See a recent blog post about our research on Political Polarization on Social Media published on the Policy and Internet Blog.
See a recent blog post about our research on Political Polarization on Social Media published on the Policy and Internet Blog.
Join us on Friday, February 27, at 2:15 for the guest talk by Elizabeth Dubois (University of Oxford’s Internet Institute) on political opinion leaders on social media. The talk is hosted by the Social Media Lab at Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University. See details below.
Title: Strategic opinion leaders: A “just-in-time” approach to a politically informed citizenry
by Elizabeth Dubois (University of Oxford’s Internet Institute)
Date: Friday, February 27, at 2:15-3:30 (EDT)
- Ryerson University, Ted Rogers School of Management
- 55 Dundas St. West, Toronto, ON Canada,
- Room TRS 1-010 (7th floor, across the elevators),
Abstract: In a hybrid media system characterized by the blurring of boundaries across political players and increased tools for accessing and sharing information, digitally enabled opinion leaders play a crucial political role. These opinion leaders are among the most politically tuned in citizens, deliver political information to the general public and are seen as vessels of public opinion. This study makes use of a sequential mixed-methods approach (social network analysis, online survey, trace interviews) in order to assess the patterns and motivations driving channel choice among digitally enabled opinion leaders. When equipped with a wide selection of digital tools to aid them in their information sourcing and sharing practices opinion leaders take up a strategic approach to communication. This strategic approach means that the minority of citizens who are highly politically aware limit their political communications to non-aware audiences to times of heightened political tension. This work brings into question both theories of social influence as well as the ways in which the citizenry becomes politically informed on a day to day basis.
Elizabeth Dubois is a doctoral candidate in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute. Her work investigates everyday political chat, political influencers, and social media. She is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow and Clarendon Scholar currently visiting the Ryerson School of Professional Communications and the University of Toronto’s iSchool. Elizabeth has worked in politics, government and with various NGOs.
by Anatoliy Gruzd, Ryerson University and Jeffrey Roy, Dalhousie University
This article investigates political polarization in social media by undertaking social network analysis of a sample of 5,918 tweets posted by 1,492 Twitter users during the 2011 Canadian Federal Election. On the one hand, we observed a clustering effect around shared political views among supporters of the same party in the Twitter communication network, suggesting that there are pockets of political polarization on Twitter. At the same time, there was evidence of cross-ideological connections and exchanges, which may facilitate open, cross-party, and cross-ideological discourse, and ignite wider debate and learning as they are observed by nonaffiliated voters and the media at large. However, what appeared to be far less likely was any increased willingness or tendency for committed partisans to shift their allegiances as a result of their Twitter engagements, and we postulate that Twitter usage at present is likely to further embed partisan loyalties during electoral periods rather than loosen them; a dynamic that would seemingly contribute to political polarization.
Gruzd, A. and Roy, J. (2014), Investigating Political Polarization on Twitter: A Canadian Perspective. Policy & Internet, 6: 28–45. doi: 10.1002/1944-2866.POI354
Where in the world is…
It has taken an entire election campaign, but it looks like NS journalists are finally joining the online discussion about the Nova Scotia election and are beginning to actively interact with Twitter users.
In our first blog post and in a Sun TV Battleground interview we noted the absence of journalists and the main stream media among the most active Twitter users on #NSpoli. In other provincial political discussions on Twitter such as #BCpoli and #ONpoli, as well as within #CDNpoli, journalists and mainstream media Twitter accounts are very well represented. In the #NSpoli community prior to the election and during the first three weeks of the writ period, journalists were not highly central, they were not talked to or about much on #NSpoli. But closer to the election day, the story has changed.
The graph below represents the #NSpoli network from mid-July to the morning of October 8 – election day that consists of 5,219 Twitter accounts. Just one week ago the graph looked very different. There were distinct clusters for each of the three major political parties, a cluster in which a union representative was most central, and a relatively low representation of journalists among “central” actors.
In this more recent graph, we see a large component in the center where we find accounts like @ctvatlantic and @chronicleherald. While both accounts were mentioned sporadically over the course of the election, neither had been particularly central, certainly not compared to the party leaders. To be sure, the number of tweets mentioning parties and leaders still outweighs that of any mainstream media account, but a change is undeniable. These accounts, and others linked to specific journalists and outlets are now a more integral part of that core group.
Interestingly, there is one grouping that has become more dense and distinct in the #NSPoli discussion. The graph below is a cut down version of the #NSpoli network and shows only this one cluster.
The cluster near the bottom is, roughly, made up of national media and federal politicians which links to the larger main component. @Sunnewsnetwork and @davidakin are the most central accounts in this group.
National media, or at least those who have engaged with the Nova Scotia election have now formed their own cluster, something that only came about in a big way over the final few days of campaigning. Why these national actors have joined the discussion on a decidedly regional discussion is interesting and will require more analysis.
