Academic Research

CSMaP is a leading academic research institute studying the ever-shifting online environment at scale. We publish peer-reviewed research in top academic journals and produce rigorous data reports on policy relevant topics.

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  • Journal Article

    Political Psychology in the Digital (mis)Information age: A Model of News Belief and Sharing

    Social Issues and Policy Review, 2021

    View Article View abstract

    The spread of misinformation, including “fake news,” propaganda, and conspiracy theories, represents a serious threat to society, as it has the potential to alter beliefs, behavior, and policy. Research is beginning to disentangle how and why misinformation is spread and identify processes that contribute to this social problem. We propose an integrative model to understand the social, political, and cognitive psychology risk factors that underlie the spread of misinformation and highlight strategies that might be effective in mitigating this problem. However, the spread of misinformation is a rapidly growing and evolving problem; thus scholars need to identify and test novel solutions, and work with policymakers to evaluate and deploy these solutions. Hence, we provide a roadmap for future research to identify where scholars should invest their energy in order to have the greatest overall impact.

    Date Posted

    Jan 22, 2021

  • Journal Article

    You Won’t Believe Our Results! But They Might: Heterogeneity in Beliefs About the Accuracy of Online Media

    Journal of Experimental Political Science, 2021

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    “Clickbait” media has long been espoused as an unfortunate consequence of the rise of digital journalism. But little is known about why readers choose to read clickbait stories. Is it merely curiosity, or might voters think such stories are more likely to provide useful information? We conduct a survey experiment in Italy, where a major political party enthusiastically embraced the esthetics of new media and encouraged their supporters to distrust legacy outlets in favor of online news. We offer respondents a monetary incentive for correct answers to manipulate the relative salience of the motivation for accurate information. This incentive increases differences in the preference for clickbait; older and less educated subjects become even more likely to opt to read a story with a clickbait headline when the incentive to produce a factually correct answer is higher. Our model suggests that a politically relevant subset of the population prefers Clickbait Media because they trust it more.

    Date Posted

    Jan 20, 2021

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  • Journal Article

    Trumping Hate on Twitter? Online Hate Speech in the 2016 U.S. Election Campaign and its Aftermath.

    Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2021

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    To what extent did online hate speech and white nationalist rhetoric on Twitter increase over the course of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign and its immediate aftermath? The prevailing narrative suggests that Trump's political rise — and his unexpected victory — lent legitimacy to and popularized bigoted rhetoric that was once relegated to the dark corners of the Internet. However, our analysis of over 750 million tweets related to the election, in addition to almost 400 million tweets from a random sample of American Twitter users, provides systematic evidence that hate speech did not increase on Twitter over this period. Using both machine-learning-augmented dictionary-based methods and a novel classification approach leveraging data from Reddit communities associated with the alt-right movement, we observe no persistent increase in hate speech or white nationalist language either over the course of the campaign or in the six months following Trump's election. While key campaign events and policy announcements produced brief spikes in hateful language, these bursts quickly dissipated. Overall we find no empirical support for the proposition that Trump's divisive campaign or election increased hate speech on Twitter.

    Date Posted

    Jan 11, 2021

  • Data Report
  • Journal Article

    Political Knowledge and Misinformation in the Era of Social Media: Evidence From the 2015 UK Election

    British Journal of Political Science, 2022

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    Does social media educate voters, or mislead them? This study measures changes in political knowledge among a panel of voters surveyed during the 2015 UK general election campaign while monitoring the political information to which they were exposed on the Twitter social media platform. The study's panel design permits identification of the effect of information exposure on changes in political knowledge. Twitter use led to higher levels of knowledge about politics and public affairs, as information from news media improved knowledge of politically relevant facts, and messages sent by political parties increased knowledge of party platforms. But in a troubling demonstration of campaigns' ability to manipulate knowledge, messages from the parties also shifted voters' assessments of the economy and immigration in directions favorable to the parties' platforms, leaving some voters with beliefs further from the truth at the end of the campaign than they were at its beginning.

