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

    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

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    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.

  • Journal Article

    The Islamic State’s Information Warfare: Measuring the Success of ISIS’s Online Strategy

    Journal of Language and Politics, 2018

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    How successful is the Islamic State’s online strategy? To what extent does the organization achieve its goals of attracting a global audience, broadcasting its military successes, and marketing the Caliphate? Using Twitter and YouTube search data, we assess how suspected ISIS accounts, sympathizers, and opponents behave across two social media platforms, offering key insights into the successes and limitations of ISIS’ information warfare strategy. Analyzing the tweet content and metadata from 16,364 suspected ISIS accounts, we find that a core network of ISIS Twitter users are producing linguistically diverse narratives, touting battlefield victories and depicting utopian life in the Caliphate. Furthermore, a dataset of over 70 million tweets, as well as analysis of YouTube search data, indicates that although pro-ISIS content spreads globally and remains on message, it is far less prolific than anti-ISIS content. However, this anti-ISIS content is not necessarily anti-extremist or aligned with Western policy goals.

    Date Posted

    Oct 18, 2017

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  • Journal Article

    From Liberation to Turmoil: Social Media and Democracy

    The Journal of Democracy, 2017

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    How can one technology—social media—simultaneously give rise to hopes for liberation in authoritarian regimes, be used for repression by these same regimes, and be harnessed by antisystem actors in democracy? We present a simple framework for reconciling these contradictory developments based on two propositions: 1) that social media give voice to those previously excluded from political discussion by traditional media, and 2) that although social media democratize access to information, the platforms themselves are neither inherently democratic nor nondemocratic, but represent a tool political actors can use for a variety of goals, including, paradoxically, illiberal goals.

    Date Posted

    Oct 07, 2017

  • Book

    Measuring Public Opinion with Social Media Data

    The Oxford Handbook of Polling and Survey Methods, 2018

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    This chapter examines the use of social networking sites such as Twitter in measuring public opinion. It first considers the opportunities and challenges that are involved in conducting public opinion surveys using social media data. Three challenges are discussed: identifying political opinion, representativeness of social media users, and aggregating from individual responses to public opinion. The chapter outlines some of the strategies for overcoming these challenges and proceeds by highlighting some of the novel uses for social media that have fewer direct analogs in traditional survey work. Finally, it suggests new directions for a research agenda in using social media for public opinion work.

    Date Posted

    Oct 01, 2017

  • Journal Article

    Emotion Shapes the Diffusion of Moralized Content in Social Networks

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017

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    Political debate concerning moralized issues is increasingly common in online social networks. However, moral psychology has yet to incorporate the study of social networks to investigate processes by which some moral ideas spread more rapidly or broadly than others. Here, we show that the expression of moral emotion is key for the spread of moral and political ideas in online social networks, a process we call “moral contagion.” Using a large sample of social media communications about three polarizing moral/political issues (n = 563,312), we observed that the presence of moral-emotional words in messages increased their diffusion by a factor of 20% for each additional word. Furthermore, we found that moral contagion was bounded by group membership; moral-emotional language increased diffusion more strongly within liberal and conservative networks, and less between them. Our results highlight the importance of emotion in the social transmission of moral ideas and also demonstrate the utility of social network methods for studying morality. These findings offer insights into how people are exposed to moral and political ideas through social networks, thus expanding models of social influence and group polarization as people become increasingly immersed in social media networks.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Jul 11, 2017

  • Journal Article

    Social Media and EuroMaidan: A Review Essay

    Slavic Review, 2017

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    As more than a billion people had done previously, on November 21, 2013, Ukrainian journalist and activist Mustafa Nayem wrote a Facebook post; this post, however, would have a much larger impact on subsequent political developments than most that had preceded it. Frustrated with President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign a long-promised association agreement with the European Union, Nayem asked others who shared his frustration to comment on his post. Even more importantly, Nayem wrote that if the post received at least 1,000 comments from people willing to join him, they should all go to Independence Square to protest. And indeed they did: starting with just a few thousand people, the protests would swell to be the largest since Ukraine’s independence, particularly after police used force against protesters at the end of November 2013. Eventually, these protests led to the resignation of the government, the exile of the former president, and indirectly to the secession of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in the eastern part of the country.

    Date Posted

    May 02, 2017

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  • Journal Article

    Liberal and Conservative Values: What We Can Learn from Congressional Tweets

    Political Psychology, 2018

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    Past research using self-report questionnaires administered to ordinary citizens demonstrates that value priorities differ as a function of one's political ideology, but it is unclear whether this conclusion applies to political elites, who are presumably seeking to appeal to very broad constituencies. We used quantitative methods of textual analysis to investigate value-laden language in a collection of 577,555 messages sent from the public Twitter accounts of over 400 members of the U.S. Congress between 2012 and 2014. Consistent with theoretical expectations, we observed that Republican and conservative legislators stressed values of tradition, conformity, and national security (as well as self-direction), whereas Democratic and liberal legislators stressed values of benevolence, universalism, hedonism, and social/economic security (as well as achievement). Implications for the large-scale observational study of political psychology are explored.

    Date Posted

    Mar 29, 2017

  • Journal Article

    Tweetment Effects on the Tweeted: Experimentally Reducing Racist Harassment

    Political Behavior, 2017

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    I conduct an experiment which examines the impact of group norm promotion and social sanctioning on racist online harassment. Racist online harassment de-mobilizes the minorities it targets, and the open, unopposed expression of racism in a public forum can legitimize racist viewpoints and prime ethnocentrism. I employ an intervention designed to reduce the use of anti-black racist slurs by white men on Twitter. I collect a sample of Twitter users who have harassed other users and use accounts I control (“bots”) to sanction the harassers. By varying the identity of the bots between in-group (white man) and out-group (black man) and by varying the number of Twitter followers each bot has, I find that subjects who were sanctioned by a high-follower white male significantly reduced their use of a racist slur. This paper extends findings from lab experiments to a naturalistic setting using an objective, behavioral outcome measure and a continuous 2-month data collection period. This represents an advance in the study of prejudiced behavior.

