I am very happy that yesterday a new article written with Harald Schoen, and Pascal Jürgens has appeared as Early View in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. In the article The mediation of politics through Twitter: An analysis of messages posted during the campaign for the German federal election 2013, we put forward the argument that the interpretation of digital trace data should always take into account the data generating process connecting phenomena of interest with patterns found in digital trace data through user interactions with the service producing the data. This data generating process contains various mediating steps, potentially leading the image of reality emerging from digital trace data to skew from reality.
Given the increased efforts in using digital trace data for the analysis of social phenomena and as proxies for other data sources, we believe it is of fundamental importance to increase our understanding of these mediating processes. Without such a discussion any attempt at using digital trace for more than just digital ethnography is running the risk of presenting results that are at best short-lived and at worst misleading.
The article illustrates this argument through an analysis of Twitter-messages posted during the campaign for the 2013 federal election in Germany. Here is the abstract:
Abstract: Patterns found in digital trace data are increasingly used as evidence of social phenomena. Still, the role of digital services not as mirrors but instead as mediators of social reality has been neglected. We identify characteristics of this mediation process by analyzing Twitter messages referring to politics during the campaign for the German federal election 2013 and comparing the thus emerging image of political reality with established measurements of political reality. We focus on the relationship between temporal dynamics in politically relevant Twitter messages and crucial campaign events, comparing dominant topics in politically relevant tweets with topics prominent in surveys and in television news, and by comparing mention shares of political actors with their election results.
Andreas Jungherr, Harald Schoen, and Pascal Jürgens. 2015. The mediation of politics through Twitter: An analysis of messages posted during the campaign for the German federal election 2013. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. (Online First). doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12143