People On Facebook Didn't Think This Was The "Brexit Election"
The BuzzFeed News Social Barometer shows viral stories included content about Jeremy Corbyn, the NHS, and fox hunting – but almost nothing about how the parties would approach Brexit.
People on Facebook shared more stories about fox hunting than about Brexit over the course of the general election campaign, according to an analysis of the most shared issues since the vote was called.
Young voter registration, the NHS, and Jeremy Corbyn's security record were topics all shared more than stories around Brexit, BuzzFeed News analysis reveals.
And several major political developments that featured prominently in the newspapers during the campaign, such as Labour's nationalisation plans and the Conservative U-turn on social care, also failed to set social media alight, compared with other issues like the NHS or school meals.
The BuzzFeed News Social Barometer has tracked the 250 most shared links about the election on Facebook, and their sentiment, since Theresa May announced her intention to go to the polls on 18 April. It has previously shown that stories that are pro-Labour or anti-Tory have consistently been shared far more than their right-wing counterparts – and that even among right-wingers, none of the most shared stories were supportive of May.
As the campaign ends, we've analysed the most viral articles of the entire period and grouped them by topic, to see which broader issues and themes dominated the online conversation. Unsurprisingly, the strongly pro-Labour trend is reflected here too, with the single most viral topic being endorsements of Jeremy Corbyn from figures as diverse as Danny DeVito, grime star Akala, and "British volunteers fighting against ISIS".
These are top 20 most shared subjects over the election campaign.
The colour indicates which party the stories under that topic primarily focused on; the sentiment shows whether a majority were positive, neutral, or negative about that party.
In what was supposed to be "the Brexit election", it may be surprising that Brexit only places eighth on the list – two places behind fox hunting. What's more, of the stories about Brexit that did go viral, not a single one was about the parties' differing visions for Brexit.
Instead, they mostly focused on Gina Miller's efforts to crowdfund an anti-Brexit tactical voting campaign, and general news about Brexit that only partly touched on the election campaign – such as the single most viral Brexit story, The Guardian's "EU leader: UK would be welcomed back if voters overturn Brexit", in which European parliament president Antonio Tajani alluded to the possibility of a new government changing course on Brexit but without discussing any specifics.
Despite Brexit being the reason that May gave for going to the polls – and despite the Liberal Democrats' attempts to become the default party of Remain voters – the so-called "Brexit election" seems to have featured almost no actual discussion of the topic.
Unsurprisingly, given the events of the past few weeks, terrorism and security have been dominant features of the campaign. Corbyn's views on ISIS and the IRA were a major source of viral articles in the closing weeks of the campaign, coming fifth on the list, and represented one of the few issues that were fairly evenly split between anti-Corbyn and pro-Corbyn articles. "Jeremy Corbyn said Isil supporters should not be prosecuted for 'expressing a political point of view'" was an example of the former from the Telegraph, while The Independent's "Why Jeremy Corbyn has the best long-term plan for tackling terrorism on British soil" is representative of the latter. Meanwhile, May's own track record as home secretary, particularly regarding cuts to police numbers, was also the source of several highly shared articles.
Several stories that dominated much mainstream coverage during the campaign miss out on being in the top 20 most shared, such the so-called "dementia tax" that forced May into a social policy U-turn and damaged her "strong and stable" campaign strategy. (It comes in at number 25 on the list, two places above Tory plans on ivory sales.) Only one piece that specifically focused on Labour's nationalisation plans, which dominated newspaper front pages when the party's manifesto leaked, made it into the 250 most viral stories, leaving the topic down at number 50 on the list.
Another major topic of the campaign was Diane Abbott's media appearances, after several widely criticised interviews. In the later stages of the campaign, the Conservatives made Abbott herself a key focus of theirs, drawing accusations of racism. Abbott temporarily stepped down as shadow home secretary due to ill health the day before the polls opened.