Don’t overestimate the size of the far left’s troll army

The #ResignWatson Twitterstorm generated a torrent of press coverage - but in reality just a tiny pool of Labour members were involved.

Last night’s ‘Twitterstorm’ against Tom Watson saw the hashtag #ResignWatson trend worldwide, and caused enough concern amongst Labour moderates that several MPs took to Twitter to defend the Deputy Leader. But analysis of the social media platform’s data suggests that the reaction to the tweets was overblown.

Conservative blog, Guido Fawkes attempted to play up the ‘row,’ calling it “unbelievable” and claiming that “thousands of Labour Party members [were] calling him a traitor to the party in the pay of Israel.” More surprisingly the mainstream media reported the ‘twitterstorm’ too, with Sky News, Huffington Post, the Guardian and the Mirror all publishing articles which led with the hashtag.

However, analysis of all the tweets carrying the hashtag, by tech website Gizmodo, shows that 62% of the tweets came from just 1,200 different accounts, tweeting or retweeting an average of 45 times each. ‘Graham Budden #JC9’, who appears to have only signed up to Twitter in order to tweet support for Corbyn (as well as occasionally George Galloway) and opposition to his critics, tweeted and retweeted a total of 613 messages carrying the hashtag.

Overall 12,000 profiles tweeted or retweeted something which included #ResignWatson. That sounds a lot until you realise that Labour has 550,000 members, and there are 13 million Twitter users in the UK. And that’s before the tweets from fake accounts, non-members, and those jumping on the hashtag for other reasons are discounted.

The 12,000 figure also includes those who tweeted in support of Watson, or in mockery of those taking the hashtag seriously. In fact, the most successful and shared tweet of the entire night was from Watson himself, who tweeted:

In the interest of balance, the figure doesn’t include those who got the hashtag wrong, such as Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani, here sarcastically calling Labour’s Deputy Leader a “political Einstein” while getting the two-word hashtag wrong:

The analysis demonstrates that journalists and MPs give Twitter too much credit as a barometer for public opinion, and are therefore allowing small groups of trolls and fake accounts to influence their view.

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