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more tweets, more votes: social media and causation

This week, the group Political Bots wrote the following tweet and cited More Tweets, More Votes in support:

The claim, I believe, is that politicians purchase bots (automated spamming Twitter accounts) because they believe that more presence on media leads to a higher vote tally.

In presenting these results, we were very careful to avoid saying that there is a causal relationship between social media mentions and voting:

These results indicate that the “buzz” or public discussion about a candidate on social media can be used as an indicator of voter behavior.

And:

Known as the Pollyana hypothesis, this finding implies that the relative over-representation of a word within a corpus of text may indicate that it signifies something that is viewed in a relatively positive manner. Another possible explanation might be that strong candidates attract more attention from both supporters and opponents. Specifically, individuals may be more likely to attack or discuss disliked candidates who are perceived as being strong or as having a high likelihood of winning.

In other words, we went to great efforts to suggest that social media is a “thermometer,” not a cause of election outcomes.

Now, it might be fascinating to find that politicians are changing behavior in response to our paper. It *might* be the case that when politicians believe in a causal effect, they increase spending on social media. Even then, it doesn’t show a causal effect of social media. It is actually more evidence for the “thermometer” theory. Politicians who have money to spend on social media campaigns are strong candidates and strong candidates tend to get more votes. I appreciate the discussion of social media and election outcomes, but so far, I think the evidence is that there is not a casual effect.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 4, 2015 at 12:02 am

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