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Predicting the development of online informal political conversations in a protest context

Presenters: Teresa Gil Lopez & Cuihua (Cindy) Shen

Mar 01, 2018
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM

Kerr Hall 386

Presenters:  Teresa Gil Lopez & Cuihua (Cindy) Shen

Title: Predicting the development of online informal political conversations in a protest context.

Abstract: Broadly understood, the act of ‘talking politics’ has been found to be associated with positive outcomes such as political knowledge and participation. Despite the need to understand political talk as it occurs in everyday life, the nature of informal political conversations remains somewhat underexplored, which prevents conclusions about whether these conversations meet deliberative standards. Digital communication platforms represent the perfect arena for observing conversations as they naturally occur; however, the extent to which political conversation occurs online is unclear, as well as how much of it exposes individuals to disagreement. This is especially relevant in contexts of dissent or protest, where group positions are polarized. In such contexts, social media foster various forms of protest behavior (i.e., opinion expression, support mobilization), consequently attracting exceptional levels of activity. At the same time, opponents of these movements may also express their disagreement with the dissenters’ cause through the same platforms. As a result, opportunities may arise for cross-cutting discussions. However, the actual development of political discussions may be subject to a multiplicity of factors, as varied as users’ status relative to the movement, message purpose, topic, or common ideology among participants. In response to the above, this study proposes an examination of 30,520 complete Twitter conversation threads occurring in the context of an online protest. The main goal of the study is to identify what structural and content-related factors trigger users’ responses after a user has made a message public. Preliminary findings suggest that influence dynamics may strongly shape conversational practices of protest-related discussions on Twitter, as they point to a clear pattern of concentration of attention around influential users. Findings also suggest that many-to-one discussion threads, rather than small group interactions, may be the predominant form of informal political talk in the digital realm.

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