After getting the hang of collecting data on Twitter and preparing them for analysis, it is time for you to design your own research project. As always, the best research questions are not purely data driven or solely motivated by opportunities provided by access to specific data sets. Instead, make sure to anchor your research design within larger questions connected with political or social science.
One approach to finding a promising question might be: “What aspect of social or political life is closely connected with political Twitter activity and might, therefore, be illustrated by data collected on Twitter?”
Also, in checking up on the promise of your project you might ask yourself: “Given the findings presented in my awesome study, what have we learned about the world that we didn’t know before?” (Also known in some quarters as the Rasmus question).
In the beginning, this might seem a little awkward or challenging but stick with it. If you will not ask these questions someone else will. This way, you’ll make sure you have a good answer once you are asked in front of a room full of people. Also, choosing projects based on answers to these questions will make for rewarding projects and ultimately better chances for publication.
If you get stuck in thinking about promising research questions have a look at Howard S. Becker‘s classic Tricks of the Trade: How to think about your research while you’re doing it. This should get you unstuck pretty quickly.
Before you settle on a question, make sure to read up on what has already been done with Twitter data. A helpful overview on Twitter-based research on electoral campaigns can be found in the required readings for this session:
- Andreas Jungherr. “Twitter Use in Election Campaigns: A Systematic Literature Review“. In: Journal of Information Technology & Politics 13.1 (2016), pp. 72-91. doi: 10.1080/19331681.2015.
After getting a first overview on some of the work that has been done on and with Twitter in political contexts, it might pay off to read up on some of the conceptual issues in the use of digital trace data for social science research. Here is a short list of papers offering you a good window into current methodological debates.
- Fernando Diaz et al. “Online and social media data as a flawed continuous panel survey“. In: PLoS ONE 11.1 (2016). e0145406. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0145406.
- James Howison, Andrea Wiggins, and Kevin Crowston. “Validity issues in the use of social network analysis with digital trace data“. In: Journal of the Association for Information Systems 12.12 (2011), pp. 767–797.
- Lilli Japec, Frauke Kreuter, Marcus Berg, Paul Biemer, Paul Decker, Cliff Lampe, Julia Lane, Cathy O’Neil, and Abe Usher. “Big Data in Survey Research: AAPOR Task Force Report“. In: Public Opinion Quarterly 79.4 (2015), pp. 839-880. doi: 10.1093/poq/nfv039
- Andreas Jungherr, Harald Schoen, and Pascal Jürgens. “The mediation of politics through Twitter: An analysis of messages posted during the campaign for the German federal election 2013“. In: Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 21.1 (2016), pp. 50.68. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12143.
- Andreas Jungherr, Harald Schoen, Oliver Posegga, and Pascal Jürgens. “Digital Trace Data in the Study of Public Opinion: An Indicator of Attention Toward Politics Rather Than Political Support“. In: Social Science Computer Review (2016). doi: 10.1177/0894439316631043
- David Lazer et al. “The Parable of Google Flu: Traps in Big Data Analysis“. In: Science 343.6176 (2014), pp. 1203–1205. doi: 10.1126/science.1248506.
- Filipe N Ribeiro, Matheus Araújo, Pollyanna Gonçalves, Marcos André Gonçalves, and Fabrício Benevenuto. “SentiBench – a benchmark comparison of state-of-the-practice sentiment analysis methods“. EPJ Data Science 5.23 (2016) doi: 10.1140/epjds/s13688-016-0085-1
- Michael F. Schober, Josh Pasek, Lauren Guggenheim, Cliff Lampe, and Frederick G. Conrad. “Social Media Analyses for Social Measurement“. Public Opinion Quarterly 80.1 (2016), pp. 180-211. doi: 10.1093/poq/nfv048
Literature reviews and conceptual debates are all well and good but nothing stimulates your intuition as reading primary research directly. For this purpose, I provided you with a slightly longer list on innovative studies focusing on political uses of Twitter or using Twitter data in research. Of course, this can only be a small selection and is by no means exhaustive. Still, this should provide you with a running start.
- Pablo Barberá. “Birds of the same feather tweet together: Bayesian ideal point estimation using Twitter data“. In: Political Analysis 23.1 (2015), pp. 76–91. doi: 10.1093/pan/mpu011.
- Marco T. Bastos, Dan Mercea, and Arthur Charpentier. “Tents, Tweets, and Events: The Interplay Between Ongoing Protests and Social Media“. In: Journal of Communication 65.2 (2015), pp. 320–350. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12145.
- Michael D. Conover et al. “Political polarization on Twitter“. In: ICWSM 2011: Proceedings of the 5th International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. Ed. by Nicolas Nicolov et al. Menlo Park, CA: Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), 2011, pp. 89–96.
- Peter Sheridan Dodds, Kameron Decker Harris, Isabel M. Kloumann, Catherine A. Bliss, Christopher M. Danforth. “Temporal Patterns of Happiness and Information in a Global Social Network: Hedonometrics and Twitter“. PLoS ONE 6.12 (2011), e26752. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026752
- Elizabeth Dubois and Devin Gaffney. “The multiple facets of Influence: Identifying political influentials and opinion leaders on Twitter“. American Behavioural Scientist 58.10 (2014), pp. 1260-1277. doi: 10.1177/0002764214527088
- Deen Freelon. “Analyzing online political discussion using three models of democratic communication“. New Media & Society 12.7 (2010), pp. 1172-1190. doi: 10.1177/1461444809357927.
