people from Scotland to take part in the study, which involves having an MR scan. This will involve lying on your back in the scanner for up to one hour, watching videos and playing an interactive game. We will be looking at which parts of your brain are activated during this process. If you are new to MR scanning, experiencing an MR scan can be quite noisy for you at first. We will provide you with ear plugs and headphones to minimise MR noise. Usually participants relax fairly quickly and get used to hearing the MR noise during their scans.

If you are interested in taking part, you can follow the link below and fill out a short survey to check your suitability for MR scanning. Even if you do this you are free to change your mind and withdraw at any time, without a problem. Any information we collect from this survey will be anonymised and will not be shared.


If selected to participate in our MR study, you will be given £20 to cover out of pocket expenses. Please feel free to forward this link to anyone you know who might also be interested. For further questions or inquiries, please contact Sujin Hong (sujin.hong@ed.ac.uk). Thank you.





UK-EU Twitter Sentiment Analysis: An analysis of the sentiment in the twittersphere towards the UK leaving or remaining in the EU

In this article, we look at the sentiment of hashtags towards the UK’s EU membership in our dataset. We look at sentiment in general and, in particular, the difficulty in measuring it. In a previous article we discussed in detail the hashtags used by groups campaigning for the UK to either remain in or to leave the European Union (@StrongerIn,@vote_leave, @LeaveEUOfficial).

One of the aspects we want to address in our work is the identification of sentiment in our dataset. We want to ask questions such as: Are people in the UK positive or negative about the EU? and Can we quantify this opinion by topic and/or geography?

Identifying the target of sentiment expressed in a tweet or a piece of text in general is a hard task. There is software available that measures the strength and direction of sentiment in a segment of text, but it is harder to identify what that sentiment is expressed towards. This is what we call the target of the sentiment and it is difficult to automatically extract this target.

For example, we have the tweet below. We can clearly see that this tweet is pro-Remain. If we use a general sentiment analysis tool, the text from this tweet would have a positive sentiment score based on the language used. We can see that there are two targets in this sentence which both have positive sentiment – Sir John Major who ‘is clear’ and Britain which ‘is stronger in Europe’.

After the identification of sentiment polarity, strength and target, we would aim to combine this information to see how these relate to more general topics of discussion and to the relationship between the UK and the EU. In the tweet above, even though a pro-Remain sentiment is expressed, it is difficult to automatically relate the positive sentiment towards the UK and a pro-Remain point of view.

With this tweet, we can use further context and qualifying information, such as the hashtag – but not all tweets contain this information. Of course, not all EU-related tweets have a stance on the future of the UK-EU relationship. We are currently looking into ways of addressing this issue in more detail and will report our results at a later date.

To present an initial overview of sentiment in the data collected, we are calculating the percentage of hashtags in the data which express a polarity of either pro-Leave or pro-Remain.

We launched the Neuropolitics Research Labs website on 1 December 2015, where you can find more information on our work.

Neuropolitics Research

The Neuropolitics Research Lab produces transdisciplinary research, utilising developments in the cognitive neurosciences, to shed new light on political attitudes, identities and decision-behaviours. Our aim is to test the utility of methods more typically associated with neuroscience, informatics and cognitive psychology in helping us to understand more about political attitudes and behaviours.

As part of this site, we have launched the interactive #ImagineEurope Twitter Demonstrator. This provides access to visualisations of the Twitter data we have collected since 7 August 2015.

Twitter Analysis

Social media is being used to monitor ongoing shifts in public imaginings of the European Union at this critical time. Here Twitter is used to track current trends using advanced Twitter analytics, hashtag tracking, sentiment scoring (indicating the rising and falling emotional content of tweets) and trend analysis in response to emerging events.

On the #ImagineEurope Twitter demo there is a sentiment dial – a map showing locations extracted from Tweets and a wordle of commonly used hashtags. This is an overview of the entire dataset. Further pages can be linked to that show sentiment, locations and hashtag wordles by day.

The dataset presented in our interactive Twitter demonstrator is gathered using a set of hashtags related to the upcoming referendum on the UK’s EU membership. We discussed how we collect the data in a previous article. Since then, we have added new hashtags to reflect the ongoing discussion and those used by the Leave and Remain campaigns. These are: #migrant, #refugee,#strongerin, #leadnotleave, #voteremain, #britainout, #leaveeu, #voteleave,#beleave,#loveeuropeleaveeu.

