Academic Research

As an academic research institute dedicated to studying how social media impacts politics, policy, and democracy, CSMaP publishes peer-reviewed research in top academic journals and produces rigorous data reports on policy relevant topics.

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  • Journal Article

    What’s Not to Like? Facebook Page Likes Reveal Limited Polarization in Lifestyle Preferences

    Political Communication, 2021

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    Increasing levels of political animosity in the United States invite speculation about whether polarization extends to aspects of daily life. However, empirical study about the relationship between political ideologies and lifestyle choices is limited by a lack of comprehensive data. In this research, we combine survey and Facebook Page “likes” data from more than 1,200 respondents to investigate the extent of polarization in lifestyle domains. Our results indicate that polarization is present in page categories that are somewhat related to politics – such as opinion leaders, partisan news sources, and topics related to identity and religion – but, perhaps surprisingly, it is mostly not evident in other domains, including sports, food, and music. On the individual level, we find that people who are higher in political news interest and have stronger ideological predispositions have a greater tendency to “like” ideologically homogeneous pages across categories. Our evidence, drawn from rare digital trace data covering more than 5,000 pages, adds nuance to the narrative of widespread polarization across lifestyle sectors and it suggests domains in which cross-cutting preferences are still observed in American life.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Nov 25, 2021

  • Journal Article

    Testing the Effects of Facebook Usage in an Ethnically Polarized Setting

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021

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    Despite the belief that social media is altering intergroup dynamics—bringing people closer or further alienating them from one another—the impact of social media on interethnic attitudes has yet to be rigorously evaluated, especially within areas with tenuous interethnic relations. We report results from a randomized controlled trial in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), exploring the effects of exposure to social media during 1 wk around genocide remembrance in July 2019 on a set of interethnic attitudes of Facebook users. We find evidence that, counter to preregistered expectations, people who deactivated their Facebook profiles report lower regard for ethnic outgroups than those who remained active. Moreover, we present additional evidence suggesting that this effect is likely conditional on the level of ethnic heterogeneity of respondents’ residence. We also extend the analysis to include measures of subjective well-being and knowledge of news. Here, we find that Facebook deactivation leads to suggestive improvements in subjective wellbeing and a decrease in knowledge of current events, replicating results from recent research in the United States in a very different context, thus increasing our confidence in the generalizability of these effects.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Jun 22, 2021

  • Journal Article

    Tweeting Beyond Tahrir: Ideological Diversity and Political Intolerance in Egyptian Twitter Networks

    World Politics, 2021

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    Do online social networks affect political tolerance in the highly polarized climate of postcoup Egypt? Taking advantage of the real-time networked structure of Twitter data, the authors find that not only is greater network diversity associated with lower levels of intolerance, but also that longer exposure to a diverse network is linked to less expression of intolerance over time. The authors find that this relationship persists in both elite and non-elite diverse networks. Exploring the mechanisms by which network diversity might affect tolerance, the authors offer suggestive evidence that social norms in online networks may shape individuals’ propensity to publicly express intolerant attitudes. The findings contribute to the political tolerance literature and enrich the ongoing debate over the relationship between online echo chambers and political attitudes and behavior by providing new insights from a repressive authoritarian context.

  • Working Paper

    News Sharing on Social Media: Mapping the Ideology of News Media Content, Citizens, and Politicians

    Working Paper, November 2020

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    This article examines the news sharing behavior of politicians and ordinary users by mapping the ideological sharing space of political information on social media. As data, we use the near-universal currency of online political information exchange: URLs (i.e. web links). We introduce a methodological approach (and statistical software) that unifies the measurement of political ideology online, using social media sharing data to jointly estimate the ideology of: (1) politicians; (2) social media users, and (3) the news sources that they share online. Second, we validate the measure by comparing it to well-known measures of roll call voting behavior for members of congress. Third, we show empirically that legislators who represent less competitive districts are more likely to share politically polarizing news than legislators with similar voting records in more competitive districts. Finally, we demonstrate that it is nevertheless not politicians, but ordinary users who share the most ideologically extreme content and contribute most to the polarized online news-sharing ecosystem. Our approach opens up many avenues for research into the communication strategies of elites, citizens, and other actors who seek to influence political behavior and sway public opinion by sharing political information online.