Leaders and Their Followers
Over the course of the campaign dense clusters of users formed around each of the three main political parties and their leaders. A cluster around union organizers also formed. There were small groupings of accounts from elsewhere – a small pocket of Newfoundlanders, a grouping of #CDNpoli enthusiasts, federal politicians, etc.
Today, the NDP and Liberal groups have merged into one big central mass, in fact @premierdexter, @stephenmcneil, @nsndp, and @nsliberal are all occupying nearly the exact same space on the graph. For those keeping track, @nsndp is still the most central in this community.
The @nspc and @jamieballie accounts are still found in their own cluster, but even that is being drawn into the center mass and is relatively less isolated in the #NSPoli communication network.
The graph below shows the main cluster which “houses” the NDP and Liberal accounts (yellow and green) and the cluster off to the bottom right (turquoise) in which we find the PC accounts.
What does all of this mean?
Well, it means that in the frenzy of the final few days of campaigning, Twitter users, regardless of party or political role (i.e. journalist, candidate, volunteer, etc.) were all chatting to, and about, a wide range of others. The partisan camps have been vacated and users are pouring into the commons. We know that within that commons journalists have piped up alongside partisan supporters, candidates, parties, and interest groups. The question remains, are average citizens engaging in this political chat? We haven’t got much evidence to suggest they are (at least based on our preliminary observation of the data). And so, how to engage less politically active social media users and how to bring them into the conversation remains a challenge for campaigns.
When we think about tracking political discussion on Twitter, inevitably two questions come up. Who is talking? And what are they talking about? In our first post Who is #NSpoli?, we started to answer the “who” question. In that post we showed that the NDP and their supporters were more engaged in the #NSpoli chatter relative to other political parties and their supporters in the Twitterverse.
Since that initial analysis of the Twitter conversations on #NSpoli, a lot has happened. The writ dropped (election was officially called), new candidates, journalists, volunteers, and citizens all joined the conversation about events they are to attend and policies they support. As a result, it is no surprise that during this past week the #NSpoli hashtag hit a three month high with 2,657 tweets on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 – the day of the Leader’s Debate.
The top tweeters and most mentioned accounts have remained largely the same since the last post. (Compare the graphs shown in Who is #NSpoli? to the newer ones below.) Overall, we do see denser and more distinct communities forming or clustering around each of the three major party leaders, but at the same time we also see that there remains a fair amount of cross-partisan communication.
The network graph below shows the major clusters of accounts using #NSpoli. The light blue is home to both @nspc and @jamiebaillie. Chatter about these two accounts has increased the most compared to the accounts of the other two major parties and their leaders. @nsliberal and @stephenmcneil are found in the purple cluster at the top of the graph and @nsndp and @premierdexter are found in the pink cluster to the right. On the left in the dark blue cluster are a variety of advocacy groups, union representatives, and lobbyists. Before the election was called these groups were much less distinct. This suggests that users have started tweeting to and about others who are similar to themselves and might share common goals or interests.
Partisans Patting themselves on the back?
With this in mind we are in a good place to start to answer that second question. What are #NSpoli users talking about?
Looking at the 12 most common topics on debate day we saw that health care and Cape Breton politics were the only two issues that came up. #NSpoli users, as a group, did not focus on any of the many other issues discussed during the debate. Instead, users were very interested in discussions of who was winning and who was losing. @jamiebaillie, @premierdexter, @stephenmcneil, @nsndp, and mcneil, were all terms most commonly used.
Mentions of a leader’s account tended to be positive, which suggests one of two things (or two things happening simultaneously): 1) the #NSpoli community is actually partisans patting themselves on the back or 2) undecided voters are expressing new-found support. Our content analysis paired with the growing density of communities around each party leader noted earlier, however, suggests that we are seeing groups of decided voters becoming increasingly vocal online, rather than undecided voters making their first foray into the Nova Scotia political Twittersphere.
That said, the term “McNeil” tells a bit of a different story. Most tweets containing the term “McNeil” were critical of him, his debating style, and/or his policy. On the one hand he gained much more exposure, in terms of number of tweets, than any other leader. On the other hand, that exposure was less positive. Questions for politicians arise. Is all press good press on Twitter? How do you engage with people who don’t support you (yet)? Is engaging with citizens who are not supporters even a goal?
Changes in the Topics:
The graph below shows a timeline of the most common words (Top 100 Concept/Word chart) used in #NSpoli tweets. (Note: the more common a word, the more space it occupies in the graph.) At the halfway point, around September 11, 2013, we see a stark change in patterns of language use.The biggest game changer here is the introduction of new hashtags: #nsvotes and #nselxn13. The co-use of multiple hashtags is common on Twitter. For example, if you want to talk about federal Liberal Party Leader, Justin Trudeau’s visit to Nova Scotia you might use both #CDNpoli and #NSpoli to connect with national and provincial groups. In the case of the Nova Scotia election users have to decide which tag they want to use to indicate they are talking about the election. We see from this graph that during the first week of the campaign #NSpoli users were opting to simply tack on #NSvotes and or #NSelxn13.
