Special Report: How is the EU communicating in the Age of Digital Disruption? Case Study of the End of Roaming, Part I

This is a 2-part Special Report on “How is the EU communicating in the Age of Digital Disruption? Case Study of the ‘End of Roaming’”

 

In the aftermath of Brexit and the rise of anti-EU movements across Europe, the EU is often portrayed as an undemocratic body that legislates in isolation, far removed from the daily reality faced by European citizens. This negative perception begs the question whether the EU authorities really care about European citizens. If it does, how is the information about its work passed on to citizens, in the very same way information about the national state and its decisions is being shared with and discussed by citizens.

This communications process lies at the very heart of the modern European political system, and is crucial in instilling a sense of participation among the citizenry in the decision-making process. Without it, citizens are unable to exercise their democratic rights by basing their electoral decision on the information they previously received.

With the rise of digital platforms, communications processes have been radically transformed, and this too has influenced the behaviour and expectations of different political actors.
Until now, the information process had always been downward-vertical from state actors, processed through the media, before reaching the citizens.

Digital platforms have severely disrupted this mode of information-sharing, resulting in:

  • The emergence of citizen journalists, bloggers and other self-publishing non-state and non-media actors who are able to alter public perception through the rapid production of information and its subsequent dissemination;
  • The increased prominence of individual journalists compared with the media organisations they belong through their expert use of digital tools and social media platforms;
  • The increased prominence of individual politicians, elected or otherwise, who command a large online following through their expert use of digital tools and social media platforms;
  • The use of social media data and advertising, to target and change the opinions of any given segment of the population on specific policy issues, especially in the context of an election.

These key elements of the Digital Disruption have happened in every modern society, and is certainly taking place in the larger context of the European Union.

Based on the data collected about the End of Mobile Roaming on 15 June 2017, this special report aims to get a clearer picture of the communications processes around this piece of legislation, so as to help answer the questions we have laid out above.

The report is divided into two parts:
In this first part, we will look at the results of the data collected from all available digital platforms about the End of Roaming from 12 to 15 June 2017.
In the second part, we will focus on the network visualisation of the Twitter conversations in the same period.

 

Why the “End of Roaming”?

I have chosen this topic because it is a popular, consumer-friendly subject-matter. Any communications around it will thus be easily understood by all segments of the society. Should there be a topic that would reverberate across Europe, this would be it, compared with a more difficult topic like the Emissions Trading System.

Furthermore, the state actors in the European institutions consider this as a very symbolic piece of legislation that embodies the Pillar of the Freedom of Movement enshrined in the Treaty of Maastricht. For them, the End of Roaming is the Virtual Schengen. Hence the EU has even more reasons to communicate about this.

———–

Table 1: Volume by date

A total of 77.8 thousand posts were collected over four days, from 12 June to 15 June.
Communications originating from the European Commission began on the Monday but intensified only on the day of the launch itself.

Table 2: Platforms

Twitter emerges as the major platform when it comes to communicating about this EU legislation, with the main bulk of the 69% taking place there. The second platform is News websites, at 12.6%. This points to the continued role of the media as the intermediary between the state and the population. The third place goes to blogs, at 5.67%, and it points to the increasing use of online self publication. Facebook only accounts for 5.5% of the data collected. The low count could be due to the fact that only public pages can be crawled, not private profiles.

Table 3: Language

More than half (55.87%) of the posts are in English. German occupies the second place at 12.53%, followed by Italian (7.92%) and Spanish (7.88%). This could point to two things: English is the lingua franca in all things concerning the EU, or English speakers are voracious discussants of EU matters.  All the other language fall significantly behind.

Table 4: Location

It is difficult to accurately collate location data for social media posts. Should we ignore ‘Other’ and ‘Unknown’, the highest number of posts seems to have come from the United Kingdom, followed by the United States. It would likely explain the large number of English-language content, and is somewhow ironic that a major piece of legislation is being discussed by a country that is outside the EU, and the other that is going out of the EU.

Tables 5 and 6: Keywords

These are the major keywords identified in the data collected. While the obvious words are roaming and charges and related words in English, keywords in other languages show there were  active communications taking place in other languages.

Below is the table of the keywords used for posts in each Member State.
I have added Norway and the US due to the huge degree of interest these countries expressed that came through the data:

 

