Three Important Studies in Digital Media and Politics

Below are summaries of 3 studies that represent trends and progress in digital media and politics. They are of particular interest and represent highlights from 2013. More details are available from the Shorenstein Center.

The first study demonstrates empirically that the global village is increasingly a reality. Most twitter contributions are beyond the local geography and represent a new pattern of interaction.

“Mapping the Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter” Study from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in First Monday. By Kalev Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook.

One of the most comprehensive assessments to date about the effect of new technologies on human communications worldwide, this study examined patterns among more than 1.5 billion tweets from 70 million users over a one-month period in late 2012. It provides empirical evidence that the world is indeed shrinking: “There appears to be only weak geographic affinity in communicative link formation in that users retweet and reference users far away nearly as often as they do those physically proximate to them.” Further, on average people tweet news that happens locally and news about far-away events with about equal frequency. Twitter is “not simply a mirror of mainstream media” and has its own distinct conversational dynamics. The data also show that significant portions of the “world’s most influential Twitter users” were in places such as Indonesia, Western Europe, Africa and Central America. The overall takeaway is that where we live is beginning to matter less in terms of our knowledge, interests and social networks: “Geographic proximity is found to play a minimal role both in who users communicate with and what they communicate about, providing evidence that social media is shifting the communicative landscape.” – See more at:
The study below demonstrates that incivility online damages  expert credibility  and distorts the communication process. The study was responsible for a magazine shutting down its comments section.

“The ‘Nasty Effect’: Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies” From George Mason University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. By Ashley A. Anderson, Dominique Brossard, Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, and Peter Ladwig.

The study, published in February, has the distinction of being one of the few to actually help change editorial policy this year at a publication. Popular Science cited the study in its announcement that it was shutting down its comments section to push back against a perceived “war on expertise.” There remained some controversy, however, about whether the study’s conclusions were broad enough to justify that editorial decision. The researchers used online surveys with embedded experiments to test how people responded to articles about nanotechnology; some were accompanied by nasty comments, others not. The study’s findings suggest that “impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users based on value predispositions utilized as heuristics when processing the blog’s information.” Further, the researchers note, “The effects of online, user-to-user incivility on perceptions towards emerging technologies may prove especially troublesome for science experts and communicators that rely on public acceptance of their information. The effects of online incivility may be even stronger for more well-known and contentious science issues such as the evolution vs. intelligent design debate or climate change.” – See more at:

The third study is an interesting and important summary of the role of the Internet and political campaigns

“The Internet and American Political Campaigns” From George Washington University, published in The Forum. By David Karpf. (Pre-print open version here.)

Part of a growing cohort of academics pioneering the subfield of online politics, Karpf provides a short, useful summary of the state of research in this area. For journalists, the works cited page alone is a valuable who’s who — fill up that contact list for campaigns 2014 and 2016 — but the narrative also underscores some basic truths: The web has not changed many forms of participatory inequality; polarizing candidates frequently win the small donations race; the “culture of testing” and analytics are changing how campaigns allocate resources; liberals and conservatives typically use technology differently for campaigns. One striking insight: “We are potentially moving from swing states to swing individuals, employing savvy marketing professionals to attract these persuadables and mobilize these supporters with little semblance of the slow, messy deliberative practices enshrined in our democratic theories.” But definitive answers remain elusive on many other fronts. “There is still, frankly, a lot that we do not know,” Karpf writes. For more insights in this area, see Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s response, “Messaging, Micro-Targeting and New Media Technologies.” – See more at:

About Donald Ellis

Professor emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on January 13, 2014, in Media and politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That was an interesting commentary. Is it possible you could write a short paragraph recap – in simple English?

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