General election 2019: How social media played a part


The winning Conservatives gained 47 more seats in this year’s general election vote, while Labour faced its worst result since 1935. This election was certainly a dramatic one, but was it also a digitally effected one?

It’s no secret that many people use social media platforms as their own digital soapbox. But how might have political parties used social media to benefit their campaigns? How are we using social media differently, and how might this be affecting the success of these campaigns?

General election and Twitter backlash

It is believed by many that the British party of government used Twitter to deceive people. Early on in the campaign, the Conservative Party press account rebranded itself as an independent fact checking service. While many argued against this misleading use of the social media site, others said it would not affect the result.

Labour supporter and pop star Lily Allen has since deleted her Twitter account. She says that social media platforms have “given a voice to the far right” and helped to spread “disinformation and lies”. According to The Telegraph, Allen also says that such sites as Twitter are used to “win elections” and without them “we wouldn’t be here now”.

But the BBC’s media editor, Amol Rajan, says “There is still a vast amount we simply don’t know about how the election campaign played out digitally.”

Our changing approach to Facebook

According to Who Targets Me, the Conservatives spent less than Labour or the Liberal Democrats on targeted ads on Facebook. It is surprising then how the Lib Dems, who spent significantly more on ads to persuade voters, had such a bad election compared to the Conservatives.

One reason for this might be a change in the way we are using Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg gave an incredibly insightful speech back in April, in which he said that we are moving away from public discussions and towards private groups.

We are spending less time scrolling though Facebook news feeds, and more time in closed groups and Facebook-owned WhatsApp chats. In these groups, which are unlikely to be politically focused, we may be influenced or influence others on our political standpoint more subtly and effectively.

According to BBC Trending and BBC Monitoring, during the election a huge proportion of the national conversation was happening within these closed groups, rather than in public discussions. It is a trend that parties may want to pay more attention to in the future.

General election and traditional media

Despite the ever rise of digital communication and media, it appears that traditional means of broadcasting information still has its place. Perhaps this is because we are more likely to trust studio programmes and news bulletins.

Amol Rajan says “It is very interesting that many of the most viral clips on social media from the past few weeks were initially broadcast on traditional media. Andrew Neil’s monologue about Boris Johnson’s refusal to be interviewed by him, followed by an image of an empty chair, is one; Nicky Morgan’s difficult interview about nursing numbers on Good Morning Britain, which really took off on Facebook and has had close to 14 million views, is another.”