The University of Hawaii Manoa’s Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) Department Computer-Human InteractionÂ LaboratoryÂ has been very busy researching the intersection of social media and politics this year. Throughout the summer, they ran studies on Twitter users during debates and it continues this fall with two debates included in the study:Â
1. Tuesday, October 16, from 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.: U.S. Senate (Hawaii) candidates Linda Lingle and Mazie Hirono
2. Monday, October 22, starting at 3 p.m.: U.S. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney
Recruitment has been a challenge for the studies. In one of Hawaii’s debates this summer there were only 17 participants; their goal with these final two debates is at least 60 participants for each. As with all research, the more participants the better the results, so if you’re available, I encourage you to join me by filling out this very short and simple survey:Â http://svy.mk/ST7OwP
Participants will receive a $20 gift card for each study and and an additional $10 gift card for completing a follow-up online questionnaire. By participating in both debates, you can earn as much as $60 in gift cards.
I asked the researchers some questions about the study and their answers are fascinating. Bryan Semaan, a post doctoral researcher, responded.Â
Why did UH decide to focus on Twitter exclusively for this research?
Through our open-ended interviews with users of social media, people have been describing how useful Twitter is as a tool to learn about and discuss politics. This is related to Twitterâ€™s features. Twitter provides its users with unique functions. Firstly, people can follow other users without those same users following them in return. Thus, people have access to a wide range of opinions from a variety of sources like regular citizens and politicians. Secondly, people can easily conduct hashtag (#) and keyword searches on a variety of topics and receive information as an event is happening in real time. Lastly, essentially anyone who is part of the â€œTwittersphereâ€ can participate in any number of discussions in a virtual public venue.
While we research many types of social media, focusing on Twitter provides an opportunity to research dialogue not only among “friends” but also strangers who are interested in the same topic using hashtags. Through Twitter people can easily access information and opinions from people who hold diverse opinions across the political spectrum from varied socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Some researchers (Kwak et al., 2010) have found that, unlike other social network sites, Twitter may not serve a social networking role but may also play a part in information seeking. The ultimate goal of the research project is to design an online informational space where people can participate in a deliberative democracy, a place where they can freely exchange ideas in an open, rational and civil manner. Understanding how people seek information within and beyond their social networks plays a critical part in fostering political deliberation.
What other social media platforms provide insight for your research?
Several social media platforms exist, all of which can provide some sort of insight as they all provide unique features to their users. As a lab, we focus on a variety of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs. People are also using more focused media like Politico, Instagram, Pinterest and Storify.
The principal investigator of the research project, Dr. Scott Robertson in the Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) Department, has conducted extensive research on political information seeking and deliberation. Most of his work has focused on Facebook as it is the most widely used Social Media platform. To learn more, you can look up some of his recent academic articles on social media and political deliberation, some of which are listed below. NOTE: (see bottom of article)
Who will this research primarily impact?
Access to the Internet has become more egalitarian in the United States, and the diversity represented in social networking sites is broadening. It is certainly the case that voices which had no access to the general polity in the past may now be heard online through social media. However, it may be difficult for people to effectively navigate the plethora of political discussions that are constantly emerging in the online political public available through social media. The tools we develop should help users find broadly distributed, but interlinked content, through which they can obtain multiple perspectives on any given politician or political issue. Similarly, browsing political material is a direct way of acquiring knowledge about civic activities, the operations of government, and the issues of the day.
What are you looking to discover?
Here we propose to study a fast growing, but little understood new type of political participation: online information seeking, deliberation and decision making in the context of Web 2.0 technologies. We are proposing to study users of new media at the dawn of digital politics. We hope to contribute to multiple disciplines, including theories of deliberation and choice in political science, theories of discourse and dialog, and more technical concerns in the fields of human-computer interaction and socio-technical systems research. We propose a mixture of experimental studies, user-centered design/development activities in the tradition of â€œdesign- scienceâ€ (Carroll, 1992; Hevner, 2004; Hevner & Chatterjee, 2010; Simon, 1996), and naturalistic observation with the aim of creating new types of information searching, sharing, and browsing environments and observing resulting changes in behavior. We hope to obtain a unique longitudinal data set of online cognitive (decision-oriented) and social (deliberative) actions across several election cycles.
When will the research be completed?
The study is part of a larger four-year research project on social media and political deliberation.
What other debates have been included so far?
We studied Twitter use during one other debate between Mazie Hirono and Ed Case, who were vying for the Democratic candidacy in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. They debated on July 26, 2012.
Do you need to live in Hawaii to participate in the research?
No, you do not need to live in Hawaii to participate in our studies. We are always conducting ongoing studies, and each has different requirements. For example, when running lab experiments, people must be living in Hawaii as we ask them to come to the lab. However, we have other studies where people can be living anywhere, such as our longitudinal study that consists of interviews and observations of peopleâ€™s social media use for political deliberation.
Will research results be publicly available? Where will it be available?
Yes, research results will be available after we finish data collection and analysis. Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if you would like a summary of our findings.
You can learn more about the Computer-Human Interaction lab at the University of Manoa here:Â
For more information on the research that inspired this study:
- Robertson, S.P. (2011). Changes in referents and emotions over time in election-related social networking dialog.Â Proceedings of HICSS-44: Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.Â (10pp). doi=10.1109/HICSS.2011.97
- Robertson, S., Vatrapu, R. & Medina, R. (2010).Â Off the wall political discourse: Facebook use in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.Â Information Polity, 15 (1,2), pp. 11-31.
- Robertson, S., Vatrapu, R. & Medina, R. (2010). Online video “friends” social networking. Overlapping online public spheres in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.Â Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 7 (2,3), pp. 182-201.
- Robertson, S., & Vatrapu, R. (2010). Digital government. In Cronin, B. (Ed.).Â Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 44,Â Ch. 8, pp. 317-364.
- Robertson, S., Vatrapu, R., & Abraham, G. (2009). Note taking and note sharing while browsing campaign information: Design tradeoffs between e-democracy and e-participation.Â Proceedings of HICSS-42: Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.Â (10pp). doi=10.1109/HICSS.2009.326
- Robertson, S. P., Vatrapu, R. K., and Medina, R. (2009).Â The social life of social networks: Facebook linkage patterns in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.Â InÂ Proceedings of the 10th Annual international Conference on Digital Government Research: Social Networks: Making Connections between Citizens, Data and GovernmentÂ (May 17 – 20, 2009). ACM International Conference Proceeding Series, vol. 390. Digital Government Society of North America, pp. 6-15.
- Robertson, S. (2008).Â Design research in digital government: A query prosthesis for voters.Â InÂ Proceedings of the 2008 International Conference on Digital Government ResearchÂ (Montreal, Canada, May 18 – 21, 2008). dg.o, vol. 289. Digital Government Society of North America, pp. 73-81.
- Robertson, S., Wania, C., & Abraham, G., & Park, S.J. (2008). Drop-down democracy: Internet portal design influences voters’ search strategies.Â Proceedings of HICSS-41: Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. (10pp). doi=10.1109/HICSS.2008.131
- Robertson, S., Wania, C., & Park, S.J. (2007). An observational study of voters on the internet.Â Proceedings of HICSS-40: Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. (10pp). doi=10.1109/HICSS.2007.70
- Robertson, S.P. (2005).Â Voter-centered design: Toward a voter decision support system.Â ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 12(2), pp. 263-292.