    Date Posted

    Nov 11, 2016

  • Data Report

    Syrian Refugee Crisis Data Report

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

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    Date Posted

    Sep 16, 2016

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  • Data Report

    Brexit Data Report

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

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    Date Posted

    Jul 14, 2016

  • Journal Article

    Of Echo Chambers and Contrarian Clubs: Exposure to Political Disagreement Among German and Italian Users of Twitter

    Social Media and Society, 2016

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    Scholars have debated whether social media platforms, by allowing users to select the information to which they are exposed, may lead people to isolate themselves from viewpoints with which they disagree, thereby serving as political “echo chambers.” We investigate hypotheses concerning the circumstances under which Twitter users who communicate about elections would engage with (a) supportive, (b) oppositional, and (c) mixed political networks. Based on online surveys of representative samples of Italian and German individuals who posted at least one Twitter message about elections in 2013, we find substantial differences in the extent to which social media facilitates exposure to similar versus dissimilar political views. Our results suggest that exposure to supportive, oppositional, or mixed political networks on social media can be explained by broader patterns of political conversation (i.e., structure of offline networks) and specific habits in the political use of social media (i.e., the intensity of political discussion). These findings suggest that disagreement persists on social media even when ideological homophily is the modal outcome, and that scholars should pay more attention to specific situational and dispositional factors when evaluating the implications of social media for political communication.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Jul 01, 2016

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  • Book

    Date Posted

    Mar 05, 2016

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  • 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

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  • 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

    The Critical Periphery in the Growth of Social Protests

    PLOS ONE, 2015

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    Social media have provided instrumental means of communication in many recent political protests. The efficiency of online networks in disseminating timely information has been praised by many commentators; at the same time, users are often derided as “slacktivists” because of the shallow commitment involved in clicking a forwarding button. Here we consider the role of these peripheral online participants, the immense majority of users who surround the small epicenter of protests, representing layers of diminishing online activity around the committed minority. We analyze three datasets tracking protest communication in different languages and political contexts through the social media platform Twitter and employ a network decomposition technique to examine their hierarchical structure. We provide consistent evidence that peripheral participants are critical in increasing the reach of protest messages and generating online content at levels that are comparable to core participants. Although committed minorities may constitute the heart of protest movements, our results suggest that their success in maximizing the number of online citizens exposed to protest messages depends, at least in part, on activating the critical periphery. Peripheral users are less active on a per capita basis, but their power lies in their numbers: their aggregate contribution to the spread of protest messages is comparable in magnitude to that of core participants. An analysis of two other datasets unrelated to mass protests strengthens our interpretation that core-periphery dynamics are characteristically important in the context of collective action events. Theoretical models of diffusion in social networks would benefit from increased attention to the role of peripheral nodes in the propagation of information and behavior.

    Date Posted

    Nov 30, 2015

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  • Data Report

    The Fourth GOP Debate: Going Beyond Mentions

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2015

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    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Nov 10, 2015

  • Data Report

    The Third Republican Debate: During and After

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2015

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    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Oct 28, 2015

  • 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

  • Data Report

    The Islamic State's Battle for the Global Twittersphere

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2015

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    Date Posted

    Jul 27, 2015

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  • Journal Article

    Political Expression and Action on Social Media: Exploring the Relationship Between Lower- and Higher-Threshold Political Activities Among Twitter Users in Italy

    Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2015

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    Scholars and commentators have debated whether lower-threshold forms of political engagement on social media should be treated as being conducive to higher-threshold modes of political participation or a diversion from them. Drawing on an original survey of a representative sample of Italians who discussed the 2013 election on Twitter, we demonstrate that the more respondents acquire political information via social media and express themselves politically on these platforms, the more they are likely to contact politicians via email, campaign for parties and candidates using social media, and attend online events to which they were invited online. These results suggest that lower-threshold forms of political engagement on social media do not distract from higher-threshold activities, but are strongly associated with them.

    Date Posted

    Jan 12, 2015

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  • Data Report

    Tweeting the Revolution: Social Media Use and the #Euromaidan protests

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2014

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    Date Posted

    Feb 28, 2014

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  • Journal Article

    Social Media and Political Communication: A Survey of Twitter Users During the 2013 Italian General Election

    Italian Political Science Review, 2013

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    Social media have become increasingly relevant in election campaigns, as both politicians and citizens have integrated them into their communication repertoires. However, little is known about which types of citizens employ these tools to discuss politics and stay informed about current affairs and how they integrate the contents and connections they encounter online with their offline repertoires of political action. In order to address these questions, we devised an innovative online survey involving a random sample representative of Italians who communicated about the 2013 general election on Twitter. Our results show that Twitter political users in Italy are disproportionately male, younger, better educated, more interested in politics, and ideologically more left-wing than the population as a whole. Moreover, there is a strong correlation between online and offline political communication, and Twitter users often relay the political contents they encounter on the web in their face-to-face conversations. Although the political users of social media are not representative of the population, their greater propensity to engage in political conversations both online and offline make them important channels of personal communication and allow the contents that circulate on the web to diffuse among populations that are much broader than those that engage with social media. The electoral significance of these digital platforms thus reaches well beyond the immediate audiences that are exposed to political contents through them.

    Date Posted

    Dec 01, 2013

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  • Data Report

    A Breakout Role for Twitter? The Role of Social Media in the Turkish Protests

    Data Report, NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics, 2013

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    Date Posted

    Jul 01, 2013

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