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Tanaiste Joan Burton wins leaders' debate on social media

Published 24/02/2016

Research by data scientists put Labour leader Joan Burton (right) a fraction ahead
Research by data scientists put Labour leader Joan Burton (right) a fraction ahead

Tanaiste Joan Burton scored a narrow victory in the final live leaders' debate, analysis of reaction on social media has shown.

While none of the four party chiefs landed any killer blows, research by data scientists at Adoreboard, a semantic analytics firm based at Queen's University, Belfast put the Labour leader a fraction ahead.

The debate itself however failed to really drive massive interaction on Twitter, with only a four-fold spike in engagement during the 90 minutes on air.

But Adoreboard's emotion platform,, managed to show that more than 57% of the interactions with Ms Burton on the microblogging site were positive.

Their research put her a percentage point ahead of Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin on 55.9% and Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams on 55.7%.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny suffered the worst score, according to the analysis, hitting only 54.9%.

The report was backed up by the view of pundits who regarded the final show on RTE's Prime Time as Ms Burton's best performance.

Adoreboard chief technology officer Dr Fergal Monaghan said: " From the numbers, Gerry Adams continues to be the most tweeted about, and in particular he had a good start in the debate."

The platform works on any content using mathematical algorithms for emotions expressed in tweets so feelings such as joy, rage, anger, surprise, annoyance and trust can be measured.

On the negative side, Adoreboard found Mr Martin experienced the most criticism on Twitter during the debate followed by Mr Adams and the Taoiseach and Tanaiste neck and neck.

Leaders will spend the final two days of the campaign hosting their last major media events and spending time out canvassing as a hung Dail looks more likely.

The company also used data analysis to show if Twitter recorded any impact from voter engagement.

Unfortunately for all the leaders on the microblogging site, about one third of the engagement they have seen in the short campaign has been negative.

While Taoiseach Mr Kenny fared the worst at 36%, the others were not far behind.

Some 34% of the mentions on Ruth Coppinger's profile were negative while Mr Martin and Ms Burton's was 33%, Shane Ross 32% and Stephen Donnelly and Mr Adams 31%.

Dr Monaghan said the figures often reflect the work of parties and their supporters to like or retweet messages from their party chiefs.

"What you tend to see on Twitter is a slightly more positive engagement overall," he said.

"People tend to tweet more positive stuff, and you don't only see that in politics. The twittersphere is as much about marketing."

Data also showed the Social Democrats performing well in terms of followers, albeit from a low base.

Mr Donnelly added 2,604 followers in the short campaign, the second biggest number, but they all trail Mr Adams.

He gained 4,339 followers in the few weeks of hustings and took his total follower base past the 100,000 mark.

At the same time Mr Adams' party - renowned for its so-called Shinnerbot online following - added 1,870 followers.

The Taoiseach did well himself by adding 1,739 followers.

The only other party getting anywhere near that mark was the Social Democrats with 1,742 new followers.

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