We have initially adopted the approach of counting the hashtags in our dataset which clearly have a pro-Leave or pro-Remain bias. The Remain hashtags used in the sentiment calculation are:#yes2eu, #yestoeu, #betteroffin, #votein, #ukineu, #bremain, #strongerin,#leadnotleave,#voteremain. The Leave hashtags are: #brexit, #no2eu, #notoeu, #betteroffout, #voteout,#britainout, #leaveeu, #loveeuropeleaveeu, #voteleave, #beleave.

We can see from the dial that most of the data in our sets contains Leave hashtags. We can break this down to show the counts per hashtag.

This breakdown shows that the #brexit hashtag is the most used. This hashtag is not always used to signal support of #brexit. We have discussed in a previous article how in fact this hashtag is used by both pro-Leave and pro-Remain groups. #Brexit appears to be used as a label of the referendum discussion in general rather than an indicator of sentiment direction.

To move beyond the current solution, we are working with The TAG Research Laboratory at the University of Sussex. The Laboratory is involved in research into social media analysis. We are working with them to adapt their software to our data to find a solution to this tricky sentiment problem.

TAG Research Laboratory

In Summer 2010, Jeremy Reffin, and I co-founded the Text Analytics Group (TAG) Research Laboratory. We are currently a team…

Our #ImagineEurope 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 membership of the EU and follow us on Twitter @myimageoftheEU for more information on this and other projects.

This article was originally published on the ImagineEurope Storify.

Neuropolitics Experiment Now Running

NRLlogo_online_2colourAre you aged between 18 and 30 (inclusive) and eligible to vote in the upcoming EU Referendum here in the UK?  Then why not come and visit the brand new Neuropolitics Research Laboratory at Edinburgh University and take part in an experiment.

Lasting between 35 and 55 minutes, you’ll watch a series of video clips relating to contemporary European politics and issues. The task is just to watch each clip carefully before providing simple feedback on what you have just seen.  While watching the videos your facial emotional reaction will be automatically analysed from your webcam image.  There are also some standard demographic and personality questions to complete at the start and end of the experiment.

As an added incentive you’ll receive a total of £10 to cover any travel expenses and as compensation for your time.

For further details and to select a suitable time please sign up by using the Eventbrite system at:


This will issue you with a “ticket” to take part (there is no need to print this – it is just a convenient way of managing the sign-up process).

Tweet Beginnings – An analysis of how the EU Leave and Remain camps are using Twitter

Social media is used by campaign groups to get their message across during the lead up to both elections and referendums.
Social media is used by campaign groups to get their message across during the lead up to both elections and referendums. Bond et al. (2012) showed in a study of 61 million users in the 2010 US congressional elections how facebook posts ‘directly influenced political self-expression’.

A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilisation

Human behaviour is thought to spread through face-to-face social networks, but it is difficult to identify social influence effects in observational studies, and it is unknown whether online social networks operate in the same way. Here we report results from a randomised controlled trial of political mobilisation messages delivered to 61 million Facebook users during the 2010 US Congressional election.

Twitter in particular has been described as a tool that campaigners and politicians can use to shape media and public perception (Conway et al 2015). Forums such as Twitter allow voters to participate in debate. It allows discussion, idea challenging and information exchange and allows the public to become engaged in the process.

The Rise of Twitter in the Political Campaign: Searching for Intermedia Agenda-Setting Effects in the Presidential Primary

Questions exist over the extent to which social media content may bypass, follow, or attract the attention of traditional media. This study sheds light on such dynamics by examining intermedia agenda-setting effects among the Twitter feeds of the 2012 presidential primary candidates, Twitter feeds of the Republican and Democratic parties, and articles published in the nation’s top newspapers. Daily issue frequencies within media were analyzed using time series analysis. A symbiotic relationship was found between agendas in Twitter posts and traditional news, with varying levels of intensity and differential time lags by issue. While traditional media follow candidates on certain topics, on others they are able to predict the political agenda on Twitter.

In the referendum on Scottish independence several studies were conducted including the one, published in the Guardian, that used Twitter to analysis the level of discussion on different topics associated with the referendum. This highlighted the issues that were important to the (Twitter) public and how the campaign groups interacted with them on those topics. In this study they note how the campaigns were out of touch with the breath of discussion taking place.

Scottish Independence: Which Issues Have Led the Twitter Debate in 2014?

