Vyacheslav W. Polonski
Former DPhil Student
Vyacheslav Polonski an OII DPhil alumnus, specialising in network science and the sociology of the Internet. His research focused on the structural aspects of collective behaviour in online communities.
As the 2017 General Election draws nearer, political parties are trying to utilise all the tools available to them to persuade voters. But you can’t vote unless you’re registered. Anyone wanting to vote on June 8th who is not already on the electoral register needs to sign up. The deadline to register to vote through the official website is 23.59 BST on Monday 22 May.
To encourage young people to vote, several musicians, athletes and social media celebrities have joined the political battle. Young voters are turning to Instagram as a source of entertainment and information about the election. After PM Theresa May’s announcement, in particular, there has been a deluge of Instagram posts about the General Election 2017.
The hashtag #RegisterToVote is clearly catching on. In this piece, I highlight the top 10 most popular posts that were tagged with hashtag on Instagram. These posts were shared by artists, celebrity chefs, pirates, fashion retailers, cosmetics brands and a dragon queen who are all actively trying to get their followers to register to vote.
As our previous studies on the Brexit referendum have shown, Instagram is becoming an important platform for political mobilisation and voter activation. It is no longer just a site for bragging about your travels and your adventures in healthy eating. It has become a popular space where young adults can express their political views and show their support for the causes they care about.
For a new generation of politicians, social media now offers a new path to power that was previously unimaginable. Platforms like Instagram can be used to better engage with young voters; to inform them about the diversity of political opinions and guide them towards political empowerment in an accessible and personalised manner. New digital campaigning agencies like Avantgarde Analytics already offer AI-enabled technologies to make this dream a reality.
But the Internet is full of surprises and sometimes new advocates of democracy emerge from the most unexpected places. Over the last month, a number of high profiles figures and Internet celebrities have urged young people to exercise their right to vote.
#RegisterToVote has amassed over 26,932 posts on Instagram, which we were able to collect and analyse. The top post received 267,324 likes, whereas the median post only got 21 likes. 8.8% of posts were geo-tagged with valid locations.
The average character count of the text in the image caption was 134.35 with a maximum value of 2239. Clarendon was the most popular Instagram filter, which was used in 7.8% of posts, followed by Juno (2.9%) and Lark (1.6%). 75.6% of posts did not use any filters.
What is more surprising, perhaps, is the diversity of Instagrammers who have decided to encourage young voters to register to vote (and show support for Labour). Some of the most popular Instagramers who have done so are highlighted in this piece.
As a direct result of that, the number of young people registering to vote in the GE 2017 is the highest of any age group. The surge in young people registering is good news for Labour, as all of our social media data indicates that young voters on Instagram and Facebook are more left-leaning and more likely to put their faith in Jeremy Corbyn.
For example, here is picture of Jeremy Corbyn dabbing.
So let’s have a look at the top 10 most popular #RegisterToVote posts:
Topping the Instagram charts of the #RegisterToVote movement is Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke (@emilia_clarke), aka Khaleesi and Mother of Dragons. The picture of her cute dog gained over 267,324 likes and 614 comments in 5 days. This is 10 times more likes than the runner-up in terms of overall attention. She says: “Equality starts with making your voice heard.” Emilia also demonstrates a winning use of Instagram filters. Her post is the only image in the top 10 that uses the popular Clarendon filter. All the other posts in this list are #nofilter photographs.
The second most popular post was shared by Kaya Scodelario (@kayascods), the new Pirates of the Caribbean star from the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”. The post is simply a screenshot of one of her tweets that says “I just registered to vote in the upcoming general election. It took 5 minutes. This is our future.” Her post received 24,920 likes and 107 comments from the Instagram community — much more than her 15 RTs and 58 likes on Twitter.
The third position in the list goes to the British fashion retailer TopShop. Its official Instagram channel (@topshop) recently released a short video with the inspirational message to “use your voice”. The clip was seen by 62,663 people, collecting in excess of 8,682 likes and 19 comments.
