Spain: Digital Public Debate Ahead of EU Parliamentary Elections

The recently formed coalition of VOX, Partido Popular, and Ciudadanos played a critical role in driving the public debate amidst a polarized digital landscape.

Constella’s data science team analyzed the Spanish social and political debate, collecting data from December 15th, 2018 to January 20th, 2019. Public data analyzed includes 25,571,986 total results from 1,763,752 unique authors, 918,323 conversations, and 1,138,833 unique pieces of content shared across multiple digital sources such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, blogs, forums, and other digital communities. Results collected in the Spanish language, as well as results geolocated in Spain, were collected. Constella’s analysis focuses on understanding the role and digital influence of politicians, civil society, and social and digital media platforms in shaping the online public debate in Spain.

Constella’s data analysts conducted an analysis of explicit mentions on all of the indexed sources previously described. In this analysis, we measured explicit mentions of political parties and politicians, finding that 42.2% of mentions refer to VOX or associated politicians, 30.2% to the PP or associated politicians, 29.1% to the PSOE or associated politicians, 17.1% to Ciudadanos or associated politicians, and 13.7% to Podemos or associated politicians. Percentages by party total 132.7% due to mentions of several parties or politicians in the same posts.

The Spanish political and social debate, as reflected in the digital sphere, is considerably polarized, with the PSOE and Catalan Separatists confronted with a newly formed coalition of the Partido Popular (PP), Ciudadanos, and VOX – a coalition which is increasingly represented on social media by the emerging VOX. There is a trend among the most active users in the analysis: the more active a user is, there is a higher likelihood that they are identified as part of the community represented by VOX. Among the users with abnormally high activity, 57.1% are located in the community led by VOX. Additionally, the most shared domains in our analysis are dominated by a diverse range of sites shared by the VOX community with significant frequency.

Moments that drove peaks in activity were directly connected to the establishment of a coalition between Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and VOX in December 2018 to form the Andalusian government, which was officially signed on January 9th. VOX’s electoral success and their controversial opinions on gender violence laws bring the already impassioned debate about gender equality even further to the forefront, rousing audiences aligned with feminist activism, such as the Podemos community. The impact of the Catalan Separatist community’s voice is also noteworthy, particularly through the congressman, Gabriel Rufián.

Narratives Analysis

By analyzing the top 300 highest frequency keywords & hashtags representing 19.3% of the results analyzed, our analysts identified the following six narratives.


  1. General debate (34.6%): Conversations on the political agenda determined by VOX’s success in the Andalusian elections. The debate highlights themes such as gender equality, feminism, and the coalition of the parties on Spain’s political Right.
  2. Catalan politics (19.6%): Separatism keeps its demands and pressure on the Government, and they do not let up on their claims of “political prisoners”.
  3. Right (13%): Support of the National Police along with protests and criticisms against the PSOE demanding that the President call elections are of notable importance.
  4. PSOE (8.8%): General messages concerning actions and policies of the current government headed by Pedro Sanchez.
  5. National Ministers meeting in Barcelona (8,2%): Updates on the meetings and protests of Catalan separatists.
  6. VOX (6.2%): Consists largely of official campaigns run by the party.

Communities Analysis

Constella data scientists used Analyzer, Constella’s proprietary cloud-based analytics platform, to build and identify the largest communities of users interacting in connection with the Spanish public debate. This community was identified in Twitter and their interactions were filtered to be re-tweets only in order to perform a topological analysis of the propagation of messages. This resulted in a unimodal network of authors (giant component, edges being re-tweets). To determine the different communities and visually represent the resulting network, Constella’s data scientists applied clustering algorithms, like the Louvain Method for community detection, for example.

The graph resulted as shown below, representing a total of 563,536 users and 18,776,426 retweets generated as part of the public conversation.

