New Publication: “Characterizing Political Talk on Twitter”

Oliver Posegga and I have a new paper out in the the Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS). In Characterizing Political Talk on Twitter: A Comparison Between Public Agenda, Media Agendas, and the Twitter Agenda with Regard to Topics and Dynamics we compare lists of prominent topics in newspapers, television, survey responses, and on Twitter during an election campaign. These comparisons speak to the different mediating processes of political reality on different media. Our findings indicate that it is futile to expect social media services to mirror political reality or the coverage of politics in legacy media truly. Instead, it appears more fruitful to use differences in the reflection of political reality across different sources to develop a better understanding of common or divergent mediating processes between sources.

Abstract: Social media platforms, especially Twitter, have become a ubiquitous element in political campaigns. Although politicians, journalists, and the public increasingly take to the service, we know little about the determinants and dynamics of political talk on Twitter. We examine Twitter’s issue agenda based on popular hashtags used in messages referring to politics. We compare this Twitter agenda with the public agenda measured by a representative survey and the agendas of newspapers and television news programs captured by content analysis. We show that the Twitter agenda had little, if any, relationship with the public agenda. Political talk on Twitter was somewhat stronger connected with mass media coverage, albeit following channel-specific patterns most likely determined by the attention, interests, and motivations of Twitter users.

Our findings indicate that:

“political talk on Twitter is distinct from public opinion on the most pressing political topics and political media coverage. Although political talk on Twitter shares topics with political media coverage, we find a communication environment characterized by the attention, interests, and motivations of politically vocal Twitter users. These mediating factors led political talk on Twitter to deviate in strength and dynamics from political coverage in mass media. On Twitter, therefore, we find a political communication environment interconnected with more traditional spaces of political communication but also following its own channel-specific dynamics.”

Source: Oliver Posegga and Andreas Jungherr (2019). Characterizing Political Talk on Twitter: A Comparison Between Public Agenda, Media Agendas, and the Twitter Agenda with Regard to Topics and Dynamics. In HICSS 52: Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. University of Hawaii at Manoa: Scholarspace. p. 2590-2599. DOI: https://hdl.handle.net/10125/59697.