Which politicians receive abuse? Four factors illuminated in the UK general election 2019
Department of Computer Science, Sheffield University, Regent Court, 211 Portobello, Sheffield, UK
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Accepted: 18 June 2020
Published online: 2 July 2020
The 2019 UK general election took place against a background of rising online hostility levels toward politicians, and concerns about the impact of this on democracy, as a record number of politicians cited the abuse they had been receiving as a reason for not standing for re-election. We present a four-factor framework in understanding who receives online abuse and why. The four factors are prominence, events, online engagement and personal characteristics. We collected 4.2 million tweets sent to or from election candidates in the six week period spanning from the start of November until shortly after the December 12th election. We found abuse in 4.46% of replies received by candidates, up from 3.27% in the matching period for the 2017 UK general election. Abuse levels have also been climbing month on month throughout 2019. Abuse also escalated throughout the campaign period. Abuse focused mainly on a small number of high profile politicians, with the most prominent individuals receiving not only more abuse by volume, but also as a percentage of replies. Abuse is “spiky”, triggered by external events such as debates, or certain tweets. Some tweets may become viral targets for personal abuse. On average, men received more general and political abuse; women received more sexist abuse. Conservative candidates received more political and general abuse. We find that individuals choosing not to stand for re-election had received more abuse across the preceding year.
Key words: UK general election / Online abuse / Cyber-bullying / Twitter / Politics
© The Author(s), 2020