  • Data Report

    Influential Users in the Common Core and Black Lives Matter Social Media Conversation

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2020

    View Report View abstract

    This Data Report aims to map the pathways leading to issue politicization through identifying influential users within politically contentious topics on Twitter, using the online discussion over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. We find that politically motivated popular users are the most influential users in both CCSS and BLM online conversations.

    Date Posted

    Dec 16, 2020

  • 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

  • Working Paper

    A Comparison of Methods in Political Science Text Classification: Transfer Learning Language Models for Politics

    Working Paper, October 2020

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    Automated text classification has rapidly become an important tool for political analysis. Recent advancements in NLP enabled by advances in deep learning now achieve state of the art results in many standard tasks for the field. However, these methods require large amounts of both computing power and text data to learn the characteristics of the language, resources which are not always accessible to political scientists. One solution is a transfer learning approach, where knowledge learned in one area or source task is transferred to another area or a target task. A class of models that embody this approach are language models, which demonstrate extremely high levels of performance. We investigate the performance of these models in the political science by comparing multiple text classification methods. We find RoBERTa and XLNet, language models that rely on theTransformer, require fewer computing resources and less training data to perform on par with – or outperform – several political science text classification methods. Moreover, we find that the increase in accuracy is especially significant in the case of small labeled data, highlighting the potential for reducing the data-labeling cost of supervised methods for political scientists via the use of pretrained language models.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Oct 20, 2020

  • Working Paper

    Opinion Change and Learning in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Evidence from a Panel Survey Combined with Direct Observation of Social Media Activity

    Working Paper, September 2020

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    The role of the media in influencing people’s attitudes and opinions is difficult to demonstrate because media consumption by survey respondents is usually unobserved in datasets containing information on attitudes and vote choice. This paper leverages behavioral data combined with responses from a multi-wave panel to test whether Democrats who see more stories from liberal news sources on Twitter develop more liberal positions over time and, conversely, whether Republicans are more likely to revise their views in a conservative direction if they are exposed to more news on Twitter from conservative media sources. We find evidence that exposure to ideologically framed information and arguments changes voters’ own positions, but has a limited impact on perceptions of where the candidates stand on the issues.

    Date Posted

    Sep 24, 2020

  • Data Report

    Online Issue Politicization: How the Common Core and Black Lives Matter Discussions Evolved on Social Media

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2020

    View Report View abstract

    Social media present an increasingly common path to issue politicization, as the distance between policy advocates and the masses is greatly reduced. In this Data Report, we analyze the discussions on Twitter of two issues (Black Lives Matter and Common Core State Standards) as they evolved over time. We show that politicization of the issues did not take the same path, and that different types of messages and senders were influential in expanding and shaping the discussions about the respective issues. For both issues, tweets by highly followed and verified users were widely shared, and contributed to a large downstream growth in the discussion. However, the substance of tweets mattered as well, with the use of angry language strongly correlated with measures of influence, alongside the important roles played by the use of hashtags. Finally, we find evidence that in the discussion around Common Core, some topics were far more important, including broaching issues of individual freedoms and personal values.

    Date Posted

    Sep 04, 2020

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  • Journal Article

    Content-Based Features Predict Social Media Influence Operations

    Science Advances, 2020

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    We study how easy it is to distinguish influence operations from organic social media activity by assessing the performance of a platform-agnostic machine learning approach. Our method uses public activity to detect content that is part of coordinated influence operations based on human-interpretable features derived solely from content. We test this method on publicly available Twitter data on Chinese, Russian, and Venezuelan troll activity targeting the United States, as well as the Reddit dataset of Russian influence efforts. To assess how well content-based features distinguish these influence operations from random samples of general and political American users, we train and test classifiers on a monthly basis for each campaign across five prediction tasks. Content-based features perform well across period, country, platform, and prediction task. Industrialized production of influence campaign content leaves a distinctive signal in user-generated content that allows tracking of campaigns from month to month and across different accounts.