A study by researchers at the University of Glasgow has analysed Tweets that use the #indyref hashtag. Over time, the currency emerges as the most mentioned topic of discussion but oil, the EU and taxation have also been frequent matters of debate. Topical events and policy announcements drive discussion at specific moments, leading to large spikes.

It must be remembered that observations of what happens in social media only represents the discussion that is taking place in social media. This can be a very bias sample – this is discussed further by Quinlan et al (2015). Great care must be taken to not extrapolate this directly to society at large.

Online Discussion and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum: Flaming Keyboards or Forums for Deliberation?

Referendums often fail to live up to a deliberative standard, with many characterised by low levels of knowledge, disinterest and misinformation, negativity and a focus on extraneous issues to which voters are voting. Social media offers new avenues for referendums to incorporate a greater deliberative dimension.

In a previous storify we looked at the hashtags from the EU leave and remain camps. This time we have are looking at a more extensive analysis of the tweets from the official Twitter accounts of the campaigns @vote_leave, @StrongerIn and @LeaveEUOfficial. This is intended to be an initial exploration of their use of Twitter and a comparison between the accounts.

We can see from the total number of tweets graph below that there is a large difference in the number of tweets sent by each group. With both leave groups tweeting more than the @StongerIn campaign. @StrongerIn started tweeting on the 18th September 2015, it has 6,073 followers and has tweeted 112 times. @LeaveEUOfficial started on 11th July 2015, has 31.6K followers and has tweeted 990 times, @vote_leave started on 8th October 2015, has 7,402 followers and has tweeted 629 times. These figures include the times they retweet tweets from others but not the times they are retweeted themselves.

We can see that @LeaveEUOfficial is the most established account and has tweeted the most and has the most followers. The tweeting activity from this account is very consistent with tweets most days – usually between 8-20 tweets per day. Very occasionally they will tweet a lot more for example they tweeted 38 times on 18th November. @vote_leave are far less established but have generally tweeted more per day than the other two accounts. They tend to cluster tweet – so they will tweet a lot for a few days then go quiet. Their biggest tweet day was the 12th October with 42 tweets. @StrongerIn tweets consistently but at a lower volume – usually between 1-4 tweets a day. Their highest tweet day was 19th November with 9 tweets.

It is likely that the campaigns aim to reach people through social media. This means as many people as possible reading the tweets. Tweets are either read on a time line by followers of an account, read by the followers of others when they are retweeted or read when users search twitter either using search words or hashtags. To improve your reach therefore the aim is to recruit more followers or to be retweeted as widely as possible.

We know that the @LeaveOfficialEU has many more followers than either of the other accounts so has a larger reach than the other two accounts. With this in mind we look at the approaches and strategies taken by the three accounts. When the groups tweet they differ in how they structure their content and what extra media they include. Tweets tend to get retweeted if they contain images, they are more discoverable (through searching) if they contain hashtags (#) and they can be targeted to certain individuals (generally with the hope of a retweet) if they contain a mention (@).

We can, to a certain extent, measure the success of a tweet by the number of times it is retweeted and the number of times it is favourited. We can see @LeaveEUOfficial on average per tweet gets both more retweets and favourites. They are followed in quantity of both retweets and favourites by @StrongerIn then @vote_leave. There is a smaller difference in number of favourites than retweets between @vote_leave and @StrongerIn. @StrongerIn tend to use more mentions and images per tweet than the other accounts – this may be increasing the success of the tweets and making up, to some extent, for their lower number of followers. As discussed in a previous post @StrongerIn uses less hashtags than the other accounts – it is possible that the later start date, and the lower volume of tweets may account for the smaller number of followers.

We can look at the types of users the accounts are trying to reach by analysing those that they mention in their tweets. In the graphs below we see the most frequent 10 (or less if not available) user accounts mentioned. We can see that the @StrongerIn campaign often mentions members of its own organisation such as Will Straw, Lucy Thomas, and Karren Brady or known remain supporters such as Patrick McFadden – who are presumably more likely to be positive towards their message and retweet. They also mention Megan Dunn President of the National Union of Student – this may be a strategy to reach students and therefore court the youth vote. They also reach out to the vote_leave campaign through mentions of Dominic Cummings (@odysseanproject) and @vote_leave. This could be trying to reach those supportive of the leave campaigns and challenge their beliefs.

