Supporting Policy-Makers with Social Media Analysis Tools to Get Aware of Citizens' Opinions

Supporting Policy-Makers with Social Media Analysis Tools to Get Aware of Citizens' Opinions

Timo Wandhöfer (GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany), Steve Taylor (IT Innovation Centre Southampton, UK), Miriam Fernandez (Open University, UK), Beccy Allen (Hansard Society, UK), Harith Alani (The Open University, UK), Somya Joshi (Gov2u, Greece), Paul Walland (IT Innovation Centre Southampton, UK), Sergej Sizov (University of Düsseldorf, Germany), Catherine van Eeckhaute (Gov2u, Belgium), Mark Thamm (Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany), Arnim Bleier (Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany), Peter Mutschke (Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany) and Vasilis Koulolias (Stockholm University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4719-0.ch007
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Abstract

The role of social media in politics has increased considerably. A particular challenge is how to deal with the deluge of information generated on social media: it is impractical to read lots of messages with the hope of finding useful information. In this chapter, the authors suggest an alternative approach: utilizing analysis software to extract the most relevant information of the discussions taking place. This chapter discusses the WeGov Toolbox as one concept for policy-makers to deal with the information overload on Social Media, and how it may be applied. Two complementary, in depth case studies were carried out to validate the usefulness of the analysis results of the WeGov Toolbox components' within its target audience's everyday life. Firstly, the authors used the “HeadsUp” forum, operated by the Hansard Society. Here, they were able to compare the key themes and opinions extracted automatically by the Toolbox to a control group of manually pre-analyzed data sets. In parallel, results of analyses based on four weeks' intensive monitoring on policy area-specific Facebook pages selected by German policy makers, as well as topics on Twitter globally and local, were assessed by taking into account their existing experience with content discussed and user behavior in their respective public spheres. The cases show that there are interesting applications for policy-makers to use the Toolbox in combination with online forums (blogs) and social networks, if behavioral user patterns will be considered and the framework will be refined.
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1. Introduction

Governments and public institutions are increasingly working with citizens to give the citizens more of a stake in the policy-shaping process, for example through public consultations on new legislation (Koop et al., 2010). In practice e-participation platforms foster communication and interaction between politicians and government bodies on the one side, and citizens on the other. Notwithstanding the benefits brought about by existing eParticipation platforms, there remains the unsolved challenge of how to involve a larger number of affected individuals, groups and communities in discussions than is currently achieved through dedicated web sites. This problem has, for example, been analyzed with the 10 Downing Street Debate Mapper, being a case in point (Miller & Williamson, 2008). They found that very few people (7% of 309 invitees) took part using the dedicated Debate Mapper website, but a larger proportion did comment about the same subject on other Web platforms.

The use of social networking platforms has a significant part to play in political engagement. Social Media (Hrdinova et al., 2010) and blogs (Coleman, 2005) have high potential for the eGovernment to interact with citizens. From a sociological point of view, platforms like Twitter are interesting for analyzing the dissemination of topics and as well for analyzing the opinions and sentiments of the society regarding particular topics (Savage, 2011). Beyond that, online platforms have the power to influence the process of opinion making (Coleman, 2004). That’s why Coleman (2005) uses the label: “new politics of listening”. For instance in the UK the Internet and social networks are everyday life functionality for Parliamentarians (Williamson, 2009).

There is thus a huge potential of online discussion places, but there is a problem of making sense of the huge amounts of text in them. The aim of this paper is to suggest analysis tools and validation two cases to support eGovernment by exploiting the potential of online discussions and addressing the problem of “too much information”. In the next section, we introduce the EC IST FP7 WeGov project1 which developed the WeGov Toolbox. The WeGov Toolbox (hereafter “the Toolbox”), will be explained afterwards. Then we introduce the toolbox analysis components that automatically determine key themes and opinions, key users and exemplary posts from comments from debates on social networks. Subsequently we explain the evaluation model behind these two case studies to validate the analysis results. Finally, we draw general conclusions.

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