March 26, 2018 By FTI Consulting
The message by Wolfgang Schäuble, President of German Bundestag and former finance minister, was clear and communicated by letter: Back in November 2017, he reminded all Bundestag members (MPs) about the rules for using technical devices in the plenary, basically installing a Twitter ban during sessions. “… The use of devices to take photographs, issue tweets or distribute news during the plenary debate are inappropriate for the deliberations in Bundestag and thus unwanted.” His concern was to protect the political style of the debate, having to preside over a house with a record number of 709 MPs and which for the first time includes members of rightist populist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland). The letter, of course, was widely shared and discussed on Twitter.
But did Schäuble’s letter have the desired effect? We took a look at last week’s declaration by Angela Merkel on her new government’s agenda for the term and the associated debate on Twitter, based on activity by the 508 MPs who have Twitter handles.
As some predicted, German MPs don’t strictly abide to their parliamentary president’s request: A total of 448 related tweets were issued by MPs on the day with about half of them occuring during or immediately after Merkel’s speech. On hashtags, #Regierungserklärung and #Merkel were top, while the AfD managed to push their party hashtag (#AfD) to 4th place, ranking before the grand coalition hashtag (#groko) and the chancellor (#Bundeskanzlerin).
However, on social media, volume only tells a small part of the story. Here, the ‘Klout Score’ counts: a user ranking of online impact calculated on a 0 to 99 scale by online service provider Klout. Looking at Klout Scores, FDP leader Christian Lindner (@c_lindner) scores 71 and thus ranks 6th among members of Bundestag. His 9 tweets during the debate should therefore have a higher impact than those by CDU’s Andreas Nick (@DrAndreasNick), who issued 22 tweets but only scores relatively low at 52. SPD’s MP Johannes Kahrs (@kahrs) is top ranking among the MPs at 79 on Klout, but he didn’t make much use of it during this debate issuing only a couple of tweets. Maybe he focussed more on the debate itself. Top by volume was AfD MP Udo Hemmelgarn (@UdoHemmelgarn) with 77 tweets in just over four hours, but he only scores 61 on Klout and would thus have less impact.
Looking at the content and quality of tweets, there is another story to tell: While AfD MPs came out as most prolific, they also used ample hashtags, emotions and icons. This is a sign of quality by Twitter standards. However, their tweets often used harsh language and quoted content from outside the debate, which they then used to attack what was being said inside plenary. And this is exactly what Schäuble, who himself is not on Twitter, wanted to prevent by his letter: a debate that is influenced by populist input which affects the quality of the political discussion in Bundestag.
Our snap analysis of this Twitter debate has shown that there is an imbalance in share of voice, language style and quality of content versus the actual distribution of power in Bundestag. Currently, this seems to lean in favour of the populists. Adding to this the aspect of alleged interference via social media in political decisions and even elections, our politicians are facing some complex challenges.
Note: Basis of our analysis were 448 tweets issued by Bundestag MPs relating to the government statement by Chancellor Merkel on 21st March 2018. The data was gathered using social intelligence analysis tool Crimson Hexagon.