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By Leia ReidJan 24
Published February 19th 2019
On 18 February 2019 seven Labour MPs announced they’d be resigning in order to form The Independent Group.
In this post, we’ll pick apart day one as it happened on social media.
Journalists gathered in a packed out press conference are expecting a big revelation.
Rumours are spreading, and the following tweets spark the first mentions of the new group.
The initial spike in conversation, of around 4,600 mentions in an hour, occur as the press conference goes ahead.
The Independent Group tweets for the first time.
At this point, much of the conversation is on-message for the new group. Many are sharing the hashtag #changepolitics and sentence “Politics is broken.” The names of the involved MPs are present.
Much of the negativity is coming from a post from Owen Jones that mocks the dull design.
Almost immediately we found the first reports of the website being unavailable.
With a few minutes to take in the announcement, the opinions start rolling in.
The top tweets around the announcement, that aren’t from the official group Twitter account, are a real mix of positive and negative.
A popular tweet from Stop The War UK condemns the group’s voting record.
Every MP in The Independent Group (The Dinner Party) has consistently voted for war, foreign military intervention and the renewal of Trident.— Stop the War (@STWuk) February 18, 2019
A warmongering foreign policy is central to the so-called values they talk about. #LabourSplit pic.twitter.com/dkdPK9fF36
Deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats praised a “courageous move.”
And, once again, Owen Jones’ comments took up a chunk of the conversation.
Between 12 and 1 conversation dropped off a little, losing about 600 mentions on the previous hour. That said, if anyone looked at this and guessed it was the start of a drop off in interest, they’d be very wrong.
In this time, the Guardian’s Jim Waterson’s comments on the set up of the new group began to gain traction.
If you want an example of UK electoral law loopholes: The Independent Group, which looks/swims/quacks a lot like a political party and is asking for donations, is actually a private company. So it isn't subject to electoral law rules requiring them to declare financial backers.— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) February 18, 2019
Meanwhile, Labour MP Richard Burgon’s attack on the group and, specifically, on Chuka Umunna, brought emojis to the debate and generated enough conversation to get them trending in the topic cloud for the hour.
The 'Independent' Group isn’t just an attack on Jeremy's policies For the Many, Not the Few. It's a direct attack on the Labour Party.— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) February 18, 2019
Chuka's vision for a coalition with Tories and Lib Dems is not the solution.
A radical Labour government is. We'll keep fighting for that. ✊🌹
Up until this point, Chuka Umunna was the most talked about MP in the conversation.
That was soon to change.
1pm and mentions were back at around 5,800 per hour.
Jim Waterson’s tweet, embedded above, continued to gain traction.
But now another name was coming to the fore – Angela Smith.
Smith, one of the founding seven, had a fairly low profile in the conversation up til this point, with Umunna, Berger, Shuka and Gapes gaining more mentions than she did.
Then Smith’s appearance on the BBC Politics Live show would make her the most prominent name for the rest of the day, both within this conversation and largely across the news.
At around 1pm, mentions relating to a comment she made on the show began to get picked up.
It would be the start of a very busy few hours for Angela Smith-related conversation, as seen in this minute-by-minute graph.
I omitted it from the chart because I am a professional, but the second caption could equally read “This was the moment Angela Smith knew she’d fucked up.”
Ross Sparkes was among the first to tweet about it, and his tweet quickly got people talking.
For reference, this is the offending video.
Angela Smith would be a trending topic throughout the day. Here’s the impact the interview had on MP-related conversation.
By 2pm, the video was circulating quickly.
Chuka Umunna tweeted out his speech from earlier in the day, but it wouldn’t take over the Angela Smith conversation.
Meanwhile, the financial side of the new group continued to be questioned. Alongside the popularity of Jim Waterson’s earlier tweet, this was one of the most popular tweets shared between 2 and 3pm.
So the MPs involved in the #LabourSplit are forming #TheIndependentGroup as they can't support @UKLabour - but why is @TheIndGroup's website registered in Panama?— Joe Delaney (@joedafoneUK) February 18, 2019
How will they #ChangePolitics if they base themselves in tax haven countries that are part of the problem? pic.twitter.com/3QHPxmXnr5
And, predictably, people were calling for Smith to be expelled from the new group literally hours after she helped launch it.
If The Independent Group @TheIndGroup is serious about tackling racism it must immediately expel @angelasmithmp and make clear it has a zero tolerance policy on racism. Or is it already a hostile environment for black people? #funnytinge https://t.co/ohZndq288J— joseph harker (@josephharker) February 18, 2019
A look at the most prominent topics around “The Independent Group” conversation between 3 and 4 is enough to tell you how off-track this launch went in terms of online perception.
Conversation was down to around 5,000 mentions an hour, but it would rise again before the day was out.
At 3.30pm Angela Smith tweeted her apology for the remarks she’d made.
That such a young group had already seen so much drama didn’t go unnoticed online. Fatima Manji’s tweet did particularly well at this point.
Smith’s apology didn’t go down amazingly.
Apologising for "any offence caused" sounds a lot like the mealy-mouthed politics of old that these 7 MPs claim to deride.— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) February 18, 2019
So, how can I submit a complaint to @theindgroup on racism? How do your disciplinary procedures work? Do you have an internal working definition of racism?
Between 5 and 6 Angela Smith’s apology was being shared more than links to the group’s website, which had been the most shared thing of the day.
Plenty of people were weighing in on the issue, and Fatima Manji’s tweet referenced above continued to be hugely popular.
The most used hashtags around the group were probably not what they had planned.
5pm was when mentions reached their peak – I’d imagine this is a mix of all the conversation around the developments building up on one another, as well as people leaving work, checking the news, and then starting to make their own comments.
As we headed into the evening, mentions of The Independent Group began to smooth off.
I think it’s fair to say that launch day didn’t quite go to plan.
That’s not to say it was a total failure – plenty of people signed up for updates on the group, and they gained an impressive following. Their website was shared loads during the day, and was pretty much always the most prominent link being shared on Twitter in the conversation.
But when 23% of your online conversation is related to a founding member who’s made a blunder, it’s not the best start.