What does twitter ____ About BRExit?


The visualisation was born from a partnership between the Centre for Design Informatics, and the Neuropolitics Research Lab at the University of Edinburgh – a transdisciplinary research centre that utilises developments in cognitive neurosciences to shed light on new political attitudes, identities and behaviours. The aim of this project was to provide new insights into how citizens’ Brexit-related expectations are shaped in a digital world.


- How have their expectations about Brexit changed?

- Have their expectations changed from when they voted?

- What are the perceptions of digital authenticity and trust?


We were asked to analyse what people were saying, who was talking & what messages persisted.

Starting with an introduction to the project, the visualisation runs through countries represented by user profiles, account ages measured in months, the biggest influencers during that day, and what each influencer had to say with hashtags. This runs through for each timeframe (Referendum, Pre-Referendum and Post- Referendum) and ends with a summary of what the biggest influencers were saying on Twitter and whether it was pro-, anti-, or neutral-brexit.


Regardless of the origin of the accounts, we can now confirm that the majority of Twitter was indeed pro-Brexit. Such findings demonstrate the influence of social media on the general public, and how its importance cannot be disregarded as a valid representation of public perceptions. The biggest challenge of our investigation was that we could not gather an accurate location for all the users, and the ones that had it were self-determined. Should we have had such information, we would have been able to determine which accounts were bots created to undermine people’s views, and their overall impact. Without such information, we could only hypothesize about it.


In May 2018, the project was part of the Trading Zone exhibition, in the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh. The process to exhibit such work raised many issues as we would could not display any type of information – tweets, usernames, dates & time – that could link to original content, even though everything can still be found online in Twitter. We were forced to censor the information, and could only show it in an aggregate manner.

This situation made us consider the complexity of social media relations, where the general public can be influenced with dubious content, without ever being provided the appropriate tools to confirm its veracity.

In order to respond to this issue, we also a developed a large a board where we display Twitter’s T&C’s as of the 25th May 2018 (GDPR introduction). In that board, we highlighted the areas where it is explained how personal data is treated, thus providing visitors with a base for reflection.

This project started with the question of how the Twitter-sphere reflected and influenced people’s voting patterns during the Brexit referendum. Having access to all the related tweets from that period, Allie Turner, Finn Ickler & Luis de Sousa were able to analyse the Leave and Remain campaigns, seeing how people retweeted specific ideas – even where lacking factual veracity – and the power of extremist voices. Conceived as an interactive display, they wanted people to navigate the twitter-sphere and discover their own version of events. Since, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has raised people’s awareness of the issues around data protection. Responding to this, and in keeping with ethical guidelines that prohibit certain uses of their data, the group have made an interactive map of the Brexit Referendum and then removed any information that violates Twitter’s terms and conditions. Now the artwork consists of an opaque system of graphic symbols and hashtags, a commentary on the power that social media companies have to embolden strong views whilst protecting users from their implications.*


*Text produced in the context of the Trading Zone exhibition, at the Talbot Rice Gallery.

Edinburgh - May 2018


December 2017

Copyright © 2019 Luis de Sousa. All rights reserved.