    Date Posted

    Jul 22, 2020

  • Journal Article

    Cross-Platform State Propaganda: Russian Trolls on Twitter and YouTube During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

    The International Journal of Press/Politics, 2020

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    This paper investigates online propaganda strategies of the Internet Research Agency (IRA)—Russian “trolls”—during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. We assess claims that the IRA sought either to (1) support Donald Trump or (2) sow discord among the U.S. public by analyzing hyperlinks contained in 108,781 IRA tweets. Our results show that although IRA accounts promoted links to both sides of the ideological spectrum, “conservative” trolls were more active than “liberal” ones. The IRA also shared content across social media platforms, particularly YouTube—the second-most linked destination among IRA tweets. Although overall news content shared by trolls leaned moderate to conservative, we find troll accounts on both sides of the ideological spectrum, and these accounts maintain their political alignment. Links to YouTube videos were decidedly conservative, however. While mixed, this evidence is consistent with the IRA’s supporting the Republican campaign, but the IRA’s strategy was multifaceted, with an ideological division of labor among accounts. We contextualize these results as consistent with a pre-propaganda strategy. This work demonstrates the need to view political communication in the context of the broader media ecology, as governments exploit the interconnected information ecosystem to pursue covert propaganda strategies.

    Date Posted

    Jul 01, 2020

  • Journal Article

    Automated Text Classification of News Articles: A Practical Guide

    Political Analysis, 2021

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    Automated text analysis methods have made possible the classification of large corpora of text by measures such as topic and tone. Here, we provide a guide to help researchers navigate the consequential decisions they need to make before any measure can be produced from the text. We consider, both theoretically and empirically, the effects of such choices using as a running example efforts to measure the tone of New York Times coverage of the economy. We show that two reasonable approaches to corpus selection yield radically different corpora and we advocate for the use of keyword searches rather than predefined subject categories provided by news archives. We demonstrate the benefits of coding using article segments instead of sentences as units of analysis. We show that, given a fixed number of codings, it is better to increase the number of unique documents coded rather than the number of coders for each document. Finally, we find that supervised machine learning algorithms outperform dictionaries on a number of criteria. Overall, we intend this guide to serve as a reminder to analysts that thoughtfulness and human validation are key to text-as-data methods, particularly in an age when it is all too easy to computationally classify texts without attending to the methodological choices therein.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Jun 09, 2020

  • Journal Article

    The (Null) Effects of Clickbait Headlines on Polarization, Trust, and Learning

    Public Opinion Quarterly, 2020

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    “Clickbait” headlines designed to entice people to click are frequently used by both legitimate and less-than-legitimate news sources. Contemporary clickbait headlines tend to use emotional partisan appeals, raising concerns about their impact on consumers of online news. This article reports the results of a pair of experiments with different sets of subject pools: one conducted using Facebook ads that explicitly target people with a high preference for clickbait, the other using a sample recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. We estimate subjects’ individual-level preference for clickbait, and randomly assign sets of subjects to read either clickbait or traditional headlines. Findings show that older people and non-Democrats have a higher “preference for clickbait,” but reading clickbait headlines does not drive affective polarization, information retention, or trust in media.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Apr 30, 2020

  • Journal Article

    Using Social and Behavioral Science to Support COVID-19 Pandemic Response

    • Jay J. Van Bavel
    • Katherine Baicker, 
    • Paulo S. Boggio, 
    • Valerio Capraro, 
    • Aleksandra Cichocka, 
    • Mina Cikara, 
    • Molly J. Crockett, 
    • Alia J. Crum, 
    • Karen M. Douglas, 
    • James N. Druckman, 
    • John Drury, 
    • Oeindrila Dube, 
    • Naomi Ellemers, 
    • Eli J. Finkel, 
    • James H. Fowler, 
    • Michele Gelfand, 
    • Shihui Han, 
    • S. Alexander Haslam, 
    • Jolanda Jetten, 
    • Shinobu Kitayama, 
    • Dean Mobbs, 
    • Lucy E. Napper, 
    • Dominic J. Packer, 
    • Gordon Pennycook, 
    • Ellen Peters, 
    • Richard E. Petty, 
    • David G. Rand, 
    • Stephen D. Reicher, 
    • Simone Schnall, 
    • Azim Shariff, 
    • Linda J. Skitka, 
    • Sandra Susan Smith, 
    • Cass R. Sunstein, 
    • Nassim Tabri, 
    • Joshua A. Tucker
    • Sander van der Linden, 
    • Paul van Lange, 
    • Kim A. Weeden, 
    • Michael J. A. Wohl, 
    • Jamil Zaki, 
    • Sean R. Zion, 
    • Robb Willer

