Nothing gets people worked up like a visit from Donald Trump.
In a year when Westminster was almost totally consumed by Brexit, it wasn't cabinet resignations, the meltdown in the Conservative party, or even a leadership challenge against Theresa May that generated the most discussion on social media, according to an analysis of the most shared politics-related stories by BuzzFeed News.
Protesters flying a 6-metre-high blimp depicting Trump as a giant baby was the most viral story about British politics this year, according to data from BuzzSumo, a company that tracks sharing on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Reports about the blimp protesting the US president's visit to the UK in July took the top two places in a list of the 100 most shared stories about British politics in 2018, the analysis shows. The list consists mainly of news articles, but there were also several parliamentary petitions that reached massive audiences.
Also prominent in this year's ranking of the most viral stories are reports by the Observer and Channel 4 about Cambridge Analytica's use of Facebook data, illustrating the public's growing concern about the power of big American technology companies. Media articles about Boris Johnson's controversial comments about the burka — for which he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Conservative party earlier this month — were also circulated widely.
Overall, though, the discussion on social platforms about British politics this year was overwhelmingly dominated by Brexit, the data shows. About half of the top 100 most viral stories related to the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. As BuzzFeed News reported earlier this month, this online discussion appears to be mainly opposed to Brexit: Very few articles that portray leaving the EU in a positive light appear to have gone viral.
The dominance of Brexit is a change from previous years, when concerns about domestic policy issues — and specifically the Conservatives' handling of them — were more prevalent. Last year, for example, by far the most viral single article was a report on the Independent site claiming that the Tories voted that animals can't feel pain, which received nearly 1.2 million shares. There were no viral stories of that magnitude to blindside the party's leadership this year.
Social media remains, by and large, hostile to the UK's ruling party, however, despite the Tories' attempts to improve its image on Facebook and Twitter. In a highly fragmented and partisan landscape, the left is still winning the battle for attention. It's just that the discussion is now framed around Brexit rather than domestic policy.
Here are the top 23 most shared articles about British politics in 2018: