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Mhairi Black: more popular than the Alex Salmond?


I’m an avid Twitter user and routinely browse through the “SNP” hashtag to keep up with the latest news of how wonderful the Scottish National Party (SNP) are and how bad everyone else is.

One particular tweet caught my eye. Dated 15 July, it was from Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland, Easter Ross) who claimed that the YouTube video of the maiden speech (discussed here by a critic) from Britain’s youngest MP, Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South), had achieved an astonishing 6,500,000 views on YouTube.

I was immediately skeptical. The SNP are not renowned for accuracy with numbers, their oil price predictions during Scotland’s referendum were later found to be particularly optimistic, clearly intended to swing voters to the independence cause. But Dr Monaghan’s tweets are often jingoistic and petulant, designed purely to whip up emotion among SNP followers rather than convey meaningful facts regarding his work as an MP. He also happily endorses @clairerobs1 – who anyone discussing contemporary Scottish politics on Twitter will know as a particularly toxic ‘cybernat’ – and the role she plays “spectacularly well”. ‘She’ (if this is her real identify) also was a main online tormentor of the late Charles Kennedy who Dr Monaghan also suggested helped protect child sex abusers from prosecution.

So there was a greater need to cross check the claims of this particular MP.

A quick look at YouTube revealed that a number of different versions of the Mhairi Black speech had been upload but the highest viewed was on the Channel 4 channel with under 200,000 views.

Dr Monaghan’s figures were challenged and he failed to provide a valid reason for the discrepancy but claimed that YouTube’s viewing data is “updated at the weekend” which is not true. YouTube view metrics are updated daily.

Later in the week Alex Salmond claimed on Andrew Neil’s BBC political chat programme This Week, that the viewing figures had reached 10 million which was later questioned by Mr Neil.

The YouTube claims were clearly nonsense but it subsequently emerged that the viewing data on the Buzzfeed and Channel 4’s Facebook pages had indeed entered into the millions, while views on YouTube remain in the hundred thousands.

So why is Facebook view data hugely greater than those on YouTube? Could it be true that Mhairi Black has suddenly become more popular that the Beatles?

The Huffington Post performed an experiment into the effectiveness on Facebook video: “Facebook’s Incredible Video View Stats”.

What the Huffington Post found was that even the most innocuous and dull videos can achieve huge viewing statistics, way out of proportion to their relevance or quality of content. For example, a post containing a 2 minute video entitled “Swimming Pools of Doom” achieved “Nearly six million views and a shares total that dwarfs how many people follow the page. The total amount of people who have seen this post recently passed 17,000,000 and continues to rise despite going up nearly three weeks ago.”

Facebook calculate their view metric as follows (from Facebook’s own help pages): ‘We’ll show both the total number of video views and the number of people who watched your video. A “video view” is defined as a view of three seconds or more and will appear for all videos, including those that come to life as people scroll through News Feed’.

This means a “view” is recorded if the video appears on your screen irrespective of whether you have actually watched the video.

Video “view” statistics on YouTube are subject to a more strict validation regime, once reaching 300 to “assure quality view count”. So the YouTube view metric is more likely to be representative of the number of people that have actually watched the video.

Of course, the SNP leadership and supporters are cock-a-hoop at the prospect of one of their MP’s “going viral”. And the BBC has picked up on it. But sadly for them “going viral” on Facebook is now an everyday occurrence and reflects a Facebook phenomenon rather than anything to do with the brilliance of Mhairi Black.