We analysed social media data from a curated collection of Hessen Facebook and Twitter accounts, covering the period 20th February 2019 to 20th February 2020. We additionally analysed a four week sample of Twitter data geographically identified as originating from Hessen, ending at today’s date.
Commencing with cross-platform sample from the curated account collection, we analysed the audience size and growth rate of the AfD (Germany’s strongest digital presence) assets and the digital presence of other parties and grassroot groups to ascertain a snapshot of the region. While the AFD is just under 10,000 short of the combined remaining audience, the AfD’s growth rate was larger.
Over the one year period, the AfD had posted less content but achieved significantly higher levels of interaction than the other groups combined. Breaking this down into platforms, on Facebook the AfD content was shared, reacted to, and commented upon significantly more than the content produced by the other parties and groups.
The AfD content on Twitter showed a similar pattern of sharing, though the situation with likes fell more substantially in the AfD’s favour. Previous operational studies have found that where anonymity is more prevalent in a platform, people are more likely to signify positive sentiment toward content which they might not in other environments.
Analysing the top 25 posts of the one year period, we noted that the AfD shared slightly less of the interactions with the most popular individual posts but, overall, was more successful across the board. It should be remembered that the other parties and groups performed substantially worse than the AfD when viewed as individual entities (Friday’s For Future and CDU, for example).
When we drew the wording from the top 25 posts down into a wordcloud the most used terms were clear to see, which means the visibility of these terms was higher with the recipients of the messaging. The AfD and discussions around migrants are plain to see in the regional conversation space.
The four week geographical sample of Twitter data showed a sizeable general conversation taking place in recent weeks, with relatively normal degrees of sharing and two-way conversation.
The audience distribution, according to user-generated gender data, shows the Twitter conversation in the region is heavily dominated by men.
Translating the daily volume data into a timeline, a pattern of normal human behaviour – with night-time troughs – is clearly visible. Interestingly, the events surrounding the Thuringia election events and its fallout generated a higher volume of tweets than the shooting event in Hanau only days ago. This could be a data time-lag or other anomaly, so we draw no conclusions as to the meaning of this – police advice not to speculate on social media may well have acted to avoid a once normal pattern of post-incident peaking, for example.
The language distribution in the geographical data set shows a substantial majority of content is posted in German, followed by English. The third most used language in the sample was Turkish, meaning it would be noticeable in local discourse.
Viewing the usage of hashtags, the dominance of “Hanau” is distinct, indicating unsurprisingly that most discourse of the last few days has featured the tag in some way. Other repeated topics include local tags, the coronavirus, AfD, and Thuringia – though the distribution is over a longer period of time so less concentrated (the trend cycle often has a distortion/amplification effect which influences public perception and subsequent discourse).
Density of device usage in Hessen is focused on Android and web based platforms.
In terms of content sharing, while a newspaper is the most shared domain in the region, YouTube holds the second position. It is unknown what the algorithms are suggesting to local users.
Digital discourse in Hessen is clearly a part of everyday life and, as is the case across the rest of Germany, the AfD occupy a large portion of the digital space with carefully crafted narratives speaking of elites, false democracy, and freedom of speech being deemed extremist by the “mainstream media.”
Also true across the rest of the world, this messaging strategy has been normalised over a period of years, shifting public standards into new positions surrounding what is acceptable and what is not.
Online content continues to trigger real world responses, whether at the ballot box or elsewhere.