How the junior doctors' strike played out on Twitter

Twitter was a key battleground in the protracted contract dispute between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, which came to a conclusion on 18 May.

Medics picket in Bristol (Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Medics picket in Bristol (Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Social media analysis from Blue Rubicon shows that there were more than half a million tweets on the subject during the past six months.

Despite the papers shunning the dispute and interest in the subject on Twitter dropping from January onwards before rebounding by April, support for junior doctors remained positive throughout. This was despite their eventual decision to pursue all-out industrial action for the first time in the history of the NHS.

Positive sentiment for junior doctors on Twitter peaked at 88 per cent during April, following high-profile support from names such as comedian Frankie Boyle and video editing duo Cassetteboy, Blue Rubicon suggested.

To keep the conversation on track, the majority of those expressing their opinion on Twitter used the hashtag #juniordoctorsstrike (470,000). #NHS (44,000) and #junior doctors (41,000) also proved popular. 

Unsurprisingly, @Jeremy_Hunt was the most discussed individual, generating more than 28,000 mentions, the majority of which were negative:

What was behind the strength of Twitter support? 

Authenticity was key to securing support, according to Mark Wainwright, senior consultant at Blue Rubicon. He outlined three factors that drove support for junior doctors on Twitter:

  • Dedication to the cause. The nine most prolific authors during the period were all individuals, and they tweeted an average of 1,350 each, Wainwright said.
  • High profile support. "The quantity and quality of the influencers who got behind the strike action cannot be underestimated. Compare anti-strike support from Katie Hopkins (48 retweets) vs pro-junior doctor support from Cassetteboy (2,659 retweets)," he said.
  • Momentum. Wainwright said: "Strike supporters harnessed the support they received and used it to their advantage; reacting swiftly to topics like Moet Medics, live tweeting during Question Time and generally maximising their opportunities to keep the conversation going. It’s been a well-organised campaign and shows the power social media has to amplify what is happening in mainstream media."

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