Social media and politics in the United Kingdom (UK) - Statistics & Facts
With increased usage and daily dependency on social media, people’s preferences on how they wish to consume news and media have changed in recent years, and the same can be said for how people engage with politicians. Conversely, in turning to social media platforms, politicians can use these online spaces to frequently engage with and inform the public. Discussing politics on social media has become a common online activity in the United Kingdom, and as of March 2022, almost one in five internet users reported discussing politics online.
Do politicians in the United Kingdom use Twitter?
Public figures were the most followed type of news source on Twitter in the UK in 2022. Overall, more people followed public figures than they did journalists, the BBC, and Sky News.
New prime minister and leader of the Conservative party Rishi Sunak had approximately 855 thousand followers on Twitter on the day that he assumed office in late October 2022. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) had around 1.5 million followers on the platform, and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer was followed by 1.3 million Twitter users.
As for members of parliament in general, former prime minister Boris Johnson has 4.36 million followers on Twitter, and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was the MP with the second highest amount of Twitter followers, with almost 2.5 million. Conservative and former prime minister Liz Truss, as of October 2022, had around 700 thousand followers. Official political party Twitter accounts also gain a lot of followers on Twitter, although not as many as MP’s individual profiles.
Over 90 percent of MPs in the UK had active accounts on the micro-blogging platform. The Green Party, Plaid Cymru, and the Liberal Democrats all had 100 percent of their MPs using Twitter. Furthermore, 97 percent of Labour MPs used Twitter, as did 86 percent of Conservatives.
Is Facebook more popular with MPs?
As of 2022, 41 percent of Facebook users followed public figures on the platform, the second most popular news source on Facebook. The Labour party’s Facebook page was the most popular of all political parties on the platform, reaching one million likes. The Conservatives followed with 752 thousand likes, and the SNP ranked third with 341 thousand likes. The Lib Dems, although being the third most popular political party on Twitter, ranked seventh in terms of Facebook likes.
Overall, Nicola Sturgeon had 471 thousand Facebook likes, and Starmer had around 186 thousand likes. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and PM Truss followed in third and fourth position, respectively.
Social media usage by politicians in the UK and Europe
Social media usage differs between MPs throughout different countries in Europe. According to a report conducted in 2021 which investigated three million pieces of content posted by European MPs, UK politicians each posted around 485 pieces of this monitored content across their accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spanish MPs and MEPs posted the most amount of content, averaging almost 700 posts per Spanish MP out of the three million posts monitored.
Facebook was the most used social media platform by European parliamentarians, and in 2021, 83 percent had active accounts on the site, whilst 69 percent used Twitter, and 51 percent used Instagram. While Facebook was the platform on which most politicians had accounts, Twitter was the platform of choice when it came to posting content, as 67 percent of posts by MPs were published on Twitter.
Although a practical tool for politicians, social media can and has been used in attempts by political parties to mislead people, particularly in the run-up to elections. During a leaders debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, the official Twitter account of the Conservative party had its name, profile picture, and banner changed to appear as a fact-checking service, claiming to be fact-checking the opposition. Tweets were given the prefix ‘FACT’, and the account was returned to its original branding after the debate had ended.
Although Twitter announced that this sort of activity was prohibited on the platform, Conservative and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab implied that the rebranding of the account was insignificant, and it was clear the account was being run by the Conservative party.
Whilst social media can be thought of as an optional extension of politics, with more users following public figures than established news outlets, the potential impacts of such online tactics on voting behavior, for example, cannot be dismissed.
Female and BAME MPs face abuse on social media
With online communication becoming an everyday part of an MP's job, the more they are exposed to the possibility of online abuse, a form of harassment that women and minorities find themselves facing disproportionately. The social media abuse aimed at women and minorities often includes stereotypes about their identity and the questioning of their position as a politician. It is also more likely to be uncivil and hostile than the abuse received by male MPs.
The first black female Member of Parliament Dianne Abbott, who represents Hackney North and Stoke Newington, has received a substantial volume of offensive messages in recent years. According to a third-party research report, Abbott was the target of almost 50 percent of all abusive tweets tracked in the lead-up to the 2017 snap general election, which amounted to around 51 offensive tweets on average each day.
Additionally, online abuse has been cited as a reason for female MPs stepping down from office. Abbott claimed that the anonymity with which users can post on social media is a part of the problem, and said that platforms like Twitter and Facebook should have users’ real names and addresses to make it more difficult for people to be completely anonymous on social media sites.
This text provides general information. Statista assumes no
liability for the information given being complete or correct.
Due to varying update cycles, statistics can display more up-to-date
data than referenced in the text.
Stacy Jo Dixon
Research expert covering social media usage worldwide