    Nature Human Behavior, 2020

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    The COVID-19 pandemic represents a massive global health crisis. Because the crisis requires large-scale behaviour change and places significant psychological burdens on individuals, insights from the social and behavioural sciences can be used to help align human behaviour with the recommendations of epidemiologists and public health experts. Here we discuss evidence from a selection of research topics relevant to pandemics, including work on navigating threats, social and cultural influences on behaviour, science communication, moral decision-making, leadership, and stress and coping. In each section, we note the nature and quality of prior research, including uncertainty and unsettled issues. We identify several insights for effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight important gaps researchers should move quickly to fill in the coming weeks and months.

    Date Posted

    Apr 30, 2020

    Tags

  • Data Report
  • 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

  • Journal Article

    Don’t Republicans Tweet Too? Using Twitter to Assess the Consequences of Political Endorsements by Celebrities

    Perspectives on Politics, 2020

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    Michael Jordan supposedly justified his decision to stay out of politics by noting that Republicans buy sneakers too. In the social media era, the name of the game for celebrities is engagement with fans. So why then do celebrities risk talking about politics on social media, which is likely to antagonize a portion of their fan base? With this question in mind, we analyze approximately 220,000 tweets from 83 celebrities who chose to endorse a presidential candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign to assess whether there is a cost — defined in terms of engagement on Twitter — for celebrities who discuss presidential candidates. We also examine whether celebrities behave similarly to other campaign surrogates in being more likely to take on the “attack dog” role by going negative more often than going positive. More specifically, we document how often celebrities of distinct political preferences tweet about Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, and we show that followers of opinionated celebrities do not withhold engagement when entertainers become politically mobilized and do indeed often go negative. Interestingly, in some cases political content from celebrities actually turns out to be more popular than typical lifestyle tweets.


    Date Posted

    Sep 06, 2019

  • Journal Article

    Who Leads? Who Follows? Measuring Issue Attention and Agenda Setting by Legislators and the Mass Public Using Social Media Data

    American Political Science Review, 2019

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    Are legislators responsive to the priorities of the public? Research demonstrates a strong correspondence between the issues about which the public cares and the issues addressed by politicians, but conclusive evidence about who leads whom in setting the political agenda has yet to be uncovered. We answer this question with fine-grained temporal analyses of Twitter messages by legislators and the public during the 113th U.S. Congress. After employing an unsupervised method that classifies tweets sent by legislators and citizens into topics, we use vector autoregression models to explore whose priorities more strongly predict the relationship between citizens and politicians. We find that legislators are more likely to follow, than to lead, discussion of public issues, results that hold even after controlling for the agenda-setting effects of the media. We also find, however, that legislators are more likely to be responsive to their supporters than to the general public.

    Date Posted

    Jul 12, 2019

  • Journal Article

    Social Networks and Protest Participation: Evidence from 130 Million Twitter Users

    American Journal of Political Science, 2019

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    Pinning down the role of social ties in the decision to protest has been notoriously elusive largely due to data limitations. Social media and their global use by protesters offer an unprecedented opportunity to observe real-time social ties and online behavior, though often without an attendant measure of real-world behavior. We collect data on Twitter activity during the 2015 Charlie Hebdo protest in Paris, which, unusually, record real-world protest attendance and network structure measured beyond egocentric networks. We devise a test of social theories of protest that hold that participation depends on exposure to others' intentions and network position determines exposure. Our findings are strongly consistent with these theories, showing that protesters are significantly more connected to one another via direct, indirect, triadic, and reciprocated ties than comparable nonprotesters. These results offer the first large-scale empirical support for the claim that social network structure has consequences for protest participation.

