In the aftermath of the 2016 referendum on European Union (EU) membership, Britain was divided into identity groups (or tribes) of Leavers and Remainers. In this study, we investigate how Brexit tribalism—in the form of outgroup derogation—has unfolded over time on Twitter. We analyze data from 32 months of discussions (n=9,027,822), using identity-based keywords (Brexiteer/Remainer, Brextremist/Remoaner) as proxies for tribalism. First, we characterize the nature of the discussion by comparing language use patterns between tweets containing Brexiteer/Remainer and Brextremist/Remoaner keywords. We find that Brextremist/Remoaner are more commonly used in a derogatory way. We also find that all four group identity keywords are used more frequently over time, suggesting an increase in tribal interactions. Finally, we find evidence of a relationship between real-life Brexit events and spikes in tribal responses online. These findings provide compelling insights into the extent of tribal political behavior on social media. They are significant for furthering our understanding of tribalism as a central feature of information warfare campaigns that aim to divide societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-208
Number of pages24
JournalPolicy and Internet
Issue number2
Early online date12 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021


  • Brexit
  • intergroup conflict
  • polarization
  • political tribalism
  • social media
  • Twitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Administration
  • Health Policy
  • Computer Science Applications


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