Network topology is characterized by network structures with nodes (profiles) and edges (lines) that connect them. Our algorithms cluster nodes and edges in order to calculate proximities and communities of users. In a topological analysis of the Spanish digital debate which included 563,536 users, the following six communities emerged:
  1. Podemos (54.5%). Thematically, this community consists largely of support of immigrants and comments against gender violence. There are consistent mentions of VOX, countering VOX’s anti-immigration stance and appealing for a review of the gender violence law. The polarization of the debate leads Podemos and its leaders to align with progressive and mainstream media to which identities the Podemos community have an affinity, such as El País and La Ser.
  2. VOX (18.7%). This community is characterized by attacks against Podemos and the current government, addressing topics like Catalunya, immigration, terrorism, taxes, and life imprisonment.
  3. Catalan Independentism (16.8%). This community is centered on claims for Catalan independence and criticisms of the government and the police force. Congressman Gabriel Rufián is by far the most relevant voice and is the second most influential voice among the top 30 most influential identities.
  4. PSOE (4.1%). They stand out in defense of feminism and the current gender violence laws.
  5. Ciudadanos (2.2%). They criticize Catalan Separatists and the government’s management of the corresponding political situation. They also defend anti-gender violence laws to highlight that their pact with VOX in Andalucía will not threaten gender equality.
  6. Partido Popular (2.2%). A focal point of this community is the signing of the pact with Ciudadanos and VOX to form the Andalusian government. Here we observe criticism of the PSOE, mainly addressing their handling of the Catalonia situation.

Politicians Among the Top Communities

In an analysis of the Top 50 most influential nodes, Constella measured influence mathematically based on the structural connections of the authors in the digital debate and their ability to propagate messages to larger audiences in the network (centrality measurement). Using this approach, Constella’s analysts demonstrate that out of 490 users who are verified politicians or political parties (0.09% of the total), politicians or political parties representing part of the PP, Ciudadanos, and VOX coalition made up 80.4% of those politicians or political parties. The majority of these identities were from Ciudadanos, making up 284 of 490 users who were identified as politicians or political parties.

Abnormality Detection – Most Active Users

To determine if users with abnormal levels of activity were present in the debate, Constella’s team focused on an analysis of outliers and their frequency of posting. The results identified 862 users with abnormal activity, which means the generation of at least 54 posts per day over the period analyzed, for a collective total of 2,627,318 posts. Among the 8,359 identities that constituted the most active users, the average number of comments produced is 1113 with a standard deviation of 850, meaning that users with more than 1,963 comments over the period analyzed are outliers.

VOX and the Catalan Independentist communities were where Constella’s analysts identified the most users with abnormally high activity, meaning that out of 862 users posting at least 54 times per day, 57.1% were identified as part of the VOX community and 19.9% were identified as part of the Catalan Independentist community. These abnormal activity users were responsible for 58.27% and 17.11% of comments produced by abnormal activity users.


Negligible Influence of Users Posting from Outside of Spain

63.18% of users are geolocated in Spain and 33.04% of users do not publicly express their geolocation. Users taking part in the Spanish socio-political debate online from other locations demonstrated marginal activity relative to the overall debate.

Role of Traditional, Emerging, and Foreign Media in the Debate

To determine which media sites are most influential, Constella’s algorithms take into account the number of users and the volume and frequency of links from media sites being shared across social media sources to calculate how influential the site is within the context of the analysis. Constella’s software ranks content influence similar to Google’s algorithms for web page ranking – the content from more relevant sites are likely to receive greater attention from more users over a sustained period of time.

Constella’s analysis found that traditional Spanish media and social media platforms ranked high in influence, as did a growing network of emerging digital media with highly specific editorial positions. Please see the table below for the top 150 most influential domains and the contribution of each community to the propagation of each domain’s content within the network.

Top 150 Domains – Percentage of Times Each Domain Is Shared per Community


Key findings include:

– Even among traditional Spanish media, there is a clear divide in terms of who is sharing what content. The second most influential media,, is shared by the VOX community 83.97% of the time, while the 3rd most influential domain, is shared frequently by both the Podemos (59.79%) and the Catalan Independentism communities (24.53%).

– Another example of this recurring trend is, which is shared with high frequency by the Catalan Independentism community (76.85%) and ranked 7th among the most influential domains in the analysis.

– The most influential domains are dominated by sites frequently shared by the VOX community, and the second most-shared domain in the entire analysis,, was shared 83.97% of the time by the VOX community.

– Other notable examples of high-frequency use of a given domain by a single community include the 10th ranked (92.88%, Catalan Separatism), the 11th ranked (90.30%, VOX), the 14th ranked (96.09%, VOX), the 21st ranked (90.76%, Catalan Separatism), and the 23rd ranked (93.69%, VOX).

– This trend continues upon delving more deeply into the top 150 most relevant domains in the analysis, with 53 of the 150 most relevant domains being shared at least 50% of the time by the VOX community relative to other communities.

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