Here we go! A deep dive into the year's latest trends in social media and politics, as well as predictions for the future. We cover various platforms' year in review recaps, Telegram and Belarus, Facebook's change to Meta and the Silicon Valley "Founder", artificial intelligence and the virtual politician, Web 3 and Parler, and the enduring role of newsletters.
Here's the platform year in review stats and bonus links for the episode:
Facebook Threat Report
See you in January for new episodes!
Dr. Curd Knüpfer (Assistant Professor) and Mike Cowburn (PhD Candidate), from the JFK Institute for North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, discuss their research on right-wing alternative media. We start out by discussing what right-wing alternative media are, and how they are transnationally linked across Western democracies. Then, we explore Mike and Curd's ongoing work into how Members of Congress' social media engagement with these sites may be predictors of political positionality. We also look at how Republican Members of Congress' use of the fake news label also relates to their political ideology.
The (published) studies discussed in the episode are:
Juri Schnöller, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Cosmonauts & Kings, discusses the latest trends in German digital political communication. We chat about the role of digital political consultants in Germany, the important role of messenger apps like Signal and Telegram, and how social media influencers are impacting coronavirus communication. We also compare how features of the German electoral rules, political culture, and media system work to shape German digital campaigning.
Dr. Tamar Mitts, Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, shares her research on ISIS radicalization and it's relationship to social isolation, anti-Muslim sentiment, and counter-extremism programs. We discuss Dr. Mitts' Twitter dataset that uses spatial algorithms to identify ISIS sympathizers' locations and machine learning to identify pro-ISIS sentiment. Toward the end of the episode, we discuss how computer vision tools such as Amazon's Rekognition API can be used to detect violent imagery in ISIS propaganda.
Here are the studies we discuss in the episode:
Dr. Mirya Holman, Associate Professor of Political Science at Tulane University, shares her latest research on how politicians depict mask wearing through their social media images. We discuss how computer vision can be used to detect masks in images, as well as what factors correlate with politicians' depicting masks. Later in the episode, we discuss another recent study by Dr. Holman, where emotions in the facial expressions and vocal pitch of German politicians were analyzed during election debates.
Here's a link to that study:
And here's a link to Mirya Holman's Aggressive Winning Scholars (#MHAWS) Newsletter!
Professor Chris Bail, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Duke University, discusses his latest book Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing. Professor Bail shares findings from three studies on political polarization covering field-experiments, qualitative interviews, and lab experiments. We discuss how social media contributes to a distorted reality in how extremists and moderates discuss politics online, and how this prism fosters a sense false polarization. We also chat about measures that individuals and social media platforms could take to reduce online political polarization.
Here are supplementary links to two studies discussed in the episode:
Exposure to Opposing Views on Social Media can Increase Political Polarization (2019)
Tatenda Musapatike, Founder and CEO of the Voter Formation Project, shares her insights on using social media to mobilize non-white voters. In her prior role at Acronym, Tatenda led the Expand the Electorate project, which used digital ads to register and mobilize Black and Latinx voters in 8 target states. In this episode, we discuss the results of Tatenda's work in the 2020 US election, the racial biases in data and targeting technologies, and how gender differences between Black voters might be overcome in future electoral cycles.
Here's the case study from the Expand the Electorate project and more detailed white paper (requires email sign-up) - definitely worth a read!
Baroness Beeban Kidron, Chair of the 5Rights Foundation, guests to discuss the recently launched Twisted Toys campaign. We chat about the role of awareness campaigns for tech advocacy, how policymakers respond to children's data protection issues, and the creative design process behind the Twisted Toys campaign.
Check out Twisted Toys here!
Andrew Frawley, former Director of Marketing at Yang2020, shares his experience running marketing and digital strategy for Andrew Yang's 2020 campaign. Andrew discusses the role of social media for outsider campaigns, challenges in establishing growth on social media, and the role of podcasts for political campaigns. We also discuss campaign slogans, differences between outsider and mainstream campaigns, and Facebook groups as organizing hubs.
Check out Andrew's website for more experiences from the campaign!
Dr. Michael D. Cohen, CEO of Cohen Research Group and Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, discusses his new book Modern Political Campaigns: How Professionalism, Technology, and Speed Have Revolutionized Elections.
