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ArXiv Preprint

The UK has had a volatile political environment for some years now, with Brexit and leadership crises marking the past five years. With this work, we wanted to understand more about how the global health emergency, COVID-19, influences the amount, type or topics of abuse that UK politicians receive when engaging with the public. With this work, we wanted to understand more about how the global health emergency, COVID-19, influences the amount, type or topics of abuse that UK politicians receive when engaging with the public. This work covers the period of June to December 2020 and analyses Twitter abuse in replies to UK MPs. This work is a follow-up from our analysis of online abuse during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. The paper examines overall abuse levels during this new seven month period, analyses reactions to members of different political parties and the UK government, and the relationship between online abuse and topics such as Brexit, government's COVID-19 response and policies, and social issues. In addition, we have also examined the presence of conspiracy theories posted in abusive replies to MPs during the period. We have found that abuse levels toward UK MPs were at an all-time high in December 2020 (5.4% of all reply tweets sent to MPs). This is almost 1% higher that the two months preceding the General Election. In a departure from the trend seen in the first four months of the pandemic, MPs from the Tory party received the highest percentage of abusive replies from July 2020 onward, which stays above 5% starting from September 2020 onward, as the COVID-19 crisis deepened and the Brexit negotiations with the EU started nearing completion.

Tracie Farrell, Mehmet Bakir, Kalina Bontcheva

2021-03-04