  • Journal Article

    Political Sectarianism in America

    • Eli J. Finkel, 
    • Christopher A. Bail, 
    • Mina Cikara, 
    • Peter H. Ditto, 
    • Shanto Iyengar, 
    • Samara Klar, 
    • Lilliana Mason, 
    • Mary C. McGrath, 
    • Brendan Nyhan, 
    • David G. Rand, 
    • Linda J. Skitka, 
    • Joshua A. Tucker
    • Jay J. Van Bavel
    • Cynthia S. Wang, 
    • James N. Druckman

    Science, 2020

    View Article View abstract

    Political polarization, a concern in many countries, is especially acrimonious in the United States. For decades, scholars have studied polarization as an ideological matter — how strongly Democrats and Republicans diverge vis-à-vis political ideals and policy goals. Such competition among groups in the marketplace of ideas is a hallmark of a healthy democracy. But more recently, researchers have identified a second type of polarization, one focusing less on triumphs of ideas than on dominating the abhorrent supporters of the opposing party. This literature has produced a proliferation of insights and constructs but few interdisciplinary efforts to integrate them. We offer such an integration, pinpointing the superordinate construct of political sectarianism and identifying its three core ingredients: othering, aversion, and moralization. We then consider the causes of political sectarianism and its consequences for U.S. society — especially the threat it poses to democracy. Finally, we propose interventions for minimizing its most corrosive aspects.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Oct 30, 2020

  • Book
  • Journal Article

    Political Psycholinguistics: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Language Habits of Liberal and Conservative Social Media Users.

    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2020

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    For nearly a century social scientists have sought to understand left–right ideological differences in values, motives, and thinking styles. Much progress has been made, but — as in other areas of research — this work has been criticized for relying on small and statistically unrepresentative samples and the use of reactive, self-report measures that lack ecological validity. In an effort to overcome these limitations, we employed automated text analytic methods to investigate the spontaneous, naturally occurring use of language in nearly 25,000 Twitter users. We derived 27 hypotheses from the literature on political psychology and tested them using 32 individual dictionaries. In 23 cases, we observed significant differences in the linguistic styles of liberals and conservatives. For instance, liberals used more language that conveyed benevolence, whereas conservatives used more language pertaining to threat, power, tradition, resistance to change, certainty, security, anger, anxiety, and negative emotion in general. In 17 cases, there were also significant effects of ideological extremity. For instance, moderates used more benevolent language, whereas extremists used more language pertaining to inhibition, tentativeness, affiliation, resistance to change, certainty, security, anger, anxiety, negative affect, swear words, and death-related language. These research methods, which are easily adaptable, open up new and unprecedented opportunities for conducting unobtrusive research in psycholinguistics and political psychology with large and diverse samples.

    Date Posted

    Jan 09, 2020

  • Working Paper

    Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation: A Review of the Scientific Literature

    Hewlett Foundation, 2018

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    The following report is intended to provide an overview of the current state of the literature on the relationship between social media; political polarization; and political “disinformation,” a term used to encompass a wide range of types of information about politics found online, including “fake news,” rumors, deliberately factually incorrect information, inadvertently factually incorrect information, politically slanted information, and “hyperpartisan” news. The review of the literature is provided in six separate sections, each of which can be read individually but that cumulatively are intended to provide an overview of what is known—and unknown—about the relationship between social media, political polarization, and disinformation. The report concludes by identifying key gaps in our understanding of these phenomena and the data that are needed to address them.

    Date Posted

    Mar 19, 2018

  • Data Report
  • Journal Article

    Moral Discourse in the Twitterverse: Effects of Ideology and Political Sophistication on Language Use Among U.S. Citizens and Members of Congress

    Journal of Language and Politics, 2018

    View Article View abstract

    We analyzed Twitter language to explore hypotheses derived from moral foundations theory, which suggests that liberals and conservatives prioritize different values. In Study 1, we captured 11 million tweets from nearly 25,000 U.S. residents and observed that liberals expressed fairness concerns more often than conservatives, whereas conservatives were more likely to express concerns about group loyalty, authority, and purity. Increasing political sophistication exacerbated ideological differences in authority and group loyalty. At low levels of sophistication, liberals used more harm language, but at high levels of sophistication conservatives referenced harm more often. In Study 2, we analyzed 59,000 tweets from 388 members of the U.S. Congress. Liberal legislators used more fairness- and harm-related words, whereas conservative legislators used more authority-related words. Unexpectedly, liberal legislators used more language pertaining to group loyalty and purity. Follow-up analyses suggest that liberals and conservatives in Congress use similar words to emphasize different policy priorities.