We talk about how communication technologies have shifted political campaigns from being party-centered to candidate-centered. We also discuss various aspects of political campaigns covered in the book, such as: how political campaigns conduct opposition research, the role of data and analytics in the modern campaign, and the value social media can provide to a political campaign.
Buy Modern Political Campaigns here and use code RLFANDF30 for 30% off!
Tom Moylan, Communication Strategist at the Directorate-General for Communication at the European Commission, shares his personal reflections on EU digital communication. We discuss the value that social media can bring in communicating the European Union to citizens, as well as how EU institutions have evolved their communication strategy over time. Tom also shares his experiences as a speechwriter in EU trade policy, and how speech writing compares with social media communication. We also discuss current trends in EU institutional communication, and what lessons might be learned from coronavirus pandemic moving forward.
Be sure to subscribe to Tom's newsletter: Speaking Moylanguage!
Jeffrey Alexander, Professor of Sociology at Yale University, discusses his cultural sociology approach to political performance and cultural icons. We start out with the concept of fusion, and how political actors work to achieve it through the elements of political performance. Then, we turn to a discussion of objects, affordances, and the power of political icons.
Here's some extra reading on the topics we cover in the episode:
Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance Between Ritual and Strategy (2004)
Dr. Jean-Christophe Plantin, Associate Professor in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, explains the concept of media infrastructures.
We discuss Dr. Plantin's research on digital platforms, infrastructures, and how tech giants like Facebook and Google increasingly blend those two concepts. We also discuss the infrastructure of WeChat, and get into Dr. Plantin's ongoing work into the concept of programmable infrastructures - which explores how the hardware of the tech industry is becoming increasingly disagreggated and modular.
Check out Dr. Plantin's recent talk at Sciences Po for more details on programmable infrastructures.
And the articles we discuss in the episode:
Ieva ?esnulaityt?, Policy Analyst at the OECD, discusses her and her colleagues? research on representative deliberative processes. We break down some of the key models of deliberative processes, when they tend to be used, and how their success can be measured.
We also discuss how the coronavirus pandemic has moved deliberative processes online. As social distancing limits the ability for citizens to attend in-person events, how are deliberative processes being carried out?
Here's the report we discuss in the episode - Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions: Catching the Deliberative Wave.
And the op-ed in Nature discussing online deliberation during the pandemic.
Madeline V. Twomey, President at Rufus and Mane, discusses how social media influencers can benefit political campaigns (and vice versa). Madeline forged digital influencer partnerships for Joe Biden's presidential campaign and inauguration. She shares her experiences working with influencer programs and her thoughts on best practices moving forward.
We talk about the value that influencers can provide to campaigns, how their working relationship looks like in practice, and how storytelling can help non-political influencers break into politics
Here's Madeline's Medium post discussing her 10 lessons from the Biden campaign.
Check out the latest newsletter, if you're curious about what's coming next on the pod!
Dr. Tamara A. Small, Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Guelph, discusses her research on social media and politics in Canada. We start out with her latest edited volume Digital Politics in Canada: Promises and Realities (2020, University of Toronto Press).
We then dive into Dr. Small's research on Canadian party leaders' use of Twitter, citizens' sharing of memes about Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, and how Canadian courts use social media. We also cover how journalists live-tweet about court cases, and the Canadian courts' struggle to adapt during Covid-19.
Here's the full list of studies discused in the episode:
Martin Hilbert, Professor of Communication at UC-Davis, discusses his research on algorithms and polarization. Prof. Hilbert introduces information theory and how it can be applied to studying the transfer of emotions via algorithms. We break down some of Prof. Hilbert's recent studies, as well as his current thinking around detaching from social algorithms.
The studies discussed in the episode:
Prof. Hilbert's seven part Medium series on Social Media Distancing.
Nick Ahamed, Director of Analytics at Priorities USA, shares his research on the effectiveness of digital ads for increasing voter turnout and support for Democrats. We discuss the field and survey experiments that Priorities USA has been running to find the optimal messaging strategies, targeting approaches, and treatment lengths for political social media ads during elections.
