Did the trolls do any damage in General Election 2015?

We’ve tracked the effect of negative Twitter attacks during #GE2015. But what – if anything – has it told us?

David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, they’ve all suffered at the hand of the Internet troll. Trolls can be destructive, callous and absurd. They delight, inflame and expose in equal measure. United by a disdain for slick rick politicians and ‘the establishment’, the troll is the natural enemy of the political classes.

Over the last few weeks we have been tracking the effect of these dangerous creatures on a selection of 11 UK politicians on Twitter, as they battled it out to become leader of our country. But, what – if anything – did we learn from the ‘troll-o-meter’?

Click for interactive version

Twitter is left wing

It’s a fact we’ve known for a long time. Twitter has far lower reach than other social media sites, with some arguing it attracts the left-leaning commentariat rather than a broad spectrum of society. However, in analysis coming up to the General Election, it’s a fact many chose to ignore, believing the momentum seemingly gained by Miliband on the site reflected a swing amongst the public at large. You would certainly get this picture if you based your General Election predictions on the troll-o-meter alone. The PM was consistently posting higher on the Troll-O-Meter than his Labour counterpart during the campaign.

Facebook Has Much Broader Reach Than Other Social Media Sites

Lesson learnt: The Twitter trolls’ attacks go largely unnoticed by the broader public and have little effect on public opinion.

The SNP’s supporters were tenacious

If one group of voters stood out for their sheer tenacity it was the Scottish nationalists. Throughout the election campaign, SNP supporter demonstrated a fierce loyalty to their party leader and carried out enthusiastic – though occasionally good-humoured – attacks on political rival Jim Murphy. This tells us two things, firstly the grassroots campaign the SNP successfully fought in Scotland, and second the seriousness with which SNP supporters took their cause. Unlike the campaigns of the other major parties, the election for Scottish nationalists held special resonance. It was a matter of not just policy, but identity. Sovereignty and kinship are powerful messages, and they fired up the Scottish ranks.

Lesson learnt: Parties that capture the emotional high ground will have a more loyal following of twitter trolls they can rely upon.

Trolls are disorganised and inherently chaotic

Although tribal loyalties were noticeable amongst the trolls on Twitter, it was also clear that many are yet to swear any allegiance. In a way trolls are most like Russell Brand of the online WebSphere. As a species, their lack of organisation prevents them from being a genuinely damaging force to any one leader. Their real strength will come when they mutually determine a party to target, and self-organise. Until that expect the occasional clobbering of politicians of Twitter, but not a-lot more.

 Lesson learnt: Twitter trolls, their time will come…