A common critique of discourse that occurs on social media is that we tend to interact with people who already hold similar opinions to ourselves, reinforcing one another's opinions and biases.

A few months ago I started wondering about the social networks of New Zealand members of Parliament and whether this holds true for our politicians. To find out I collected some Twitter relationship data and experimented with a small visualisation project.

I remembered this work yesterday when Jayne Ihaka tweeted an image of a network graph that she had made and I figured it was about time I wrote it up. I share it now for anyone who might be interested.

The data in the following graphics was collected on May 8, 2015. Since then there have some changes in Parliament, most notably James Shaw succeeded Russel Norman as Co-Leader of the Green Party on May 30, 2015. Several MPs have created Twitter accounts in this time and I expect that various politicians have followed or unfollowed one another-just as the rest of us do.


I wrote a Twitter harvester that iterated across the list of New Zealand Members of Parliament with public Twitter accounts, which is maintained by the New Zealand Parliament, and recorded the nature of the Twitter relationship between each of the 102 accounts. Specifically, I assigned one of the following relationship types to every possible pairing of MPs:

1. mutual follow,
2. follower of,
3. followed by,
4. no link.

I created a mini-network graph for each MP. The subject of the graph sits in the centre. The MPs who they are connected to in some fashion form a ring around the edge, coloured according to their Political Party (National: blue; Labour: red; Green: green, Maori Party: red-brown; United Future: purple; Act: yellow). The connecting lines signify the nature of the relationship between MPs. Circles surrounded by a heavy outline are party leaders or co-leaders.

1. mutual follow: an unbroken line,
2. follower of: lines emanates from centre, but breaks halfway,
3. followed by: line emanates from outer ring, but breaks halfway,
4. no link: not shown

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to interpret these charts. I think this work is interesting because it provides a glimpse into the social fabric of Parliament. Consider these graphics as a starting point for questions about who is listening to who rather than a set of unequivocal answers.

After all, it's just Twitter.

App readers: Tap here to view the visualisations

Chris McDowall is a person who creates and writes about data visualisations at fogonwater.com. This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand licence. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/nz/