Research Talk by Dr. Jahna Otterbacher, Open University of Cyprus, Nicosia CYPRUS

Public officials on Twitter: What are they tweeting and why might it matter?


Date & time: Monday, 12 November, 12:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Venue: CNM Meeting Room, AS6, #03-33


About the talk

As social media become a more common means for officials to communicate with constituents, it becomes crucial that we understand how they use these tools and, of course, how their use matters. I describe results from an ongoing project, in which we are following the Twitter activity of elected officials in three government bodies: the United States’ Congress, the European Parliament and the Korean National Assembly. As of August 2012, we had captured the tweets of 504 Members of Congress (MoCs), 174 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and 254 Korean National Assembly Members (NAMs). To date, our analyses have focused on two key questions: 1) What are officials trying to achieve through their tweets? 2) To what extent do officials interact with constituents?

In addressing the first question, we designed a robust coding scheme for the “actions” behind officials’ tweets. We then developed a method for automated classification of tweet actions, allowing us to study large datasets. In an analysis of all MoCs’ tweets posted over a three-month time period, we found that MoCs primarily use Twitter as a means to share information resources, as well as to position themselves with respect to issues or other politicians. In contrast, they rarely use Twitter to actually engage the public toward political action or to post pro-social comments.

In considering the second question, we performed a qualitative analysis of prolific MoCs, MEPs and NAMs tweets over a six-month period. This revealed that officials interact with constituents to varying degrees. Some tweet in a monologue style, yielding no control over the interaction to the public, while others engage in mutual discourse, initiating dialog and responding to citizens. We propose directions for further research, including extensions of current models of interactivity previously proposed by CMC scholars.

This is joint work with Libby Hemphill and Matthew A. Shapiro at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago USA.


About the speaker

Dr. Jahna Otterbacher (Ph.D., University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, USA) is a communication and information scientist who studies mass self-communication. Her research focuses on interactions between people in technology-mediated environments where the primary mode of communication is written text. She views writing as a social interaction, in that what and how one writes creates an impression as to one’s personality and credibility as a source of information. She uses mixed methodologies in her research, including quantitative and textual analyses. Her endeavour is to discover patterns in the use of language and other communicative devices in order to better facilitate interactions between people, enhancing their access to information.

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