Twitter Network Analysis of Dail Éireann
5th January 2018

Last year I got two major Network Analysis projects done; A Social Network of the 1916 Rising and Social Networks in Crusader Kings II. When I started learning data science almost three years ago one of my first projects used data from Twitter accessed through the Tweepy library. So I wanted to see if I could put the two of them together and build some networks based on the TDs in Dail Éireann.

There are 158 sitting TDs in Dail Éireann and I was able to find Twitter accounts for 148 of them. The Twitter rate limit was a bit of a hindrance but I was eventually able to pull down the ids of every user each of the TDs follows and build two networks from them; one showing how the TDs follow each other and one showing all the accounts they follow.

Twitter Network of Dail TDs

The below network graph includes the Twitter accounts for all of the political parties as well as the Twitter account for RTé as it is followed by 136 members of the Dail. The nodes are colored by party; going clockwise Fianna Fáil are in light green at the top, Fine Gael in blue at the bottom right, Labour in red, Sinn Féin in dark green, AAA-PBP are yellow and Independents 4 Change are pink. Scattered about the graph are Independents colored brown, Social Democrats in purple and the Green Party in even darker green to the left of the gray RTé node in the centre and just to the left of the Labour cluster as well. The nodes are sized by indegree; larger nodes are followed by more TDs.

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As is to be expected TDs tend to follow members of their own party more so than members of other parties. At the top Fianna Fáil members tend to follow each other and so cluster together. There are relatively few connections between the large Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael clusters so there is a large gap between them on the right. The independents closely tied to the left of the Fianna Fáil cluster are Mattie McGrath, Michael Healy-Rae and Dr. Michael Harty. A number of left wing independents, members of the AAA-PBP and Independents 4 Change have clustered to the left and are loosely connected into the Sinn Féin cluster.

By running the modularity statistic on Gephi with the default settings the network finds 4 clusters. Labour manages to hang together at the bottom of the network. Sinn Féin and the smaller parties merge into a single cluster in the bottom left which also takes in TDs like Shane Ross and Katherine Zappone while Fianna Fáil gets RTé. Possibly if there was a 5th cluster it would be made up of RTé and the independents near the centre of the graph.

There exists the concept of the "Father of the Dail". The title is applied to the TD with the longest serving continuous record in the Dail and is currently held by Enda Kenny who has served since November 1975. While this person would not necessarily be the oldest TD I have decided to award the title of “Father of the Twitter Dail" to the TD with the oldest account. Noel Rock has had his account since November 2008, beating out James Lawless by a month. On the other hand Pat Buckley, Niamh Smyth and Kevin Moran all set up their accounts after the February 2016 General Election.

This histogram shows when the accounts used by current sitting TDs were set up. There was a large spike in the lead up to the February 2011 General Election with 13 accounts being registered in January, the most in a single month. After a lull there is another climb in registrations in the lead up to the the 2016 election.

The only network measure that I looked at was indegree. Being the largest party Fine Gael members have the largest following. Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar are both followed by 57% of Dail members, Frances Fitzgerald and the party itself are followed by 52% and Enda Kenny is followed by 49%. Though late to set up an account Niamh Smyth follows 90% of Dail members, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and Michael Fitzmaurice both follow 88% while Maureen O'Sullivan follows 83%.

Full Dail Twitter Network
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TDs use their accounts in many different ways. Some actively engage with their followers, retweeting tweets from their party and fellow TDs while some may have only used theirs in the run up to an election. Others yet have had books of their tweets published. In the below network I use all the accounts followed by each TD. There are almost 80,000 unique accounts followed by all members of the Dail but I have only included those that are followed by at least three TDs. This cuts the number down to 9,108 with 104,445 edges. Again TDs of the same party tend to cluster together (Stephen Donnelly is still closer to his former Social Democrat partners then to Fianna Fáil). If many members of a party follow the same account it will tend to “pull" that node towards their cluster and “push" accounts they do not follow further away from them. Accounts followed by a lot of TDs, like the RTé account, will be pulled into the centre of the network while the outer edges of a party’s region is often made up of local party branches and youth branches. Again nodes are sized by indegree; large nodes are followed by many TDs while smaller nodes nodes are followed by only a handful. I have included below zoomed in regions of the network that I found to be interesting.

