The most viral general election story on social media over the last week claimed that a surge in voting by young people could swing the election in Jeremy Corbyn’s favour, according to the second edition of the BuzzFeed News Social Barometer.
The latest analysis of the most shared articles about the election shows that hope for increased turnout among the young has emerged as a dominant theme among Labour supporters on social media.
While much of the traditional media claims the Conservatives are winning comfortably, social media conversations about the election are dominated by claims that Corbyn could be heading to Downing Street and that Theresa May’s campaign is struggling.
BuzzFeed News analysed the 250 most shared articles about the general election for the BuzzFeed News Social Barometer, which tracks the most viral election stories on Facebook, Twitter and more, and analyses whether the sentiment they express is positive, negative, or neutral about the party they focus on.
The most viral election story of the week was a piece titled “If 30 per cent more people under 25 vote, the Tories could lose the election”, from The Independent’s indy100 site. The claim in the headline is based entirely on a viral tweet from Newcastle University linguist Alan Firth. “We’re not entirely sure of the maths Alan used to get these figures”, says the article, which wrongly identifies him as a Guardian journalist.
The idea that a surge in votes among young people, who lean heavily towards Labour, could swing the election is repeated in many stories across the top 250. "Voter registration soars among students with 55% backing Labour" reported The Guardian. "It's official: The more young people that vote the more likely the Tories are to LOSE" wrote the London Economic blog, which also credits the "if 30% more people under 25 vote" analysis to The Guardian. "Students just blew the general election wide open with one hell of a shock for Theresa May" wrote The Canary, one of the new group of independent, pro-Corbyn media sites that have developed massive followings on Facebook.
Here are this week's top 20 most shared election stories:
With four weeks to go until the general election, the latest opinion polls put the Conservatives around 15 points ahead of Labour. But there's a good chance that your Facebook feed is telling you a very different story.
The Social Barometer has shown that the most widely shared articles on social media are overwhelmingly likely to be ones that are negative about the Conservatives, or positive about Labour – the same pattern that we found in the first week. Overall, 32% of all the most shared articles were negative about Theresa May's party, while 14% were positive about Labour. Negative sentiment tends to dominate what people share – in total, half of all the most shared stories were broadly negative in tone, more than double the number that took a positive line.
A large number of stories among the 250 most shared aren't just critical or supportive of the parties involved in the election. Put together, they tell a radically different story about how the election is going. It's one where "Labour may be heading for power", while the local elections results (in which the Conservatives made big gains) "could spell disaster for Theresa May". And fox hunting is the biggest issue of the campaign.
Other stories among the most shared that suggested a resurgent Labour party included the Huffington Post's "Corbyn Is The Most Electable Politician In A Generation", The Independent's "Election 2017: Labour cuts Conservative poll lead by eight points", and several others from The Canary, including "Labour just announced the policy that could win it the general election" and "One of Corbyn’s top team members shows why Labour may be heading for power, live on Sky News".
Meanwhile, the most shared articles paint a bleak picture for Theresa May. "The mainstream media have kept quiet about a major blow to the Tories' election campaign. So we're reporting it" wrote The Canary, saying that "the UN is to carry out a major investigation into the Conservative government". (What was actually happening: The Periodic Review Working Group of the United Nations Human Rights Council was conducting its regular review of the human rights situation in all 193 UN member states, and the UK was in the group of 14 countries to be reviewed first, alongside countries like Finland and the Netherlands.) The Canary followed this up with "An absolute scandal just hit Theresa May’s campaign, and the media is pretending nothing’s up", which was about the release of the annual Sunday Times Rich List, which included a number of Tory donors.
Other Canary articles that made it into the top 250 included ones headlined "There’s a crucial fact missing from the local election coverage that could spell disaster for Theresa May", "A blunder from Conservative HQ reveals the party is in a right state over Jeremy Corbyn", "Theresa May finally met real people. And it could have cost her millions of votes" and "Theresa May fell apart so badly on TV, Tory supporters had to swoop in and save her".
The competing narratives of the election – where the UK's traditionally partisan media largely portrays Labour as being in chaos and the Tories as being, to borrow a phrase from the prime minister, strong and stable, while the story on social media paints the opposite picture – reflects concerns about the formation of "filter bubbles" in which people's pre-existing views are only reinforced.
What is undoubtedly true is that Labour has gained in the polls over the past few weeks, which might dampen the Conservatives' hopes of a landslide victory. Two other articles in the top 250 make this point, John Curtice's "Don't be fooled by the local election results – the Tories still face an uphill battle" in The Independent, and Stephen Bush's "Unnoticed and unreported, Jeremy Corbyn is surging in the polls" for the New Statesman. However, an average of all the polls since the election was announced suggests that "surge" and "uphill battle" are relative terms – Labour's progress has not come at the expense of the Conservative vote.
Away from voter registration and the alternative narrative about how the election's going, the single most viral topic was May's surprise proposal to reintroduce fox hunting – four stories in the top 20 are about it, with another 10 in the top 250. All of the most shared stories about fox hunting had either a neutral or negative sentiment, suggesting that it's an issue that resonates strongly with those opposed to it. (The leaking of Labour's draft manifesto came near the end of the period we were tracking – several stories about it appear in the top 250, but many others are likely to have been shared more since.)
The Mirror, the most reliably pro-Labour outlet in the traditional British media, had seven articles in the top 20 most shared – in many instances borrowing the emotive headline style that has worked well for alt-left sites such as The Canary.
We produced the Social Barometer using data from BuzzSumo, which tracks the most shared links across multiple social media platforms, between 4 May and 11 May. BuzzFeed News then classified the top 250 most shared stories according to which party they primarily focused on, and what the sentiment of the article was. You can read more about how we compiled it here.
Tom Phillips is the UK editorial director for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Contact Tom Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.