You can see in the graph above that @LeaveEUOfficial is reaching out to main stream media by mentioning news outlets – the Telegraph, Daily Express, Guardian and New Statesman. These accounts have a lot of followers so a retweet from one of these accounts would have a large reach. They also mention @TheKnow_EU which was an account for@LeaveEUOfficial – presumably to make sure followers switched over from the old account. They also mention supporters of their view such as Andy Wigmore, Robert Kimbell (@RedHotSquirrel) and Nigel Farage in a manner similar to @StrongerIn.

@vote_leave reach out / challenge the @StrongerIn campaign through mentions of Lucy Thomas, StrongerIn and @euromove – a grass roots group. They show that they are campaigning on a business platform by mentioning the CBI, the BNE and Roland Rudd. They also mention the politicians David Cameron and George Osborne this could be a strategy either to influence those politicians directly or to influence their followers.


We then look at the types of topics discussed in the text of the tweets by looking at commonly used hashtags (the graphs above). @LeaveEuOfficial use hashtags to position themselves. They classify their tweets with hashtags in the same way a librarian would classify a book with specific terms. These hashtags provide a level of context about their position in the discussion in a very small number of characters. They use the hashtags such as #euref, #eu and #uk to frame the debate and establish what they are talking about. They use #leaveEU, #theknow and #brexit to establish a pro-leave direction. Interestingly they also use #justsaying and #justsayin with high frequency. We can see how how the urban dictionary defines that hashtag below.

Just sayin’

A term coined to be used at the end of something insulting or offensive to take the heat off you when you say it

@vote_leave uses #voteleave, #brexit and #eu in a similar way to @LeaveEUOfficial, they also use #EUCO in the same way. They use hashtags to interact with and/or criticise the CBI with #cbi2015 and #dodgyCBI this again shows that they are aiming to campaign on a business platform. We can also see that they use specific hashtags to point at a certain issues, for example to criticise David Cameron’s appearances at a European summit they use #theinvisibleman. They often use the catchphrase ‘wrongthenwrongnow’ as a hashtag.

@StrongerIn do not use many hashtags. They use them for positioning in the debate #eu, #euref. They also used #modi and #modiintheuk to highlight the Indian Prime Minister’s support for the the UK remaining in Europe.

As not all groups use hashtags to the same degree we also analyse the text from the tweets. Below we can see word clouds from each of the accounts showing the frequency of hashtags, individual words and two word terms. Commonly used words (like ‘and’ or ‘the’ ) have been removed.

We can see that because @LeaveEUOfficial use many hashtags in their tweets the hashtag cloud is similar to both the frequent word and two word term clouds. The @StrongerIn clouds indicate a focus on the economy and what is provided by the EU (‘EU provides’).

The @vote_leave word and two word clouds again strongly reflect the hashtag cloud. The two word cloud shows how this campaign discussed (and criticised) the BSE (Britain Stronger in Europe) launch. For some reason this isn’t something they used hashtags to provide a context for – possibly there was no hashtag used by others in referring to the launch. You can see in their two word cloud that there is a message in their campaign urging voters to take control – in the use of both ‘voteleave takecontrol’ and ‘takecontrol eu’.

This initial study shows us that all three groups use Twitter in very different ways. Currently @LeaveEUOffical has a stronger reach – it has more followers, retweets and favourites. It uses traditional media through mentions to extend that reach. @StrongerIn tweets consistently but at a lower rate and attempts to increase its reach by the use of images. Both @StrongerIn and @vote_leave challenge each other and each others supporters directly. @vote_leave tweet in a clustered manner and react quickly to current events. We will continue to study these approaches as the campaigns continue and see if any of theses strategies change as the referendum draws nearer.

This is written as part of the #ImagineEurope project. The project is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s 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 @myimageoftheEU on twitter.

This article was originally published on the imagineEurope Storify

Getting the message across in the twittersphere: How Remain and Leave camps use #hashtags

Working Towards Sentiment Analysis

In our work investigating how people discuss the EU within Twitter one of our aims is to determine sentiment, both pro and anti the EU, and in relation to the referendum on UK membership of the EU – pro-remain or pro-leave.

The approach we have taken initially is very straightforward. If tweeters use hashtags associated with the leave camp (including; #brexit, #no2eu , #notoeu, #betteroffout, #voteout #eureform, #britainout, #leaveeu, #voteleave, #beleave, #loveeuropeleaveeu, #leaveeu) then we judge their sentiment to be pro-leave. If they use hashtags associated with the remain camp ( #yes2eu, #yestoeu, #betteroffin, #votein, #ukineu, #bremain, #strongerin, #leadnotleave, #voteremain) then their sentiment was pro-remain.