The popular electronic music group Clean bandit (@cleanbandit) became an unexpected advocate of the #ForTheMany campaign addressing “UK sweethearts”. Urging young people to register to vote, this post gained over 3,827 likes and 30 comments in 3 days. The post has also been re-posted by the lead vocalist of the group, Grace Chatto (@gracechatto), where it received an additional 1,701 likes and 19 comments. In her post, Grace explains: “it’s really important that we all contribute to this decision and don’t let other people do it for us: bad politicians are elected by good people who don’t bother to vote!! Let’s also all read the exciting yet responsible manifesto released yesterday by the Labour Party, which promises a fairer Britain, run for the many not the few.”
A slightly more creative take on the election campaign was presented by the award-winning chef Gizzi Erskine (@gizzierskine). Her post received 2,762 likes and 28 comments for a London Tube-style “Emergency” poster saying “Don’t let the Tories steal your future.” Gizzo’s Instagram channel has a slew of other creative and funny posts that advocate a Labour vote. Incidentally, the photograph is also co-tagged with the #ToriesOut hashtag, which is one of the fastest growing hashtags in this debate on Instagram. It has already reached more than 6,951 posts.
Next, the cosmetics-brand Lush (@lush) sets a revolutionary tone with its “Get up. Stand up. Be heard.” campaign. This first generic post gathered 2,585 likes and 9 comments promoting the #RizeUpUK message. A follow-up post 2 days later gathered 4,088 likes and 16 comments. The comment section seemed to be divided between users who were advocating for a Labour vote and those who were simply confused about why any cosmetics-brand would suddenly decide to post political messages.
The Copenhagen-based interiors-designer Birgitte-Augusta Margot (@myworldofinteriors) posted her own political message to Instagram 4 days before the registration deadline. With 2,559 likes, her aspirational poster reaffirms that young people can change history.
Pro-Labour British artist Dan Hillier (@mrdanhillier) promises his followers a chance to win a “free hand-finished one-off print of mine, such as this ‘Pachamama’ with gold leaf” if only they register to vote before the deadline. This print giveaway post was the first in a series of three giveaways, which received 1,769 likes and 42 comments. True art does not need any filters.
Next, the official Instagram account of Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremy_corbynmp) leads the #ForTheMany campaign into the social media battle of the snap election. One week before the May 22nd registration deadline, he posted this picture to Instagram. The post is fairly unoriginal and vague. However, it managed to gather a decent amount of attention from the Instagram community: 1,643 likes and 69 comments.The post was clearly meant to appeal to the rational and logical mind, rather than to people’s emotions. Even though few people followed the call-to-action to “Tag 5 Friends”, the official #YourVoteYourVoice hashtag continues to grow and has already reached 4,838 posts on Instagram. Jeremy Corbyn was also the single most named politician in the whole #RegisterToVote data set.
At the bottom of the charts, there is the official “Get out and vote” video posted by The Guardian (@guardian). Videos on Instagram usually do relatively well, but this post only received 1,576 likes and 10 comments from a total of 23,882 views. On the one hand, this signifies the dwindling influence of traditional media in the digital world. On the other hand, this also highlights the importance of producing more engaging content that is not only audience-specific but also platform-specific. Each social media platform is used by people for different purposes and within very specific social contexts. What works on Facebook may not necessarily work on Instagram and vice-versa.
There are some lessons to be learned from the #RegisterToVote movement. The Labour party is currently down in the polls but it is winning on social media. The studied hashtags gained incredible momentum from tech-savvy younger people on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Now, Jeremy Corbyn needs to reach out to the millions of people who have already expressed their support for him online and turn them into real votes. If Corbyn is smart about how he leverages this huge social media momentum, he could be one step closer to becoming the next Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on Instagram…
About the author: Vyacheslav (@slavacm) is a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute, researching complex social networks, digital identity and technology adoption. He has previously studied at Harvard University, Oxford University and the LSE. Vyacheslav is actively involved in the World Economic Forum and its Global Shapers community, where he is the Curator of the Oxford Hub and member of the WEF Expert Network on Behaviour Change. He writes about the intersection of sociology, network science and technology.
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