We are committed to the scientific research of how social media impacts politics. By developing new methods to harvest and combine social media data, the Center for Social Media and Politics will make it possible to transform the study of political attitudes and behavior.

Social media has changed the way politics are practiced and researched, introducing a number of technical obstacles as well as spectacular scientific opportunities. The Center for Social Media and Politics houses the SMaPP Lab, which was founded in 2012. The SMaPP Lab, which acts as the core research engine of the Center, supports research in three core areas: (i) the relationship between social media and politics, (ii) innovative ways to use social media data to study politics, and (iii) developing open-source tools that facilitate the use of social media data for the study of politics.

Substantively, our core mission is to study how social media use affects politics.  To do so, we examine what information people consume on social media, and how it influences both their attitudes and behavior. This includes traditional political behavior such as voting, as well as `unconventional’ political behavior such as engaging in protests or demonstrations.  We are also committed to understanding fundamental questions about social media and democracy. This includes understanding not just mass behavior, but elite behavior and the intersection of elite behavior and mass behavior as facilitated by social media. Does social media make it easier for mass opinion to be observed by elites? And does it change the set of people who are able to effectively participate in politics?  Further, we remain very interested in questions that distinguish the effects of social media on politics in democratic and non-democratic societies. In particular, we seek to understand how authoritarian regimes respond to online opposition, and how the tools they have developed in doing so (e.g., bots and trolls) are reverberating in democratic politics.

Methodologically, we are motivated by the fact that the emergence of social media and derived digital trace data has the potential to fundamentally reshape the toolbox of not just political science, but social science as a whole. We have been interested in how we can use social media data to estimate politically important quantities of interest (such as ideology or public opinion) at scale, how we can design research that allows as to measure newly emerging features of the digital era (e.g., the sharing of fake news or incivility online), and how to measure — and estimate the effect on political behavior — of massive online networks.  We have also sought out ways to use social media to measure previously unobservable variables that are of theoretical importance to models of politics, such as network centrality (and other network based metrics for quantifying a user’s potential influence) or the extent to which political speech by elites is increasing or decreasing its focus on a small number of central issues (e.g., how external factors influence the entropy of elite topic distributions).

CSMaP was founded in 2019 as part of the Knight Foundation’s program to support research on information in the digital age; both the Center and Lab are co-directed by Professors Richard Bonneau, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker (for a full list of personnel see our People Page).


Funding Statement:

The Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab was founded in 2012 by an NSF INSPIRE Grant Award (SES-1248077), to support scientific research that lies outside of disciplinary boundaries with the promise of transformational advances. Since its inception, the SMaPP Lab has been supported by a broad range of funders, including private foundations, New York University’s Global Institute for Advanced Studies, and a second NSF grant (SES-1756657). This generous support has enabled SMaPP to bring together a diverse group of scholars dedicated to studying the relationship between social media and politics. 

In July of 2019, the Center for Social Media and Politics was formed through the Knight Foundation’s program for Research on the Future of an Informed Society. The Knight Foundation’s gift was matched by The Charles Koch Foundation, and CSMaP has been further supported by Craig Newmark Philanthropies and The Siegel Family Endowment. 

Our funders provide general operating support and/or project specific support. For general operating support, there are no promised products or deliverables. For project specific funding, we agree to produce research  (e.g. papers or data reports) on topics agreed upon during the application process. However, there are no promised results, lab scholars carry out the research on the basis of the best scientific practices, and no funder is ever given the right to block publication of research. We welcome the support of funders committed to these principles and our core mission of research on social media and politics, the use of social media data to better understand politics, and the development of tools to facilitate that research.  

Philanthropy is vital to our work. Gifts and grants fund everything we do, from undertaking ambitious research to building out a talented team of researchers.  We are extremely grateful for all the support we have received. Detailed below is a list of grants and gifts, in alphabetical order, with a brief explanation of their purpose: 

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: grant to support a Moore-Sloan postdoctoral fellow.

Charles Koch Foundation: grant for general operating support.

Craig Newmark Philanthropies: gift for general operating support, as well as a gift to study news rating approaches to combating misinformation.

Democracy Fund: grant to support data collection and analysis infrastructure around the 2018 U.S. elections.

Gates Foundation: grant to study 1) the information ecosystem of political conversations on Twitter, and 2) whether elected representatives lead or follow the public in discussion of public policy issues on Twitter.

Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation: grant to support a Moore-Sloan postdoctoral fellow.

Hewlett Foundation: grant to study 1) echo chambers, 2) political knowledge, 3) Twitter bots, and 4) fake news dissemination.

Intel Corporation: gift to support one Center for Data Science doctoral student.

Knight Foundation: grant for general operating support; previous grant to study echo chambers, political knowledge, and the relationship between traditional media and social media. 

National Science Foundation (SES-1756657): grant to study the role of both domestic and foreign bots in political conversations on Twitter.

NYU’s Global Institute for Advanced Study: grant for general operating support. 

Rita Allen Foundation: grant to support a postdoctoral fellow.  

Siegel Family Endowment: gift for general operating support.