Over the past few weeks, Twitter announced it was taking action to not only reduce the number of bots and spammy accounts on the service, but would be deleting accounts that were clearly non-human. As part of that announcement, they estimated that up to 6% of all Twitter accounts would be affected and all human users of Twitter would see follower counts decrease.
In one of our internal company meetings, we wondered: what would be the impact on elected officials in the US government? Given that social media and social networks have been the highlight of discussions about election interference, would we see a substantial impact on the members of Congress or the Executive Branch? Would there be differences by party? Who would gain or lose the most audience?
We set out to find the answers.
Using the rtweet library for the statistical programming language R, we loaded up tagged lists of every member of Congress, plus the President of the United States. We then called the Twitter API on Wednesday July 11, the day before the purge, and captured the number of followers for each account.
Once we saw the purge occur on July 12, we waited until 6 PM Pacific Time and then re-called the same list from the Twitter API, capturing the new counts. Using Tableau, we visualized the differences as both absolute numbers and percentage changes.
Limitations: due to Twitter API restrictions and the sizes of these accounts, no attempt was made to de-duplicate the accounts’ followers.
At a high level, Republican accounts lost more followers than Democrat accounts.
In the Senate, Republican accounts lost ~84,000 more followers due to the purge.
In the House of Representatives, the difference was much narrower; Republican accounts lost ~8,800 more followers.
In the Executive Branch, the President lost ~327,000 followers.
For the Democrats in the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi lost the most followers at ~21,000 lost. In the Senate, Cory Booker lost ~141,000 followers.
For the Republicans in the House, Representative Paul Ryan lost the most followers at ~32,000 lost. In the Senate, John McCain lost ~214,000 followers
When we examine the percentages compared to audience size, the numbers lost are relatively insignificant. The accounts which lost the most followers never lost more than ~6% of their following. Even the President’s account, at ~327,000 lost, represents only 0.61% of his total following.
Those expecting a massive loss of audience to one party or official will be disappointed. While numerically these lost followers number in the hundreds of thousands, on a percentage basis, the losses were quite small. No elected official in this study had a massive army of robots that comprised, for example, 10% or 25% of their following. That said, we look forward to and encourage all social networks to continue their spam and bot control efforts. The less automated noise and the more real conversation that occurs, the better.
Christopher S. Penn
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