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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

The Impact of Social Media on Democratic Elections and Public Votes

Overview

Social media platforms are playing a critical role in the formation of today’s democracies. These platforms have become a major playground for mass communication between candidates and electorates. They are being used as a default medium for public engagement and dissemination of political agendas during elections. At present political scientists measure significant conversations, and citizens’ attitude during elections through data collected from field studies. This is often limited in its sample size and data quality. In this project we will work together with political scientists to overcome barriers to data collection from social media platforms and understanding the dynamics associated with election campaigns through a variety of analytical methods. The political scientists will support us on data collection requirements and problem identification through significant hashtags, time intervals to acquire richer data sets and in driving research questions. In return the project will support them to research the dynamics of how campaigns are run on social media in contrast to mainstream news. This is significant as recent elections have shown results contrary to those predicted by the mainstream information channels.
The project will retrospectively analyse data collected from social media platforms relating to democratic elections and public votes, initially the US Presidential Election 2016 and the UK 2016 “Brexit” referendum, and use the findings to monitor upcoming key elections and votes. This will provide in-depth understanding of regional variants in interactions between politicians and citizens and impact of social issues on political alignments. The major contribution of the project will be to provide building blocks in the form of re-usable analytical methodologies that can further be extended to develop standards, and benchmarks to analyse critical political events and their social impact. The project will fulfil this aim by delivering an analytical framework with methodologies, data curation methods, and research findings focused on elections and public votes designed closely with political scientists. The research and technology developed in this project will form the preliminary work to support a larger grant with
EPSRC/ESRC.

Staff

Principal Investigator: Dr Aastha Madaan, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering

Co-Investigator: Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering

Co-Investigator: Professor Will Jennings, Social Sciences

Final Report

View the report.

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