I have tried to keep the colors the same as in the Dail only network. Fianna Fáil in the bottom right, Fine Gael top right and Sinn Féin bottom left are easy to pick out. Zoomed out it can be difficult to pick out the independents in brown or Labour in red. The dead centre of the network belongs to “The 4th Estate" and is made up of the most popular nodes followed by the most TDs. Accounts belonging to various political and news shows, presenters and journalists are dotted around this part of the network with RTé heavily featured. To the bottom right of the region is the account for Pope Francis while Bernie Sanders and the personal account of Donald Trump appear to the right of the RTé node. Irish Political Maps at the bottom right has more followers in the Dail than both of them. Katie Taylor, Jimmy Carr and Jonathan Ross surround the RTé News Now node. Large nodes here are followed by many TDs in the Dail where as small nodes are followed by few but across many different parties. Few, if any, of the smaller nodes here could be associated with a political party or agenda.

To the bottom left of this region, just over the node for the Sinn Féin party and just below the AAA-PBP region is a number of interesting accounts. Jeremy Corbyn, The Rubber Bandits, Glen Hansard, Paul Krugman, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan all appear at the top centre, around the Clare Daly and John Brady nodes. In the middle is American documentary maker Michael Moore and to the left is Edward Snowden and Alexis Tsipras. In the bottom left are the accounts of Jason Sherlock, Diarmuid Connolly, Frankie Boyle, Yanis Varoufakis and Russia Today. The party account of the Social Democrats appears on the right of this region, above Des Bishop.

To the right of the central 4th Estate cluster is a farming region consisting of Nationwide, CountryWide, The Irish Farmers Association, Teagasc, the National Dairy Council, Herdwatch, AgriLand, the Farmers Journal, the National Ploughing Association, Macra na Feirme and the Department of Agriculture. This region is on a boundary between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Some of the accounts are heavily followed and are larger than the nodes in the centre of the network but are pulled to the right as they would have few followers in Sinn Féin or the smaller left leaning parties and independents which would be predominately Dublin based. Dáithí O’Sé and Marty Morrissey also appear here.

Towards the top left of the graph in the AAA-PBP and Independents 4 Change area there are a number of accounts based around abortion rights and the Repeal the 8th campaign such as RepealEight, Two Women Travel, Parents for Choice and Abortion Rights IE. A recent article in the Irish Independent shows that the parties in this area of the network would support unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks while many in the bigger parties and a majority in Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail would not. These nodes are thus smaller as less members of the Dail follow these accounts but also heavily clustered around this area of the network.

As a counterpoint to this the Fianna Fail cluster, below the central 4th Estate, includes a node for the Pro Life Campaign near the bottom of this image. The node is small showing limited support but is primarily followed by Fianna Fail members. Along with Radio Kerry News there are scattered throughout this region a number of Kerry footballers; Tomas Ó Sé, Tadhg Kennelly, Kieran Donaghy, Dara Ó Cinnéide (besides Joe Canning) and Marc Ó Sé as well as Elon Musk, Bill de Blasio, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. To the top left of the central Fianna Fail node, below Mattie McGrath, is the Ulster Unionist Party account and above the Billy Kelleher node is the account of former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt. This sparse region of the network forms a border with Sinn Fein, divided by Kerry Independent Michael Healy-Rae.

In between the central and farming clusters to the right of the network is a region populated by a number of government bodies related to industry and tourism; Discover Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland, IDA Ireland, Irish Food Board and Irish Water. The Defence Forces and its Press Office, the Department of Foreign Affairs and a number of foreign Embassies appear here as well.


Conclusions

A visual examination of the network presented a lot of regions that to me seemed to make sense. While TDs didn’t always follow every account that surrounded them regions (more so than clusters) of similar accounts tended to form in areas that aligned with the surrounding party’s policies. The abortion rights region is pretty much as far away from the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael regions as you can get on the graph. Embassies, ambassadors and government agencies tend towards the Fine Gael side of the FF/FG boundary due to them currently being in power and having more members. Surrounding the Fine Gael party account itself are the accounts of party MEPs and senators as well as a number of government departments like Finance and Justice and also King’s Inn.

I would like to have been able to pull down the friends list for each of the 9,000 accounts in this network and build a much more connected network to see if it would cluster up more. Would various clusters break out of the 4th Estate region with presenters showing allegiance to RTé or TV3? The Twitter rate limits, while very necessary, can be a bit restrictive, especially with larger accounts. I would also like to look at a better way of locating accounts within the network and how to better display zoomed in sections of it.



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