MEP’s on Twitter in February 2016 – Over Representing The Extremes

social mediaMore than 75% of Members of the European Parliament  share their views with the public on Twitter.  But what does this say about the influence of social media on the balance of power in the European Parliament and about the impact of MEPs on the general audience?

To gain a better understanding, we have monitored MEP’s tweets – and their followers’ re-tweets – since the beginning of February 2016 to obtain initial observations on how MEP’s use of social media affects the political discourse and the reputation of the European institutions overall.



February overview
MEPs’ activity on twitter represented a total of 641,504 tweets by 164,111 users, where the latter number constitutes MEPs and retweets by other users. MEPs have only written 32,667 (5%) tweets, while they have been the source to 608,837 (95%) retweets, demonstrating quite a significant level of influence on their audience. Among all tweets and retweets, 274,450 (43%) included a link. The use of links demonstrates Twitter’s capability to relay information from secondary sources and generate traffic to information websites.

The following countries have been most active with regards to conversations involving MEPs on Twitter:

  1. Spain (74,987)
  2. United Kingdom (67,927)
  3. France (45,934)
  4. Italy (24,100)
  5. Belgium (14,302)
  6. United States (7,576)
  7. Germany (5,488)
  8. Netherlands (5,179)
  9. Ireland (4,738)
  10. Poland (4,471)

Despite all the discussions around Brexit, it could appear quite unexpected to have Spain at the top with a significant portion of the followers. The reason behind Spain’s dominance is due to the high presence of top influencers who are successfully able to engage in conversations with their followers.

The statistics for the most frequent languages used during these conversations portrays a similar picture:

  1. English (32%)
  2. Spanish (30%)
  3. French (18%)
  4. Italian (11%)
  5. German (3%)
  6. Polish (2%)
  7. Dutch (1%)
  8. Greek (1%)
  9. Portuguese (1%)
  10. Swedish (<1%)

It is not surprising to find English at the top (UK and USA are highly ranked above), but the list confirms the Spanish dominance, where Spanish occurs almost twice as frequently as French and 10 times more than German!

The top position of Spain can largely be credited to Pablo Iglesias. The former Member of the European Parliament and current Podemos leader has more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter. The frequency of his tweets and the audience he is able to reach makes him a top influencer. In February, his tweets were retweeted more than 134,991 times. As a reference, the second most retweeted personality is Nigel Farage, leader of the UKIP (UK Independence Party). The party leader managed to achieve ‘only’ 56,546 retweets this month.

The top 10 most retweeted personalities have been:











Interestingly, the most retweeted MEPs come from political parties well known to be anti-EU activists (1 from Podemos, 3 from the French Front National, 1 from far-left Parti de Gauche in France, 1 from UKIP, and 1 from the Italian North League). Representatives of pro-EU parties are dramatically underrepresented in this ranking.

Regarding the content of the conversations, the most utilised hashtags concerning Europe (hashtags involving local topics have been removed from the list) have been the following:

  1. #salvini (14,335)
  2. #brexit (9,534)
  3. #euref (5,189)
  4. #stoptisa (4,749)
  5. #ge16 (4,319)
  6. #eredupeuple (4,318)
  7. #voteleave (3,842)
  8. #machismomata (3,823)
  9. #tisa (3,786)
  10. #eu (3,467)

Here, two topics clearly dominate the discussions: Brexit and protests against TISA (Trade in Services Agreement), the project that aims at liberalizing the worldwide trade of services such as banking, health care and transport. Hashtag #stoptisa was trending at the beginning of the month and has often been the topic of discussion in the Spanish online community. MEP Marina Albiol Guzmán from Izquierda Unida has been the most active, achieving more than 1,600 tweets and retweets related to this topic.

When taking a deeper look into the #Brexit hashtag, we discover that the conversations on Twitter were largely led by activists in favour of the exit as the top associated hashtags show (marked with red in the list below).

  1. #brexit (9,534)
  2. #euref (331)
  3. #freebritain (270)
  4. #ue (245)
  5. #johnson (230)
  6. #stopue (193)
  7. #marr (174)
  8. #leaveeu (164)
  9. #eu (141)
  10. #ukineu (134)

Certainly, Twitter users are not a representative sample of the population and the data should be treated with caution. What we can say, based upon the data collected, is that people in favour of an EU exit for England are more active on Twitter than people wanting to stay in the union.

As a conclusion

The report reveals that discussions initiated by MEPs on Twitter are extremely active, and anti-EU leaders tend to dominate the discussions. 164,111 twitter users do not represent 500+ million EU citizens, but they contribute to the institutions’ reputation with a significant level of influence. Pro-EU political parties are far behind and should enter the game if they want to have an impact on social networks.


Christophe Ginisty is Head of Digital at FTI Consulting in Brussels

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