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Politics

Is Your MP A Night Owl Or Early Bird?

We analysed MPs' Twitter use to sort the alarm clock Britons from the late sleepers.

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Over the last couple of months, 470 of the UK's 650 MPs have been tweeting on a regular basis.

During the election campaign, the MPs – now technically just candidates again as they seek re-election – have been all over Twitter, using it to cheer their party on and to attack their opponents, each fighting for their own little corner of the digital space.

But when, I hear you ask, do they tweet?

We at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media have been collecting their tweets in the two months or so leading up to the election. To date, there have been more than 160,000. Each tweet is time-stamped, which means it's possible to work out precisely what time of the day it was posted. So we worked out the average time each sitting candidate tweeted, broke it down by 24-hour segments, and then created an average of averages.

So here's what the average UK MP's Twitter day looks like at election time. In a word, busy – they're tweeting from six until midnight.

CASM / Demos

They're early risers, our elected representatives, up and tweeting by 7am or so: Nine per cent of MPs' tweets are sent between 7 and 9am. They gradually increase in volume, peaking around lunchtime. Then, at 10pm, another spike – probably reacting to Newsnight and Question Time, or perhaps because they've just got home.

Here's how this pattern compares with the average tweeter.

CASM / Demos

MPs tweet less during the day, probably because they're rather busy people, but when work is done, it's Twitter time. From 6pm onwards, MPs are tweeting into the night while the rest of the world sleeps.

But how do the main three parties stack up against each other?

CASM / Demos

Well, broadly the same. Labour are a little later to get out of bed and switch their phones on, while the Lib Dems need to turn theirs off a little earlier and get some sleep. And even in the very dead of night, there will be a Conservative MP tweeting.

But these graphs mask the fact that MPs tweet in very different ways. Here are a few examples of our archetypical political tweeters.

Liberal Democrat Tom Brake is what we call a Work Tweeter.

CASM / Demos

For him, Twitter is part of the day-to-day job of being an MP, and once the day is done it's time to put the phone down. Nearly all of Brake's tweets are sent between 8am and 8pm.

The Conservatives' Charlie Elphicke is a typical Early Bird.

CASM / Demos

Nearly a quarter of his tweets are sent between 7am and 9am. His Twitter time gradually decreases through the day until 11pm, when the phone is laid to rest.

Not for everyone, though. While others have long since hit the sack, for some of our MPs, the night is still young.

For Twilight Tweeters like Seema Malhotra of Labour, the evening is when the action starts.

CASM / Demos

A quarter of her tweets are sent between 10pm and midnight.

Perhaps the biggest night owl is the Tories' Mary Macleod.

CASM / Demos

All told, 27% of her tweets are sent out between 1am and 6am, 20% higher than the average.

All this analysis might feel a little creepy – and it probably is.

But it underlines how much your public data gives away. From the above, we might hazard a guess as to someone's daily routine, particularly if they are a compulsive Tweeter. Indeed, looking at the above, it's not too difficult to work out what our MPs are up to and where they might be – and who knows what else we could find it we mixed in some other data?

For public figures such as MPs, this is part of the deal: They have an expectation that their tweets are being pored over by the public, with every 140 characters a mini public statement. In fact, we tried to contact all the people mentioned to let them know we were publishing this piece – most of them didn't reply, but then they are fairly busy at the moment.

Yet it's not just MPs that are tweeting all the time. Everything we've done above could be done to any ordinary member of the public – and their movements calculated by carefully calibrating metadata from publicly available tweets. So be careful not just what you tweet, but when you tweet it. It might say more about you than you'd like.

Researcher at Demos

Contact Alex Krasodomski-Jones at alex.krasodomski@demos.co.uk.

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