    Date Posted

    Jul 01, 2019

    Tags

  • Journal Article

    For Whom the Bot Tolls: A Neural Networks Approach to Measuring Political Orientation of Twitter Bots in Russia

    SAGE Open, 2019

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    Computational propaganda and the use of automated accounts in social media have recently become the focus of public attention, with alleged Russian government activities abroad provoking particularly widespread interest. However, even in the Russian domestic context, where anecdotal evidence of state activity online goes back almost a decade, no public systematic attempt has been made to dissect the population of Russian social media bots by their political orientation. We address this gap by developing a deep neural network classifier that separates pro-regime, anti-regime, and neutral Russian Twitter bots. Our method relies on supervised machine learning and a new large set of labeled accounts, rather than externally obtained account affiliations or orientation of elites. We also illustrate the use of our method by applying it to bots operating in Russian political Twitter from 2015 to 2017 and show that both pro- and anti-Kremlin bots had a substantial presence on Twitter.

    Date Posted

    Apr 12, 2019

    Tags

  • Journal Article

    How Many People Live in Political Bubbles on Social Media? Evidence From Linked Survey and Twitter Data

    SAGE Open, 2019

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    A major point of debate in the study of the Internet and politics is the extent to which social media platforms encourage citizens to inhabit online “bubbles” or “echo chambers,” exposed primarily to ideologically congenial political information. To investigate this question, we link a representative survey of Americans with data from respondents’ public Twitter accounts (N = 1,496). We then quantify the ideological distributions of users’ online political and media environments by merging validated estimates of user ideology with the full set of accounts followed by our survey respondents (N = 642,345) and the available tweets posted by those accounts (N ~ 1.2 billion). We study the extent to which liberals and conservatives encounter counter-attitudinal messages in two distinct ways: (a) by the accounts they follow and (b) by the tweets they receive from those accounts, either directly or indirectly (via retweets). More than a third of respondents do not follow any media sources, but among those who do, we find a substantial amount of overlap (51%) in the ideological distributions of accounts followed by users on opposite ends of the political spectrum. At the same time, however, we find asymmetries in individuals’ willingness to venture into cross-cutting spaces, with conservatives more likely to follow media and political accounts classified as left-leaning than the reverse. Finally, we argue that such choices are likely tempered by online news watching behavior.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Feb 28, 2019

  • Journal Article

    Digital Dissent: An Analysis of the Motivational Contents of Tweets From an Occupy Wall Street Demonstration

    Motivation Science, 2019

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    Social scientific models of protest activity emphasize instrumental motives associated with rational self-interest and beliefs about group efficacy and symbolic motives associated with social identification and anger at perceived injustice. Ideological processes are typically neglected, despite the fact that protest movements occur in a sociopolitical context in which some people are motivated to maintain the status quo, whereas others are motivated to challenge it. To investigate the role of ideology and other social psychological processes in protest participation, we used manual and machine-learning methods to analyze the contents of 23,810 tweets sent on the day of the May Day 2012 Occupy Wall Street demonstration along with an additional 664,937 tweets (sent by 8,244 unique users) during the 2-week lead-up to the demonstration. Results revealed that social identification and liberal ideology were significant independent predictors of protest participation. The effect of social identification was mediated by the expression of collective efficacy, justice concerns, ideological themes, and positive emotion. The effect of liberalism was mediated by the expression of ideological themes, but conservatives were more likely to express ideological backlash against Occupy Wall Street than liberals were to express ideological support for the movement or demonstration. The expression of self-interest and anger was either negatively related or unrelated to protest participation. This work illustrates the promise (and challenge) of using automated methods to analyze new, ecologically valid data sources for studying protest activity and its motivational underpinnings — thereby informing strategic campaigns that employ collective action tactics. 

    Date Posted

    Feb 27, 2019