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Social media heats up Scottish vote

Dominique St. JohnSeptember 12, 2014

Social networkers know it's not long until the Scottish referendum. Just days before the vote, activity on Facebook, Twitter and co. has reached a new high for British politics. DW takes a look at the trends.

Symbolbild Twitter und Facebook
Image: Reuters

In the run-up to the vote, social networks are bubbling with activity, both in Scotland and the United Kingdom. As has been the case for nearly every major election since the advent of Facebook and Twitter, campaigners in both camps have utilized social media platforms as a direct channel to their voters. With hashtags such as #indyref, #VoteYes, #LetsStayTogether or #BetterTogether, politicians and their supporters express their - at times emotional - views.

Even celebrities are joining the debate, alienating or adding fans depending on their position. Campaign adverts created for viral effectiveness have launched entirely new trends as they stir up controversy along the way.

Here's a look at the different views expressed through social media in the lead up to the vote on September 18, 2014.

Mixed emotions on Twitter

With the announcement of the second royal baby, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Alex Salmond wasn’t too shy to play his bagpipes by sounding the Scottish titles of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge:

From the entertainment field, musician Billy Bragg pitied England too:

Comedian Frankie Boyle agreed funnily enough:

On the "no" side, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling magically drew in an international audience:

Similarly, former Beatles member Paul McCartney was slapped in the face by #YES voters for being vocal in the media:

Sarcasm on Youtube

The two opposing movements #YES and #NO use the video-sharing website YouTube to spread their message. Anyone in favor of the "Yes Scotland" campaign can envisage a surprisingly sunny and upbeat Scotland as the 20th richest country in the world.

If the #YES vote is not your cup of tea, then maybe you need a lesson from a frustrated Scottish housewife in the #BetterTogether campaign ("no campaign"). Minutes after being published, internet users took to their keyboards with the hashtag trend: #PatronisingBTLady to express disapproval of what they saw as a sexist video:

The video was later said to have driven some voters to actually vote yes.

Take your time on Facebook

You may be overwhelmed by all of the mixed messages. But on Facebook Scottish singer Annie Lennox asks the Scots to take a step back and look at both sides before considering to vote. As a response she received 3,803 likes:

Given all the witty and at times nasty back-and-forth barbs between the camps, it's hard to imagine that social networks help voters actually make up their mind.

Will social media play a role in the referendum?

“There are three main reasons why social media is used for campaigns,” said Communication scientist Felix Flemming of the University of Münster in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “Firstly through the internet and social networks you can address specific target groups quickly and directly."

“The second reason is that it can mobilize your own followers,” noted Flemming. “Many supporters have taken the online world into the open world and this happened in Scotland with the referendum."

Finally, campaigners can say what they want and when they want. “They can reach people directly without having a statement shortened or having important elements left out,” Flemming said.

But is it effective?

According to Flemming, “to just be present isn’t enough. You have to create a dialogue with voters on Twitter and Facebook and make an effort to connect with them online." As hashtag trends show, connections between the two different campaigns and their voters are growing.

“This is some of the highest level of social media activity we have ever seen in British politics,” EU expert Jon Worth told DW. “It means that geographic distance is less of a problem than it was in previous political campaigns,” he added.

One thing has definitely become clear, said Worth: “It will be much more about strengthening each sides network. Running a modern campaign is now unthinkable without using these tools."

Any campaigns happening in your area? Share your experience with us on Facebook!