Dr. Anamaria Dutceac Segesten joins for the 5th Annual Social Media and Politics Year in Review!
We answer listener questions and present six gifts, each representing big events that shaped social media and politics this year.
25:18 - Platform Year in Review Reports
53:08 - Platforms and Activism (Belarus and Thailand)
1:16:26 - Political Ad Effectiveness
1:38:00 - Platform Regulation (Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act)
2:02:31 - Tweets from the Dead
2:17:00 - Platform Fragmentation
Here's a list of each platform's year in review reports:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Reddit, Reddit UK, Reddit Moderators, Pornhub Debate Night
Other supplementary material:
Priorities USA's "Wreck" Ad
Digital Services Act
Margarethe Vestager on the Digital Services Act
Study Modelling Dead Social Media Accounts
Tufts Research on Youth and Political Engagement
Pew Research on Social Media and Persuasion
Sofia Diogo Mateus, Audience Development Editor at Politico Europe, discusses the role of social media in online political journalism. We talk about the importance of audience development, the tools used to assist in online publishing and measuring engagement, and the benefits and pitfalls of user generated content (UGC). We also discuss Sofia's work as Head of Facebook at Deutsche Welle, strategies around content moderation, and the value of reporting political news for international audiences.
Dr. Patricía Rossini, Derby Fellow in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool, discusses her latest research on informal political talk online. We break down differences between incivility and intolerance in online discussions, as well as misinformation sharing across Facebook and WhatsApp.
The two studies we discuss in the episode are:Beyond Incivility: Understanding Patterns of Uncivil and Intolerant Discourse in Online Political TalkDysfunctional Information Sharing on WhatsApp and Facebook: The Role of Political Talk, Cross-Cutting Exposure and Social Corrections
Dr. Terri Towner, Professor of Political Science at Oakland University, discusses her research on political campaigning and information on Instagram. We also give first impressions from the last presidential debate between Trump and Biden, and break down some poll results about citizens' social media use during the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are the two studies we discuss in the episode:
Dr. Mark Pack, President of the Liberal Democrats, guests to discuss his new book: "Bad News: What the Headlines Don't Tell Us." We talk about some of the flaws of election campaign coverage and how to be better consumers of news using social media. Dr. Pack also shares his insights on digital campaigning in Britain, where he ran digital operations for the LibDems in the 2001 and 2005 general elections.
Sinan Aral, David Austin Professor of Management at MIT and Director of MIT's Initiative on the Digital Economy, discusses his new book "The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health?and How We Must Adapt."
Prof. Aral breaks down key theoretical concepts from the book, which outlines some of the fundamental mechanisms for how social media platforms operate. We also discuss the science behind these concepts and their implications for elections, politics, and society.
Dr. André Haller (University of Applied Sciences Kufstein Tyrol) and Simon Kruschinski (University of Mainz) share their research into data-driven political campaigning in Germany. We discuss the key political, legal, and cultural factors that influence German politicians digital campaigning, differences in organic posts versus paid advertisements, and how social media platforms have been used by fringe political actors.
Here's the research paper we discuss in the episode: Restrictions on Data-Driven Political Micro-targeting in Germany.
Vanessa Molter, Graduate Research Assistant at the Stanford Internet Observatory, breaks down her new report: "Telling China's Story: The Chinese Communist Party's Campaign to Shape Global Narratives."
We discuss what researchers currently know about China's influence operations on social media, how they compare with Russia's disinformation strategies, and dive into the report's three case studies: the 2019 Hong Kong protests, the 2020 Taiwanese presidential elections, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Solomon Messing, Chief Scientist at ACRONYM and Affiliated Researcher at Georgetown University, shares his insights on data science across academia, the tech industry, and political campaigning space. We discuss how computational social science methods have changed over time, and how system architectures can be built to protect social media users' privacy. We also chat about current trends that Dr. Messing is observing at ACRONYM relating to the persuasiveness and cost of political ads on social media.
Dr. Andreas Jungherr, Assistant Professor for Social Science Data Collection and Analysis at the University of Konstanz, guests to discuss his latest book, "Retooling Politics: How Digital Media are Shaping Democracy."
