Social media has changed the way politics are practiced and researched, introducing a number of technical obstacles as well as spectacular scientific opportunities. The Lab supports research in three core areas: (i) the relationship between social media and politics, (ii) innovative ways to use social media data to study politics, and (iii) developing open-source tools that facilitate the use of social media data for the study of politics.
Substantively, the core mission of the SMaPP lab is to study how social media use affects politics. To do so, we examine what information people consume on social media, and how it influences both their attitudes and behavior. This includes traditional political behavior such as voting, as well as `unconventional’ political behavior such as engaging in protests or demonstrations. We are also committed to understanding fundamental questions about social media and democracy. This includes understanding not just mass behavior, but elite behavior and the intersection of elite behavior and mass behavior as facilitated by social media. Does social media make it easier for mass opinion to be observed by elites? And does it change the set of people who are able to effectively participate in politics? Further, we remain very interested in questions that distinguish the effects of social media on politics in democratic and non-democratic societies. In particular, we seek to understand how authoritarian regimes respond to online opposition, and how the tools they have developed in doing so (e.g., bots and trolls) are reverberating in democratic politics.
Methodologically, we are motivated by the fact that the emergence of social media and derived digital trace data has the potential to fundamentally reshape the toolbox of not just political science, but social science as a whole. We have been interested in how we can use social media data to estimate politically important quantities of interest (such as ideology or public opinion) at scale, how we can design research that allows as to measure newly emerging features of the digital era (e.g., the sharing of fake news or incivility online), and how to measure -- and estimate the effect on political behavior -- of massive online networks. We have also sought out ways to use social media to measure previously unobservable variables that are of theoretical importance to models of politics, such as network centrality (and other network based metrics for quantifying a user’s potential influence) or the extent to which political speech by elites is increasing or decreasing its focus on a small number of central issues (e.g., how external factors influence the entropy of elite topic distributions).