The 2015 Irish Marriage Referendum was one of the biggest events in recent Irish history with lots of activity taking place on social media, and research, undertaken at the University of Limerick, analysing tweets surrounding the Irish Marriage Referendum shows that Twitter users were more likely to connect with other users that shared their views.

David O’Sullivan and Professor James Gleeson at the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI) in the University of Limerick collaborated with Dr Guillermo Garduño-Hernández Sinnia, Mexico and Dr Mariano Beguerisse-Díaz University of Oxford, UK in the research.

The researchers investigated the sentiment contained in nearly half a million tweets containing the hashtags #marref and #marriageref in a two-week period prior to the referendum.  The findings, published in the scientific journal “Royal Society Open Science”, show that an effective echo chamber was present, resulting in information being more likely to be trapped inside their group than shared outside.

However, the analysis also showed there was a committed core of active users on both sides of the referendum that actively engaged across ideological divisions.

Lead author MACSI PhD student David O’Sullivan explained why the research team chose to analyse tweets relating to this vote in particular: “The marriage referendum posed a clear yes/no question in comparison to other, more complex votes such as Irish general elections where you have a ranked preference of outcomes. Also, the high volume of activity on Twitter relating to the Irish Marriage Referendum provided an excellent opportunity to understand how users interact around controversial or polarising topics. “

In an era where accurate polling and assessing the public’s sentiment is becoming more difficult, research like this can have potential applications in the integration of data and metadata to study opinion dynamics, public opinion modelling and polling.

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