Scottish independence: TV viewer engagement mapped

Robert Gordon University have published a working paper on their analysis of Twitter usage during the main TV  debates. Picture: PA

Robert Gordon University have published a working paper on their analysis of Twitter usage during the main TV debates. Picture: PA

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THE ENGAGEMENT of Scottish viewers during the independence referendum TV debates has been highlighted by university researchers who mapped the rise and fall in the volume of tweets throughout the programmes.

Robert Gordon University have published a working paper on their analysis of Twitter usage during three of the main televised referendum debates in August and September this year and found the issues that caught the most attention changed from debate to debate, suggesting that viewers were keen to debate the question of independence from all sides of the question.


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During the first debate, 54,811 tweets were collected with the main peak of Twitter traffic coming as Alastair Darling pushed Alex Salmond on his Plan B currency plan, the second peak came minutes later when Salmond questioned Darling on Project Fear.

In the second debate, 64,041 tweets were recorded and the main peaks were the discussion of oil revenue and a question from the audience that asked “If we are better together, why aren’t we better together already?”

During the third debate featuring actress Elaine C Smith and labour politician Kezi Dugdale just 31,715 tweets were recorded - Ms Smith dominated the Twitter discussion, a fact researchers put down to the fact that as a non-politician she was a fresh face and voice to the discussion.

Researchers also identified topics that were discussed in the debates that failed to stimulate Twitter discussion each time, such as mentions of the Institute for Fiscal Studies report.

They also found that the sample responded most strongly to ‘moments of political theatre’ rather than thoughtful debate and that they chose to wait until breaks in the programme, such as advertisement breaks, vox pops and spin-room discussion, to tweet.

Professor Sarah Pedersen, of RGU’s research institute for Management, Governance and Society (IMaGeS) said: “This report brings together the mainly quantitative research that we did in relation to Twitter throughout these three key debates and which we feel could inform the structure of future televised debates as it highlights a number of interesting trends.

“Broadcasters might wish to note that spin-rooms, vox pops and advertising breaks offered an opportunity for the sample to stop watching the television and start to tweet, particularly after moments of high drama or complex argument.”

The study used software developed by Professor Ayşe Göker and a team of researchers at the university’s Innovation, Design and Sustainability (IDEAS) research institute which monitors trends on social media to discover breaking news topics and related multimedia resources, while also ensuring that users are able to gauge the reliability of the source.

Professor Göker said: “The referendum debates were a timely opportunity to use our technology for an area of specific interest to the public.”


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