ECPR General Conference
Charles University in Prague, Prague
7 - 10 September 2016




How does Twitter connect politicians with each other? A social network analysis of the Finnish parliament members

Political Parties
 
Party Members
 
Social Media
 
Presenter
Ilkka Koiranen
University of Turku
Authors
Aki Koivula
University of Turku
Pekka Räsänen
University of Turku
Arttu Saarinen
University of Turku
Ilkka Koiranen
University of Turku

Abstract
The social media has become an essential part of the daily politics across Europe. In Finland, for example, about 80 percent of the parliament members (MPs) utilize Twitter for networking purposes and also for spreading their political opinions. However, little research has focused on the social circles manifested in politicians’ social media networks. Previous research on the politicians’ use of social media has focused merely on the nature of political communication. As a technology, the social media has been considered as an extension to the traditional media.

This paper examines the social media networks of the Finnish MPs. The starting point of the study is in the public discussion of the so-called “red-green bubble”, which took place after the Finnish parliamentary elections in the spring of 2015. The “bubble” itself can be thought of as a distinct social network, or in practice, as an interaction pattern based on a relationships or contacts between people sharing mutual political preferences. Although political dividing is not a new issue, it has become more common and noticeable practice after the spread of the social media. The social media affords a favorable platform for ideological categorizations and political conflicts. Regarding this, we are particularly interested in studying how political cleavages become manifested in MPs’ social media connections.

For the empirical analysis, we first extracted the network connections from the MPs’ Twitter accounts using NodeXL software. Second, we utilize background data collected from each MP’s official parliament sites. Third, we combined data from national voting advice application, which include information regarding MPs' general values and opinions regarding social political and economic issues. Our unique data with a total 161 observations from all Finnish MP’s, including a comprehensive set of background variables give us an extensive look at the MPs’ social media networks. According to the explanatory analysis, a majority of MPs’ interconnections were explained by party affiliation. In addition to this, however, we also found that some clusters are clearly based on values and socio-demographic similarities, rather than party affiliations. When comparing different parties, our results suggest that the members of the Green and the National Coalition (right-wing) are highly interconnected with each other, as well as the Green and The Left. At the same time, the members of the centre-right parties seem to be withdrawn from the members of the other parties.
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