Online discussion and the 2014 Scottish independence referendum: flaming keyboards or forums of deliberation?

Stephen Quinlan, Mark Shephard, Lindsay Paterson

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Referendums often fail to live up to a deliberative standard, with many characterised by low levels of knowledge, disinterest and misinformation, negativity, and a focus on extraneous issues to which voters are voting. But social media offers new avenues for referendums to incorporate a greater deliberative dimension. Through a content analysis of BBC discussion forums, we test whether online discussion of the Scottish independence referendum has deliberative characteristics. Results suggest a mixed picture with conversation displaying some deliberative features (low incidences of flaming/discussion of referendum issues). However, low levels of discussion intensity, dominance by a few, little knowledge exchange, and high gender inequality illustrate that online referendum discussion lacks deliberative characteristics, implying that social media are not a panacea for referendum deliberation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192–205
Number of pages14
JournalElectoral Studies
Early online date24 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2015


  • referendums
  • deliberation
  • discussion forums
  • Scottish independence
  • online content analysis

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