Twitter-Powered Lobbying?

Spotting a tweet from @louwoodley around the science policy session at #solo12:

I started pondering the extent to which we might be able to generate twitter social interest maps around the interests of MPs, or the interests of folk who follow particular MPs.

One straightforward way would be to just create social interest maps around each map, and publish it as some sort of atlas. @tweetminster maintain a list of MPs, so it’s easy enough to pull that down and use it to drive a scraper. (By the by, I have in the past mapped out connections between MPs and political journalists and Interest Differencing: Folk Commonly Followed by Tweeting MPs of Different Parties). We can also do things like look at folk commonly followed by science policy lobbiests, such as @nesta_uk.

But what else might we be able to do?

From the TheyWorkForYou API, we can pull down lists of MPs, along with MP identifiers and IDs for their official Twitter accounts. The Committee membership information appears to be out of date, but this information is available on the UK Parliament website so it should be easy enough to generate a scraper for it on something like Scraperwiki. Munging the two together means we can get a list of Twitter IDs for MPs on any given committee. We could then use this list to generate a social interest map based on folk commonly followed by followers of N or more of the M members on a given committee. (For lobby detection purposes, there are actually 3 things we might care to look at: 1) people who follow at least N from M members of a particular committee; 2) folk commonly followed by members of the committee; 3) folk commonly followed by various subsets of the followers of the committee members, such as those who follow at least N from M).

Scraperwiki is also home to a scraper of All party Group (partial) memberships (partial because the original/scraped membership list is not necessarily complete?); we should thus be able to generate lists of tweeting MPs who are members of a particular APG, using them to do similar mapping exercises to those we might do with the committee membership lists.

Another approach might be to try to identify networks of (lobby) interest by generating a graph from donors to MPs, to try to tease out whether or not particular companies are supporting a particular MP. The ability to look up company director names on OpenCorporates means that if separate individuals are named as donors to the same MP, for example, we may be able to link the donors through companies they share directorships in? (Or does legislation around donations to MPs preclude this sort of thing happening? Can individuals make donations to MPs? Can companies? Charities? Etc? WHat are the limits? Does the Electoral Commission’s Party and Election Finance (PEF) Online registers service contain data on general donations to MPs? Is there a database version available anywhere of the Members’ Register of Financial Interests? Hmm, I wonder, even though the information is openly available, do the Protection of Freedoms Act tweaks to FOI mean we could actually demand a database/dataset version of this information with a a reasonable chance of success?).

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...