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BIRN: SDSM won Twitter war in election

Had the July 15 elections been won based on the number of tweets posted, the ruling alliance "We Can", led by SDSM, would have won twice the number of seats than the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, shows an analysis on the use of social media in pre-election campaign, conducted by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

Ljubljana, 7 August 2020 (MIA) – Had the July 15 elections been won based on the number of tweets posted, the ruling alliance “We Can”, led by SDSM, would have won twice the number of seats than the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, shows an analysis on the use of social media in pre-election campaign, conducted by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

“Ruling alliance hashtags could be seen on more than 5,600 tweets. Those of the opposition were found in just over 2,100. While Social Democratic leader Zaev led the process, much of the party’s communication also originated from other prominent figures, such as Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, Vice Prime Minister Mila Carovska, Defence Minister Radmila Shekerinska, provisional PM Oliver Spasovski and others – most of them leading the lists of candidates in the six electoral districts. In the opposition bloc, most of the traffic originated from the profile of the VMRO DPMNE leader, Hristijan Mickoski, or from the official party twitter profile. Compared to these two, the activity of the other opposition party officials was negligible,” analysis results show.

BIRN underlines that while most Twitter posts on Zaev’s profile referred to the alliance’s own campaign points and promises, some 10 per cent were reserved for negative campaigning against the opposition.

“Among these negative posts, most suggested that if VMRO DPMNE came back to power, it would mean a ‘return of the regime’ – referencing the authoritarian government of former VMRO DPMNE leader and former prime minister Nikola Gruevski,” analysis authors say.

According to BIRN, most of the tweets from the profile of opposition leader Mickoski also focused on election promises and on parts of the party’s manifesto. But about 13 percent of tweets were devoted to attacking the other side.

“The most common tweets attacking the Social Democrats referred to alleged ‘crimes’ committed by Zaev, mostly drawing on connections to the high-profile ‘Extortion’ trial in which the former head of the Special Prosecution, SJO, Katica Janeva – once strongly supported by Zaev – and others were found guilty of extortion. Other posts accused Zaev of undermining the national interest by presiding over important friendship deals with neighbouring Bulgaria and the historic ‘name’ agreement with Greece,” reads the article.

The analysis shows that nine of the ten most shared posts during the campaign were those of Social Democratic officials, with Zaev’ post sharing the official video commercial of their campaign, in which the party says it has achieved a lot and can do even more, being most shared.

The opposition leader posted the tenth most shared post as well. In it, he shared a video advertisement in which he implored young people to stay in the country and to “fight for Macedonia”.

BIRN notes that analyzing overall Twitter communications during the election campaign, Zaev’s name was mentioned most often. His profile was mentioned in 3,100 posts, while that of the opposition leader Mickoski was mentioned in 1,580.

Despite the bitter electoral war waged on Twitter by both blocs and their supporters, neither bloc got exactly what it sought. Zaev did not win a comfortable majority for a new government to accomplish his promised changes. Mickoski also failed to persuade enough voters that it was time he took over and started to “strengthen the spines” of the country’s supposedly humiliated citizens, the analysis concludes.

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