Politics 2.0 with Facebook

Politics 2.0 with Facebook

Chirag Shah (Rutgers University, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6066-3.ch011

Abstract

Analyzing publicly available content on various social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter, as well as social network sites such as Facebook, has become an increasingly popular method for studying socio-political issues. Such public-contributed content, primarily available as comments, let people express their opinions and sentiments on a given topic, news story, or post, while allowing social and political scientists to extend their analysis of a political discourse to the social sphere. This new age political process, which involves political agents reaching out to their audiences through social media and common folks using social media to express their opinions and sentiments, are here referred to as “Politics 2.0.” Recognizing the importance of Facebook in studying Politics 2.0, the chapter provides a comprehensive overview of the research work in social and political science domains that use Facebook as a tool for analyzing various socio-political issues. Several popular approaches for collecting and analyzing data from Facebook are provided, and their applications to understanding public opinion and sentiment around various issues of interest are discussed. The chapter also introduces a couple of handy tools that could help the researchers and practitioners gather and analyze a large amount of Facebook data easily and effectively. The chapter concludes with a discussion on opportunities and challenges for understanding Politics 2.0 with Facebook.
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Introduction

The public messages exchanged by social network site members, sometimes called comments or wall postings are a new type of text-based communication. These messages are unusual in that they are public – either world-visible or visible to all of a members’ friends – and can be permanently associated with the identity of the poster, more directly and publicly so than listserv postings (Thelwall, 2009). Due to the nature of these postings, that is, being public and available for harvesting,1 they make an excellent choice for a social or political scientist to capture and study them as a proxy for people’s voices for a given political discourse.

Thelwall (2009) argued that the widespread use of social network sites (SNS) in many countries (boyd and Ellison, 2007) makes them an important object of study, and also gives an opportunity to investigate informal interpersonal communication on a larger scale than previously possible. In another study, Thelwall (2010) looked at the role of emotion in SNSs and whether emotion is typically reciprocated, and whether Friends express and/or receive similar levels of emotional expression to each other. His findings indicate statistically significant evidence for a weak correlation between the strength of positive emotion exchanged between Friends and received by Friends. This has larger implications on understanding how information propagates from person to person and source to source using SNS, and what they mean to the receiver of information (Shah, 2010).

In addition to providing a background for the research relating to the use of SNS and more specifically Facebook for studying various socio-political topics, this chapter introduces the problem of collecting and analyzing public comments from Facebook, and demonstrate the pros and cons of various approaches. Specifically, the reader is taken through a series of steps that one may have to take for manually studying a political topic on Facebook, demonstrate a fully-automated process, and then a hybrid approach for collecting and analyzing public comments from Facebook. The chapter starts with a brief overview of the relevant literature, describes a couple of methods for collecting and analyzing data from Facebook, and their implications for studying political discourses.

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Approaches To Using Facebook For Studying Socio-Political Issues

There have been several studies reported in the recent years relating to the use of Facebook for investigating various socio-political issues. These fields including information and library science, political science, human-computer interaction, and computer and social sciences. This section provides a few examples of these works to inform and inspire the reader about the use of Facebook and other SNSs for understading political discourses taking place online.

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