Behavioural models for identifying authenticity in the Twitter feeds of UK Members of Parliament: a content analysis of UK MPs’ tweets between 2011 and 2012; a longitudinal study

Margaretten, Mark Stuart (2018) Behavioural models for identifying authenticity in the Twitter feeds of UK Members of Parliament: a content analysis of UK MPs’ tweets between 2011 and 2012; a longitudinal study. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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That the public distrusts politicians is prevalent in both polling and academic literature (Uberoi & Apostolova, 2017; van der Meer, 2017; YouGov, 2017a, 2017b). Whether it's true that politicians cannot actually be trusted is really immaterial. If McCombs (2004) and Lippman (1922) are correct, and the media has an enormous impact on public opinion simply by establishing this dire narrative, then the perception of mistrust has become fact. Citizens are disengaged, misinformed, and weary. Politicians issue statements to meet political expediencies. Trust is a critical component of democracy, and only by behaving in a substantively new manner can politicians restore it. The irony is that this image cannot be artificially constructed; they must behave naturally and re-introduce themselves to a public sceptical of media training and spin. To restore trust they must present themselves as they truly are. They must behave authentically.

This thesis examines the tweets made by UK MPs during 2011 and 2012 (n=774,467) for evidence of authenticity and establishes behavioural models that identify authentic talk in large Twitter datasets. The analytical .framework that defines authenticity and informs the content analysis is broadly based on the prior work examining authentic behaviour in reality TV conducted by Coleman (2006) that reveals performative characteristics that audiences are drawn to; Hall's (2009) examination of the good and bad effects of mediated communication on reality TV audiences; Liebes's (2001) examination of sincerity and humility in the performance of authenticity by politicians; Montgomery's (2001b) work examining the presence of authenticity in the press behaviour of UK MPs and his examination of Goffman's relevance to mediated communication (Montgomery, 2001a). This study also challenges Goffman's Dramaturgical theory which positions public communication either on stage or backstage by suggesting that the backstage is now performed onstage (Goffman, 1959, 1981). Additionally, this content analysis is informed by Henneberg and Scammell's examination of how competing perceptions of democratic theory can be used to evaluate a politician's political marketing techniques (Henneberg, Scammell, & O'Shaughnessy, 2009) and positions the behavioural models within these techniques. It is also important to note that the 774,467 tweets subjected to a quantitative and qualitative content analysis, as far as can be established, is the only large-scale longitudinal study of parliamentary Twitter behaviour.

This study's contribution to knowledge is:

1. to examine of all the tweets produced by UK MPs between 2011-2012 (n=774,467) for evidence of authentic talk;
2. to memorialize their Twitter usage;
3. to establish behavioural models for identifying the presence of authenticity in the Twitter behaviour of politicians;
4. to organize these MPs into these new behavioural models;
5. to develop a mixed method research design for locating this behaviour in large sets of Twitter metadata.

Works Cited
Coleman, S. (2006). How the other half votes: Big Brother viewers and the 2005 general election. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 9(4), 457-479. doi: 10.1177 /1367877906069895
Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Goffman, E. {1981). Forms of talk: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Hall, A. (2009). Perceptions of the Authenticity of Reality Programs and Their Relationships to Audience Involvement, Enjoyment, and Perceived Learning. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53(4), 515 - 531.
Henneberg, S. C., Scammell, M., & O'Shaughnessy, N. J. {2009). Political marketing management and theories of democracy. Marketing Theory, 9(2), 165-188.
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Liebes, T. (2001). "Look me straight in the eye," the political discourse of authenticity,
spontaneity, and sincerity. The Communication Review, 4(4), 499 - 510.
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Mccombs, M. E. (2004). Setting the agenda: the mass media and public opinion.
Montgomery, M. (2001a). Defining 'authentic talk'. Discourse Studies, 3(4), 397-405.
Montgomery, M. {2001b). The uses of authenticity: "Speaking from experience" in a U.K.
election broadcast. The Communication Review, 4(4), 447 - 462.
Uberoi, E., & Apostolova, V. {2017). House of Commons Key Issues 2017: Political dis)engagement. London: House of Commons Retrieved from
van der Meer, T. W. G. (2017). Political Trust and the "Crisis of Democracy". In Oxford
Research Encyclopedia - Politics: Oxford University Press.
YouGov. (2017a). The problem of trust. Retrieved from
YouGov. (2017b). YouGov Trust Tracker. Retrieved from

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Media and Film
Subjects: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN0101 Great Britain
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2019 12:42
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

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