- Sharad Goel et al. “The Structural Virality of Online Diffusion“. In: Management Science 62.1 (2015), pp. 180-196. doi: 10.1287/mnsc.2015.2158.
- Todd Graham et al. “Between broadcasting political messages and interacting with voters: The use of Twitter during the 2010 UK general election campaign“. In: Information, Communication & Society 16.5 (2013), pp. 692–716. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2013.785581.
- Mark Edward Huberty. “Can we vote with our tweet? On the perennial difficulty of election forecasting with social media“. In: International Journal of Forecasting 31.3 (2015), pp. 992–1007. doi: 10.1016/j.ijforecast.2014.08.005.
- Andreas Jungherr. “The logic of political coverage on Twitter: Temporal dynamics and content“. In: Journal of Communication 64.2 (2014), pp. 239–259. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12087.
- Andreas Jungherr. Analyzing Political Communication with Digital Trace Data: The Role of Twitter Messages in Social Science Research (2015). Cham: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-20319-5
- Andreas Jungherr and Pascal Jürgens. “Through a glass, darkly: Tactical support and symbolic association in Twitter messages commenting on Stuttgart 21“. In: Social Science Computer Review 32.1 (2014), pp. 74–89. doi: 10.1177/0894439313500022
- Pascal Jürgens, Andreas Jungherr, and Harald Schoen. “Small Worlds with a Difference: New Gatekeepers and the Filtering of Political Information on Twitter“. In WebSci’11: Proceedings of the 3rd International Web Science Conference. New York, NY: ACM, 2011. doi: 10.1145/2527031.2527034
- Daniel Kreiss. “Seizing the Moment: The Presidential Campaigns’ Use of Twitter During the 2012 Electoral Cycle“. New Media & Society (2014). (Online First). doi: 10.1177/1461444814562445
- Yu-Ru Lin et al. “Rising tides or rising stars? Dynamics of shared attention on Twitter during media events“. In: PLoS One 9.5 (2014), e94093. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094093.
- Panagiotis Takis Metaxas, Eni Mustafaraj, and Daniel Gayo Avello. “How (not) to predict elections“. In: SocialCom 2011: The 3rd IEEE International Conference on Social Computing. Washington, DC: IEEE, 2011, pp. 165–171. doi: 10.1109/PASSAT/SocialCom.2011.98.
- W. Russell Neuman, Lauren Guggenheim, S. Mo Jang, and Soo Young Bae. “The Dynamics of Public Attention: Agenda-Setting Theory Meets Big Data“. Journal of Communication 64.2 (2014), pp. 193–214. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12088
- Richard Rogers. “Debanalizing Twitter: The transformation of an object of study“. In: WebSci 2013: Proceedings of the 5th Annual ACM Web Science Conference. Ed. by Hugh Davis et al. New York, NY: ACM, 2013, pp. 356–365. doi: 10.1145/ 2464464.2464511.
- David A. Shamma, Lyndon Kennedy, and Elizabeth F. Churchill. “Peaks and persistence: Modeling the shape of microblog conversations“. In: CSCW 2011: Proceedings of the ACM 2011 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Ed. by Pamela Hinds et al. New York, NY: ACM, 2011, pp. 355–358. doi: 10.1145/1958824.195887810.1145/1958824.1958878.
- Niels Spierings, Kristof Jacobs. “Getting Personal? The Impact of Social Media on Preferential Voting“. Political Behavior 36.1 (2014), pp 215–234. doi: 10.1007/s11109-013-9228-2
- Damian Trilling. “Two Different Debates? Investigating the Relationship Between a Political Debate on TV and Simultaneous Comments on Twitter“. In: Social Science Computer Review 33.3 (2015), pp. 259–276. doi: 10.1177/0894439314537886.
- Maurice Vergeer and Liesbeth Hermans. “Campaigning on Twitter: Microblogging and Online Social Networking as Campaign Tools in the 2010 General Elections in the Netherlands“. In Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 18.4 (2013), pp 399–419. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12023.
- Maurice Vergeer, Liesbeth Hermans, and Steven Sams. “Online social networks and micro-blogging in political campaigning: The exploration of a new campaign tool and a new campaign style“. Party Politics 19.3 (2013), pp. 477-501. doi: 10.1177/1354068811407580.
In case you are interested in Twitter activities of German politicians there are potential some short-cuts available to you. The GESIS has published a dataset documenting all publicly available tweets published by candidates running in the 2013 German Federal Election. The dataset also contains mentions by other Twitter users of these politicians and a set of tweets containing topically relevant hashtags.
- Lars Kaczmirek, Philipp Mayr, Ravi Vatrapu, Arnim Bleier, Manuela Blumenberg, Tobias Gummer, Abid Hussain, Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda, Kaveh Manshaei, Mark Thamm, Katrin Weller, Alexander Wenz, and Christof Wolf. “Social Media Monitoring of the Campaigns for the 2013 German Bundestag Elections on Facebook and Twitter“. arXiv.org 1312.4476 (2014).
In case you want to collect messages published by current members of the German Bundestag you can use this file as a starting point listing the respective accounts (The file is current for April 28, 2015). The list is based on the accounts tracked by Pluragraph.