  • Data Report

    Brexit Data Report

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2016

    View Report

    Date Posted

    Jul 14, 2016

  • Journal Article

    Tweeting Identity? Ukrainian, Russian and #EuroMaidan

    Journal of Comparative Economics, 2016

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    Why and when do group identities become salient? Existing scholarship has suggested that insecurity and competition over political and economic resources as well as increased perceptions of threat from the out-group tend to increase the salience of ethnic identities. Most of the work on ethnicity, however, is either experimental and deals with how people respond once identity has already been primed, is based on self-reported measures of identity, or driven by election results. In contrast, here we examine events in Ukraine from late 2013 (the beginning of the Euromaidan protests) through the end of 2014 to see if particular moments of heightened political tension led to increased identification as either “Russian” or “Ukrainian” among Ukrainian citizens. In tackling this question, we use a novel methodological approach by testing the hypothesis that those who prefer to use Ukrainian to communicate on Twitter will use Ukrainian (at the expense of Russian) following moments of heightened political awareness and those who prefer to use Russian will do the opposite. Interestingly, our primary finding is a negative result: we do not find evidence that key political events in the Ukrainian crisis led to a reversion to the language of choice at the aggregate level, which is interesting given how much ink has been spilt on the question of the extent to which Euromaidan reflected an underlying Ukrainian vs. Russian conflict. However, we unexpectedly find that both those who prefer Russian and those who prefer Ukrainian begin using Russian with a greater frequency following the annexation of Crimea, thus contributing a whole new set of puzzles – and a method for exploring these puzzles – that can serve as a basis for future research.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Dec 21, 2015

    Tags

  • Journal Article

    Birds of the Same Feather Tweet Together: Bayesian Ideal Point Estimation Using Twitter Data

    Political Analysis, 2015

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    Politicians and citizens increasingly engage in political conversations on social media outlets such as Twitter. In this article, I show that the structure of the social networks in which they are embedded can be a source of information about their ideological positions. Under the assumption that social networks are homophilic, I develop a Bayesian Spatial Following model that considers ideology as a latent variable, whose value can be inferred by examining which politics actors each user is following. This method allows us to estimate ideology for more actors than any existing alternative, at any point in time and across many polities. I apply this method to estimate ideal points for a large sample of both elite and mass public Twitter users in the United States and five European countries. The estimated positions of legislators and political parties replicate conventional measures of ideology. The method is also able to successfully classify individuals who state their political preferences publicly and a sample of users matched with their party registration records. To illustrate the potential contribution of these estimates, I examine the extent to which online behavior during the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign is clustered along ideological lines.

  • Journal Article

    Tweeting From Left to Right: Is Online Political Communication More Than an Echo Chamber?

    Psychological Science, 2015

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    We estimated ideological preferences of 3.8 million Twitter users and, using a data set of nearly 150 million tweets concerning 12 political and nonpolitical issues, explored whether online communication resembles an “echo chamber” (as a result of selective exposure and ideological segregation) or a “national conversation.” We observed that information was exchanged primarily among individuals with similar ideological preferences in the case of political issues (e.g., 2012 presidential election, 2013 government shutdown) but not many other current events (e.g., 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, 2014 Super Bowl). Discussion of the Newtown shootings in 2012 reflected a dynamic process, beginning as a national conversation before transforming into a polarized exchange. With respect to both political and nonpolitical issues, liberals were more likely than conservatives to engage in cross-ideological dissemination; this is an important asymmetry with respect to the structure of communication that is consistent with psychological theory and research bearing on ideological differences in epistemic, existential, and relational motivation. Overall, we conclude that previous work may have overestimated the degree of ideological segregation in social-media usage.

    Date Posted

    Aug 21, 2015