We chat about the state of social media research in political science and political communication, and what we currently know about echo chambers, polarization, and election prediction. We also discuss how digital media is shaping political campaigning and the role it might play for campaigns in the future.
Ned Howey, CEO of Tectonica, discusses the international firm's approach to digital organizing for progressive campaigns. We focus on how Tectonica's digital solutions integrate with NationBuilder, some key principles of website design, and how to engage supporters with an authentic strategy and tone.
James MacGregor, Managing Director at Bakamo Public, discusses the main narratives in social media conversations around Black Lives Matter in the UK, Turkey, and Hungary. We break down how key themes from the US protests are translated into these different national contexts, as well as how the online debate has evolved since the protests started.
Dr. Brahim Zarouali, Assistant Professor in Persuasive Communication at the University of Amsterdam, discusses his research on social media political ads and their effectiveness on different personality types (introverts and extroverts). We break down the findings from two experiments, which try and replicate the psychometric targeting techniques of firms like Cambridge Analytica by appealing to users' psychological traits and emotions. We also discuss the de-polarization potential of chatbots, based on a study Dr. Zarouali conducted that presents participants with pro- or anti-attitudinal news on immigration.
Maria and Ian are co-founders of Blue Wave Voiceover, a collective of professional voiceover actors lending their voices to Democratic campaigns. We discuss the role of voices in political ads, the back-end of reading political copy, and some of the differences between commercial and political voiceovers. We also demo the script reading process with real political ads, and change their tone to showcase what voiceover actors can do!
Dr. Leticia Bode, Associate Professor at Georgetown University, discusses her research on social media and health misinformation correction. We break down several experiments that test the effectiveness of digital misinformation correction in the context of the Zika virus. We also talk about what the findings might mean for public health organizations' social media strategy in times of crisis. Towards the end, we also look at some of Dr. Bode's ongoing research investigating the coronavirus conversation on Twitter.
The studies we discuss in this episode are:See Something, Say Something: Correction of Global Health Misinformation on Social MediaI Do Not Believe You: How Providing a Source Corrects Health Misperceptions on Social MediaA First Look at COVID-19 Information and Misinformation Sharing on Twitter
Stefan Smith, former Online Engagement Director at Pete for America, discusses the role of social media in digital organizing and campaigning during the 2020 Democratic Primaries. We break down two of Stefan's grassroots initiatives -- the Digital Captains program and Digital Door Knocking program -- and how they contributed to the overall campaign. We also talk about the political viability of Pinterest and Reddit, alongside more traditional platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Dr. Ben Epstein, Associate Professor of Political Science at DePaul University, guests to discuss the role of history in understanding contemporary political communication.
We take a deep dive in Dr. Epstein's book The Only Constant is Change: Technology, Political Communication, and Innovation over Time, published by Oxford University Press.
Dr. Epstein explains how the development of newspapers, the radio, and Internet fundamentally changed political communication practices for political campagins, social movements, and interest groups. We then discuss how television and social media were novel technologies for their time, but did not fundamentally establish new political communication orders.
Lord David Puttnam and Dr. Kate Dommett guest to discuss the work on the British House of Lords select committee "Democracy and Digital Technologies."
The committee seeks to investigate the pros and cons of digital technologies around six key areas: transparency in political campaigns; privacy and anonymity; misinformation; the effects of digital technology on public discourse; how technology can facilitate democracy; and the development of effective digital literacy.
We discuss the motivations behind forming the committee, the status of the inquiry so far, as well as get into a broader discussion about policy recommendations for the potential regulation of digital and social media companies in the UK and elsewhere in the European Union.
For links mentioned during the episode, check out:
Dr. Dommett's study "Data-driven Political Campaigns in Practice" in Internet Policy Review.
Craig Stadler, Founder and CEO of Petey Vid, guests to discuss the video search engine landscape and his alternative to the dominance of Google and YouTube: Petey Vid. Petey Vid offers users video content from 60+ different sources while not tracking users? search history or IP addresses. We break down Craig?s motivations behind starting Petey Vid, how it?s search architecture is structured, and what separates it from YouTube.
Dr. Tarleton Gillespie, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and Associate Professor of Communication at Cornell University, guests for our 100th episode!