Austria österreich
telefonieren
surfen
sms-verschicken
innerhalb
gibt
handy
kostet
vorbei
gleich
Belgium #roaming
charges
roaming
twitter
commission
@eu
end
goodbye
today
#eu
Bulgaria* roaming
charges
#roaming
twitter
commission
goodbye
@eu
tomorrow
#eu
travelling
Croatia roaming
roaminga
#roaming
cijene
europske
charges
kao
unije
roamingu
lipnja
Cyprus #roaming
charges
roaming
end
twitter
από
περιαγωγής
commission
#eu
τέλος
Czech Republic roaming
ceny
jako
#roaming
doma
volání
dneška
ode
stejné
evropské
Denmark roaming
nye
juni
mobilen
kan
#roaming
danske
charges
langt
minutter
Estonia* #roaming
charges
roaming
twitter
commission
@eu
tomorrow
fees
goodbye
past
Finland #roaming
roaming
twitter
tänään
charges
#eu
eli
finländska
får
gratis
France roaming
europe
#roaming
fin
charges
les
twitter
frais
itinérance
mobile
Germany roaming-gebühren
roaming
#roaming
mehr
twitter
heute
charges
eu-ausland
telefonieren
entfallen
Greece roaming
από
#roaming
εντός
της
περιαγωγής
χρεώσεις
ευρωπαϊκής
charges
και
Hungary roaming
európai
eu-n
roamingdíjak
június
megszűnnek
unión
15-től
belföldi
unióban
Ireland roaming
charges
twitter
#roaming
data
end
today
mobile
commission
@eu
Italy roaming
europa
#roaming
addio
twitter
costi
oggi
giugno
charges tutta
Latvia* #roaming
charges
roaming
twitter
@eu
commission
goodbye
today
when
fees
Lithuania* roaming
#roaming
charges
goodbye
@eu
commission
fees
travelling
when
week
Luxembourg roaming
#roaming
charges
end
twitter
audiovisual service
commission
goodbye
country
Malta charges
roaming
#roaming
end
@eu2017mt
twitter
#eu
day
mobile
@junckereu
Netherlands roaming
#roaming
charges
twitter
vanaf
europa
voor
extra
kosten
het
Poland roaming
europejskiej
unii
czerwca
#roaming
jak
charges
twitter
roamingu
że
Portugal* roaming
#roaming
charges
twitter
@eu
commission
goodbye
europa
travelling
fees
Romania roaming
din
în
pentru
mai
iunie
care
tarife
europa
vor
Slovakia roaming

európskej
ako
doma
bude
júna
pre
únie
dnes
Slovenia* roaming
#roaming
charges
twitter
@eu
commission
goodbye
tomorrow
#eu
travelling
Spain roaming
europa
fin
#roaming
twitter
charges
adiós
móvil
commission
@eu
Sweden roaming
#roaming
charges
twitter
idag
roamingavgifterna
hela
commission
@eu
#eu
United Kingdom roaming
charges
twitter
mobile
today
#roaming
end
phone
abolished
commission
Norway roaming
fri
torsdag
europa
endelig
fortsatt
norge
mulig
charges
innføres
United States roaming charges
mobile
europe
end
twitter
fees
today
phone
costs

 

From the above table, we can make the following observations:

Countries marked with an asterisk* indicate that the number of posts is negligible (below 100 posts), and we can see that the keywords are consistently only in English. This could be an indication that users from those countries are conversing not among themselves but with other users from other countries. A possible scenario is these are people working for or in the European institutions, and they are not communicating with networks at the national level. The data for Belgium shows that the main keywords are only in English, pointing to the large number of posts coming from the users there who mostly are situated in the so-called Brussels Bubble. We shall be able to test this assumption by juxtaposing the language and geographical data of Twitter in the second report.

Secondly, if we ignore the countries with asterisk, the incidences of the use of the keyword EU are likewise lower, and often replaced by the word for ‘Europe’ in the national language. Furthermore, the number of usage of  the word ‘Commission’ – referring to the European Commission which announced the news – is six. This points to a general lack of understanding of the institutions that form the European Union’s decision-making structure.

——————–

From the above observations, we can draw a couple of conclusions:

1. The major role played by the English language in EU communications

English is undeniably the most important language used in the communications about the End of Roaming, based on the quantity of posts written in that language. If we were to assume that its major role is due to the need to communicate outside of one’s national community, then there is a possibility that the communications is done between the institutions and the multi-national workforce supporting them. A second scenario is that English speakers are extremely interested in this piece of legislation such that they form the largest chunk of conversations on the End of Roaming. In either case, it would point to a gap in the communications between the EU and the bulk of the different national communities in the member states.

 

2. The heightened interest of the UK

It is also noteworthy to point out the interest that UK users are showing in the End of Roaming, which directly correlates with our observation of the prominence of English in our data. It could be linked to the ongoing Brexit negotiations and that this could be a benefit they would lose if it were not to be included in the negotiations.

For our purpose, it would be of use to find out whether the conversations were conducted by UK citizens themselves, if so whether they were conversations that included the institutions, or whether it involved the media or national policymakers.

 

3. The central role of Twitter in online communications about the EU

It is indisputable that Twitter is the major social media platform where many of the conversations take place, whether those conversations have the most direct impact in shaping citizens’ perception of the EU is another matter altogether. Like all social media data analyses, we need to caution against the degree of representation of the data due to the so-called digital divide. Digital divide is not only between those who know how to use digital platforms and those who do not. It is also a divide between those who can afford it and those who cannot. It is also a question of privacy, cultural expression, self-censorship and motive. Once we accept that social media data only pertains to a segment of the population, we can then safely accept that its conclusions are only indicative.

For the purpose of this analysis, it is good that Twitter is the most used platform as it will offer us a greater possibility in delving into the specifics of the conversations and the networks conducting those conversations.

Click here to read the second part of the report, which will focus on a mapping of the Twitter conversations, in an attempt to shed more light onto some of the issues touched on above.

 

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This report is an example of the social listening reports and data research & visualisation we perform for our clients.

For more information, please visit our website www.gpluseurope.com or contact us at +32 2 282 96 31.

 

about Harold Tor

Harold heads our digital services. With more than 17 years of experience leading digital campaigns at UNESCO, ILO and other international organisations, Harold conducts trainings and advises our clients on social media and digital strategies. In his free time, Harold writes on his blog www.dontthinktoomuch.com. Should you wish to contact him, he prefers you connect with him on Twitter @HaroldTor.