Grassroots or US Cyberturf? Who Tweets on EU Copyright

Editors Note: In light of the very recent article by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on efforts by cyberturfers Create.Refresh to pay YouTubers to influence debate on the EU Copyright Directive, this analysis of influencers on Twitter is extraordinarily important.  Please note, this article was reworked from earlier version, omitting location data that proved to be unreliable).

Who tweets on EU copyright?

The debate on the reform of EU copyright law has many facets and a considerable part of the discussion takes place on Twitter.
The power of hashtags

On the one hand, hashtags are used to search for key words in discussions particularly quickly and effectively. On the other hand, it is very easy to find out which topics receive special attention on Twitter by analyzing which terms are often hashed and how often and dynamically they are shared. These terms are then displayed as so-called “trending topics” on the Twitter home page. The so-called “retweeting”, i.e. the unchanged forwarding of a tweet along with hashtags to one’s own followers, is an important factor here.

The frequency of use and distribution of hashtags is therefore often seen as an indicator of the public relevance of certain topics. If, for example, the #saveyourinternet hash tag appears regularly in the trending topics, the impression is created that more and more people are rejecting the copyright reform.

The importance of influencers

Now that the final decision on the reform is about to be taken, it makes sense to take a closer look at the Twitter campaign against the EU copyright reform using aggregated data. The data is based on data from the Talkwalker service, which we have compared with alternative services such as Keyhole. Here we use only the global data without geolocation, i.e. the worldwide number of uses of certain hashtags in a certain period of time, were examined. (the geolocation data proved to be faulty).

Using data from the Hashtagify service, the largest influencers were measured in terms of range.
This makes it easy to see who gave a hash tag the most momentum.The so-called “mentions”, i.e. the mention of a hash tag in a tweet, are decisive for the spread of a hash tag. The more mentions a hashtag experiences, the more it is perceived as relevant for a topic.

The following analysis focuses on the mentions of the hashtags, which play a major role in the campaign against the EU directive from a German perspective, because they are the framing of the anti-reform movement.


#Artikel 13

#upload filter



The temporal development of mentions

Most noticeable is the increase in mentions of #saveyourinternet after Google/Youtube started its active campaign around this hashtag in autumn 2018.  The numbers doubled.

Illustration: worldwide cumulative representation of the development of the hashtag #saveyourinternet. Source: Talkwalker

The  graph illustrates very well the influence that Google has on the debate.

The timing  of the votes in the parliament created short peaks peaks in the change (or delta) in number mentions of  #saveyourinternetcampaign.  These boosts helped prolong and expand the reach of the campaign.


Illustration: Overall development of the hashtag #saveyourinternet 01.2018- 02.2019 on a weekly basis, source: Talkwalker

One can see very well in this weekly development the impact that Google had through its own Twitter channels Youtube and Youtube Creators.

The campaign with the Hashtag #saveyourinternetwas mainly determined by Google and Youtube from the end of October and was much broader in November/December than in the summer of 2018. There were, however, also peaks that could be explained by the two voting dates.

This is confirmed by the reach measured by the Hashtagify service. It is referred to there as Influence, which we refer to in the following charts and in the text as reach.

In this analysis, the top 10 influencers for different hashtags were examined, but this also means that there were of course far more influencers involved.

The top 10 influencers at Hashtag #saveyourinternettherefore had a reach of 1.5 billion

However Youtube and YoutubeCreators constitute 1,3 billion at the reach.

That corresponds to 85% of the Top 10 Influencer.

7 further of the Top 10 Influencer are Youtuber. It should be noted that Twitter accounts from Youtubers sometimes have a slightly different name than the Youtube channels. There are also Youtubers who have several Twitter accounts.

The only outlier is the Pirate Party, with a very small percentage.


The second largest reach in this study was hashtag #Artikel13.

However, it was only 9% of the range of #saveyourinternetwith 135 million reach (Top 10 Influencer number)

6 of the top 10 influencers are Youtuber. Other media also play a role here, as the shares of the Heuteshow, Extra3 and the SZ illustrate.


With a reach of 111 million for the top 10 influencers according to Hashtagify, the hashtag #Uploadfilter comes in 3rd in this review. 5 of the Top 10 are Youtuber.
Other media like Heuteshow, ZDFheute and SZ are also among the Top 10.


The Hashtag #linktaxcomes to a reach of 24 million.

So it seems to have captured less attention.
There is a somewhat different picture.
The US organizations Creative Commons and EFF apparently managed to best spread this hashtag in the debate about an EU legislation.

Picture6The Hashtag #censorshipmachinesachieved the lowest reach with 8.4 million related to the Top 10. Nevertheless it is remarkable that a US organization (Creative Commons) with almost 70% share within the top 10 dominates the debate in a European legislative process with an anti-reform hashtag.



There are two inescapable lessons:
1.  fear sells
2.  YouTube and Google can effectively use their platforms to capture the attention of their users and to directly affect perceptions on matters relevant to their operations. This capacity can be used to distort debates and create an appearance of movements, or can actually create movements based on the presentation of one-sided information that distorts what is actually a far more nuanced truth.

YouTube intentionally created panic about its future that rather predictably resulted in an outpouring of expression of concern, reflected in the data presented here. A cynical campaign that itself illustrates the dangers to society presented by monopoly/monopsony platforms.