We revisit Dr. Gillespie's 2010 study "The Politics of Platforms" as well as discuss his latest book: "Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions that Shape Social Media."
We discuss how social media companies strategically position themselves through discourse, the early adoption of social media by advertisers and political campaigns, and how content moderation shapes our interactions with platforms and politics.
Dr. Alexander Stewart, Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Houston, guests to discuss his research on "information gerrymandering," recently published in Nature. The study uses a voter game, mathematical modelling, social media data, and legislative data to examine how information asymmetries in social networks impact collective decision-making processes. We break down the study, and the implications of its findings for democracy.
Stephen Clark, Director for Liaison Offices at the European Parliament, guests to discuss his role coordinating the Parliament's election campaign in the 2019 European Elections. We discuss the Parliament's social media strategy, its focus on mobilizing citizens through the "ground game," and the reaction to the Parliament's campaign video "Choose your Future."
Listen to Steve discuss the Parliament's strategy before the elections on the EuroPCom podcast!
The 2019 Year in Review! We break down the top trends and developments of this year and look forward to the decade ahead. We talk about the posts that garnered the most engagement on platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and Pornhub (no Facebook this year), look into the growing importance of TikTok, and chat about digital taxation, Epstein, and so much more. Tune in!
A moderator of Reddit's The Donald guests to discuss the notorious subreddit community, and the new pro-Trump online forum: TheDonald.win. We discuss the role of memes in these online forums, how memes are used for redpilling, and the steps Reddit has taken to limit the reach of pro-Trump social networks.
Prof. Travis Ridout, Distinguished Professor of Government and Politics at Washington State University, guests to discuss a new study examining American campaigns' political advertising on Facebook and television in the 2018 US midterm elections. We break down some of the key differences between the two media in terms of who is more likely to use Facebook advertising, when and where online ads are most likely to occur, and how the topics and tone of ads across the two media differ.
Read the full study here!
Misha Leybovich, Organizer for Warren's Meme Team, guests to discuss how memetic templates can be used for grassroots political campaigning. We break down the plan for Warren's Meme Team, its focus on augmented reality (AR) lenses, and what the response to the initiative has been like so far.
Read the full plan here.
Dr. Dan Lane, Assistant Professor of Communication at UC Santa Barbara, guests to discuss his research on how political self-expression influences citizens' perceptions of their political selves as citizens. We also talk about how certain design features of social media seem to affect youth political expression, and how different acts of self-expression can influence political self concepts to varying degrees.
Here are the three studies we discussed in the episode:Social Media Expression and the Political Self
Dr. Sebastian Valenzuela, Associate Professor of Communication at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, guests to discuss two studies on how social media impact political participation.
The first study demonstrates how both Facebook and Twitter contribute to protest participation, but they do so through different pathways that relate to strong and weak tie social networks.
The second study is a meta-analysis of existing research, and it explores whether exposure to cross-cutting information affects political participation.
Both studies are published in Political Communication, and you can read them here:
We talk about some of the political and financial challenges facing the census, what types of data are being used models of hard-to-count communities, and how different types of messaging can either increase or decrease Census response rates.
Learn more about the Civis Census Intelligence Center here!
Neal Rothschild, Associate Director of Growth at Axios, guests to discuss the Axios-NewsWhip 2020 Attention Tracker. The attention tracker monitors candidate and issue mentions across Facebook and Twitter, and we talk about how the technology is used in Axios's reporting of the 2020 Democratic Primaries.
Dr. Bente Kalsnes, Associate Professor of Communication at Kristiania University College, guests to discuss her new book "Fake News: Lies, Disinformation, and Propaganda in the Digital Public Sphere." We also break down politicians' social media campaigning in Norway, how this campaigning is changing ahead of the 2019 local elections, and look at some early Norwegian social media sites that predated Facebook
Carpe Donktum, the pseudonym for a citizen who makes memes to support Donald Trump, guests to discuss his work. We talk about some of the memes that the President has retweeted on Twitter, as well as differences in meme making cultures across Reddit, 4chan, and 8chan.
Here are the memes discussed in the episode:
And, a link to my paper on political campaigns' use of computer games!