Legislata

Jul 14, 2021

5 min read

Who does Beacon Hill follow on Twitter?

Access the data here

One of the most common concerns in American politics in 2021 is that citizens are occupying different informational ecosystems. With the collapse in local journalism and the rise of algorithmically-driven social media targeting, voters may now be consuming entirely different sets of information.

But what about legislators? Are they also living in bubbles or do they rely on the same sources of news?

While we can’t fully know what information they get. However, there is one window into what they see.

Twitter’s transparency

We downloaded the accounts followed by the 178 members of the Massachusetts State Legislature with public twitter accounts and who follow others. This gave us a list of 60,254 accounts that at least one representative or senator followed and 167,831 unique follower-followed relationships. The median legislator followed 740 accounts, though with a wide range across the building.

Most legislators follow less than 1,000 accounts, though there are a few outliers who follow more than 3,000 each

Most legislators follow less than 1,000 accounts, though there are a few outliers who follow more than 3,000 each

We then looked at which accounts were followed across the Senate and House and broke it down between Democrats and Republicans and, within Democrats, members of the Progressive Caucus or not.

You can access and download the full data for the 28,000 most popular accounts. See how followed you might be and conduct your own analysis.

Our findings

Legislators like government accounts

Top five followed accounts in the MA State House

Top five followed accounts in the MA State House

This makes sense. Not only are the other members of the legislature and constitutional officers their colleagues, they are also important political actors. A Senator or Representative would want to be up to date with the latest statements from these accounts.

It appears to be used for news

Of the legislators with Twitter accounts, 69% follow the Boston Globe. WGBH is followed by 56% and WBUR by 52%. The State House News Service is in fact the top account overall, followed by 92% of the legislature (more than the Governor, Attorney General, Speaker, or Senate President).

National news are also followed

We also see here some of the divides present in general society. MSNBC is twice as common in Democratic follower lists as Republicans’ and the New York Times is followed by 52% of Democrats but 38% of Republicans. Fox News, meanwhile, is followed by only 7% of Democrats but is the largest national source for Republicans, with 46% following it.

Twitter follow lists are sticky

Speaker Mariano, for example, is followed by fewer members than former Speaker DeLeo’s account. Some of the top non-legislators are ex-legislators (who may have picked up their followers during their time in office). Former MA-focused reporters have more followers than current reporters.

Political differences are apparent

The Massachusetts Democratic Party and Republican Party accounts are followed by members of their own party and not the others, as are major leaders in each party. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is followed by 81% of Democrats and only 23% of Republicans and Charlie Baker’s personal/campaign account is followed by 88% of Republicans and 68% of Democrats.

These differences are not absolute, it’s important to note. A network analysis of who follows what, which shows us whether legislators are following enough of the same accounts that they are in separate clusters, does show quite a lot of overlap. We can’t say that members are completely isolated from one another.

Network analysis graph of the information network in the State House. Closer dots mean they follow more similar accounts.

Network analysis graph of the information network in the State House. Closer dots mean they follow more similar accounts.

Nonetheless, there are some significant differences that go beyond party members to organizations seen as more sympathetic to one party or the other or that are more closely connected to a caucus’ purpose.

Some of the largest gaps between the parties include the following percentages for:

  • More Republican: National Federation of Independent Business, MA Fiscal Alliance, WRKO, Fox News, Howie Carr
  • More Democratic: AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, 1199 SEIU, NARAL, Environmental League of Massachusetts

Within the Democratic Caucus, we see that members of the Progressive Caucus are much more likely to follow NARAL and the Sierra Club. Democrats not in the Progressive Caucus are more likely to follow Rep. Stephen Lynch and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

Quick hits

  • The Red Sox are the most followed team, followed by the Patriots, and the Celtics and Bruins.
  • More GOP members follow the Boston Herald than the Globe. For Democrats, it’s the reverse.
  • Former Politico Playbook reporter Stephanie Murray is more followed than @politicoma.
  • WGBH’s Mike Deehan is the most followed reporter.
  • Councillor Michelle Wu is the most followed Boston mayoral candidate.

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