If we do this we get the following results:

And we can see that these results are fairly consistent day by day:

But they are not consistent with polling data – such as the ICM tracker below which shows remain with the higher score. So why is that?

Firstly – we need to remember that research using Twitter data can only ever tell us what people who use Twitter think and does not necessarily reflect the population at large. Interestingly this has been a problem for pollsters trying to include this data in their election prediction polls (Metaxas, Mustafaraj & Gayo-Avello).

Secondly, we also need to remember that, as we discussed in a previous post, people tend to tweet against things rather than for them.

Thirdly, we are currently restricting our analysis to sentiment associated with hashtags. This means that if the tweet doesn’t have a hashtag we are not analysing it’s sentiment.

If we take a look at the data we can see some differences. There is a difference in style between the way that tweets and in particular hashtags are used between both camps. The leave camps tend to use many hashtags – see below for examples from both LEAVE.EU and Vote Leave – especially LEAVE.EU.

LEAVE.EU use hashtags in their twitter bio – this may encourage followers to use them.

The remain camp do not tend to use as many hashtags in their posts – for example:

Tweets that would be considered pro-remain often also include hashtags we have classified as pro-leave. This could be for several factors such as positioning themselves within the debate by using a popular hashtag or trying to talk to those which hold opposite views.

We can see this by looking at the data. When we look at hashtags that are used in conjunction with #strongerin and #brexit (graphs below). We find, overall, a much lower use of #strongerin and we find that it is used with leave hashtags especially #brexit, #leaveEU, #voteLeave. Where as #brexit is used not used with remain hashtags at all but with other leave hashtags.

In the future we aim to do a more sophisticated form of sentiment analysis where we analyse the text with the tweets. This leads on to a final problem that is often discussed in association with sentiment analysis of text, and one that we also see here, which is identifying the target of the sentiment. The target is the item that the sentiment is expressed towards. In the tweet by Richard Corbett MEP above the ‘leave’ sentiment is expressed towards the ‘U think being part of EU holds back trade with rest of world? ‘ and the ‘remain’ sentiment is expressed within ‘Think again’. Automatically identifying the text that the target is associated with is not always easy. This is not an easy issue to tackle and we have’t even begun to discuss jokes and sarcasm yet!

So you might be tempted to think that if this data is not representative of the general public why are we looking at it? What we can look at is how this data changes. If we can identify the differences and track the relationships between Twitter data and a more general public opinion we can start to hypothesise about how changes in the Twitter data equate to public opinion more widely. We’ll talk about this a lot more in the future.

Our project is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s 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 @myimageoftheEU.

This article was originally published on the imagineEurope Storify.

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).

#ImagineEurope at the Turing Summit

This week the Imagine Europe project took part in the Data Science for Media Summit which was held in Edinburgh and hosted by the Alan Turing Institute and the University of Edinburgh.

The aim of the summit was to encourage members of the media to discuss problems that they have with big data and data analytics. The hope is that, from this information, the Alan Turing Institute can identify appropriate areas for research.

The Alan Turing Institute

To start off, Howard Covington, Chair of the Turing Institute, explained the aims of the Institute and gave an overview of the big data landscape.

The day featured a mix of researchers from academia, industrial data scientists and members of the media. The programme included talks by Mike Dewar from the New York Times, Steve Plunkett from Ericsson and Michael Satterthwaite from the BBC.

There were panels on data journalism, audience engagement and the value of data, alongside some great networking.

We had a booth next to the Edinburgh School of Informatics Language Technology group on geo-tagging and data analytics. We gave a demo of the beta version of the tools we are using to analyse the EU-related twitter datasets we are collecting. We are looking, amongst other things, at hashtag frequency, sentiment towards the EU and the location of tweets.

For more information, Nicola Osborne provided a great live blog of the event:

Data Science for Media Summit LiveBlog

Today I am at the ‘Data Science for Media Summit’ hosted by the Alan Turing Institute and the University of Edinburgh and taking place at the Informatics Forum in Edinburgh. This promises to be an event exploring data science opportunities within the media sector and the attendees are already proving to be a diverse mix of media, researchers and others interesting in media collaborations.

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).

This article was originally published on the imagineEurope Storify and the blog version was taken from the ImagineFutures blog.