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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Social Media and Political Movements: A Computational Exploration

  • Author(s): Chung, Justin
  • Advisor(s): Mark, Gloria J
  • et al.

In recent years, political polarization has received increased attention in the United States. Reports suggest that partisan differences have greatly deepened in the past several decades, and that this polarization has had a number of deleterious effects. However, some debate remains as to the etiology of political orientation and political choice—some suggest that political choices can be modeled as utility-optimizing economic actions, while others posit the existence of “moral foundations” that serve as the underpinnings of ideology. We take a quantitative approach to investigating these questions, examining over 80,000 posts from 50 liberal and 50 conservative blogs from the latter half of 2012, around the time of the United States presidential election. In our analysis, we employ Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, a tool that measures the use of salient linguistic markers in digital texts. The markers examined include function words such as pronouns, articles, and prepositions; researchers have found that the frequency of usage of these words has correlations with a number of phenomena, including age, gender, wealth, and the success or failure of social interactions. Our investigation reveals that some divergence exists between the frequencies of use of these words by liberals and conservatives. By examining these divergences, we find support for a moral foundations approach to understand ideological differences. Our contribution adds to the discourse on the etiology of political choice and probes the ways in which ideological orientation affects written language.

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