#Hashtags and their Importance to Tweeters:
The appearance of these new hashtags in the #NSpoli dataset raises an interesting question, are we tracking the right tweets? How do we know we are actually getting a representative sense of what Twitter users think and say? Well, the truth is we don’t. It is one of the challenges of studying an event as it is happening. For those of you who are not familiar with Twitter lingo and convention, a hashtag is a form of user generated, community-driven metadata tag. They provide an opportunity for disparate tweeters who share a common interest to easily find each other on Twitter and share their thoughts. Because they are community driven, hashtags are not used in the exact same way over time; how they are used at any point in time is driven largely by members of the Twitter community, and they can be challenged by new tags (because there is only 140 characters to a tweet users can only add a limited number of hashtags per tweet), and many users choose not to use hashtags at all.
A Leader’s Debate is a perfect example of an instance when users might be especially motivated to use a hashtag since the event happens live and conversation might be especially difficult to follow without the hashtag. For journalists, candidates, and other political players, there is extra motivation to also use the hashtag because they know many eyes will be on that stream at that moment. Over the course of a normal day they might opt to go hashtag-less relying on their followers to re-tweet their posts in order to widely disseminate their message instead.
So, is all lost, should we pack up and head out? Not quite.
We are dealing with a limited set of users, users who have self-selected into a community (or communities). Though this means we can’t generalize widely, it also means we can gain some pretty rich insight into who those specific users are and what they care about.
More blog posts about this election will be forthcoming. Stay tuned for our regular updates and analysis of the #NSPoli Twitter community during this provincial election cycle.
Increasingly, Canadians are turning to social media to follow political events and campaigns, and to engage in discourse with one another on these topics. Political figures such as federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi have used social media to drive their campaigns forward, employing tools such as Twitter and Facebook to build grassroots support and to ignite conversations around their platforms. What effect has this had, and how might it impact the outcome of the upcoming provincial election in Nova Scotia?
Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd and his team at Dalhousie Faculty of Management’s Social Media Lab have been studying the relationship between social media, politics, and political engagement. Dr. Gruzd founded the Lab in 2010, and with the support of a $150,000 CFI Leaders Opportunity Fund grant and Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management launched a dedicated social media research facility earlier this year – the first of its kind in Canada.
Investigations led by Dr. Gruzd and other researchers at the Lab have explored a variety of topics. “Social media enable politicians to have real-time conversations with potential voters, solicit their feedback, encourage their participation, deflect claims of political opponents within seconds and build loyal communities of supporters. For average voters, social media allow them to connect and share experiences with other like-minded individuals and reinforce their sense of community and solidarity around a particular candidate or party,” according to Gruzd.
Research at the Social Media Lab and others have shown that Facebook may involve more self-censoring by individuals and indeed within their communities than a medium such as Twitter, where tweeters and their followers may have less of a personal connection and hence assume some level of anonymity. Gruzd notes, “Results of our other research also suggest that there are some pockets of political polarization on Twitter, but at the same time there is evidence that Twitter may be able to facilitate open, cross-party, and cross-ideological discourse.” Regardless of their differences, both media have been used very successfully by politicians such as Trudeau and Nenshi to create communities of like-minded individuals who will commit both their time and their money to support a shared political agenda and to move their manifestoes forward.
During the 2012 U.S. presidential election, location-based social networking website Foursquare used “check-ins” by users with GPS-enabled smartphones to create a real-time map of how many people voted and where. Sharing of ‘i-vote’ badges allowed users to encourage their friends and connections to get out and vote as well, potentially mobilizing voters or building social awareness about campaigns. In the 2008 and 2011 Canadian Federal Elections, an interesting but ethically questionable website, VoterPair, brokered vote-swapping to allow Canadians to exchange their votes with other people in another riding where their votes might have “a better chance of making a difference”. These types of activities show that social media are not only being used for conversation, news-following, and engagement, but are also being employed with an eye to actually influencing political outcomes.
Gruzd and the Social Media Lab researchers followed Nova Scotia ridings during the last Federal election; including real-time Twitter analysis of how frequently various candidates were mentioned, as well as sentiment analysis of how the tweeters felt about each of those candidates, their leaders and their parties. They also observed tweeting Canadians willingly risking hefty fines, in order to provide real-time updates to their followers across Canada.
Where will this all lead in the upcoming Nova Scotia provincial elections? No one can say for sure, but Gruzd joined by Dr. Jeffrey Roy, a professor at the Faculty of Management’s School of Public Administration, and Elizabeth Dubois, University of Oxford’s visiting doctoral student at the Social Media Lab, and other members of the Lab will be using a proprietary tool called Netlytic, being developed by Dr. Gruzd, to follow online public conversations on social media sites such as Twitter, Youtube, blogs, and online forums. They will be following the leaders and the voting public in real time, discovering which topics is popular, exploring emerging and influential themes, and mapping the social network interactions to see who is leading the conversation, where it is happening, and its effect on how Nova Scotians vote.