The Prevalence of Political Discourse in Non-Political Blogs

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Though political theorists have emphasized the importance of political discussion in non-political spaces, past study of online political discussion has focused on primarily political websites. Using a random sample from Blogger.com, we find that 25% of all political posts are from blogs that post about politics less than 20% of the time, because the vast majority of blogs post about politics some of the time but infrequently. Far from being taboo topics in those nonpolitical blogs, political posts got slightly more comments than non-political posts in those same blogs, and the comments overwhelmingly engage the political topics of the post, mostly agreeing but frequently disagreeing as well. We argue that non-political spaces devoted primarily to personal diaries, hobbies, and other topics represent a substantial place of online political discussion and should be a site for further study.

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The Prevalence of Political Discourse in Non-Political Blogs

  1. 1. e Prevalence of Political Discourse in Non-Political BlogsSean A. Munson, Paul ResnickSchool of Information, University of Michigan
  2. 2. Concerns about homophily in online political discourse •  Political bloggers predominantly link to like-minded bloggers (Adamic & Glance 2005) •  High levels of agreement in comment threads on many blogs, including political blogs (Gilbert et al 2009) •  Challenge aversion prevalent in preferences for political newsAdamic & Glance 2005 aggregators (Munson & Resnick 2010)
  3. 3. !"#$%"&()$)(.$%(&).$012/.$ *+,+-./$ !"#$%"&()$
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  5. 5. 3-456267)$ 87"19$:&;-9&/$<3$=--9."$ >16&9?@$
  6. 6. 3-456267)$ 87"19$:&;-9&/$<3$=--9."$ >16&9?@$
  7. 7. 3-456267)$People who come together for other reasons•  may be more politically diverse•  listen and frame arguments to protect their relationships 87"19$:&;-9&/$… but they may also avoid political discussion or disagreement,also to protect relationships. <3$=--9."$ >16&9?@$
  8. 8. signs that politics is not tabooin non-political spaces online. •  Discussion of political candidates by Twitter users (Tumasjan et al 2010; Diakopoulos & Shamma 2010; Conover et al 2011) •  8% of US adults posted political content to a social network site during 2010 midterm elections, 11% discovered for whom their friends voted (Smith/Pew 2011) •  People say they encounter cross-cutting political discussion online, but in non-political spaces (Wojcieszak & Mutz 2009)
  9. 9. … but some cautions •  Facebook users underestimate their friends’ political diversity – is this a sign they don’t talk about it? (Goel, Mason, Watts 2010) •  Posting political, partisan messages has been cited as one of the top reasons for unfollowing or unfriending people on Facebook or Twitter. (Sibuna and Walczak 2010; Kwak, Chun, Moon 2011)
  10. 10. questions for our study •  How prevalent are political blog posts on non- political blogs? •  What is the distribution of political blog posts across di erent categories of blogs? •  When readers of non-political blogs encounter political posts, do they treat them as taboo, or do they engage with the political content of the post?
  11. 11. sample of blogs
  12. 12. Poll Blogger.com’s recently updated list. 23,904 blogs6-20 January 2008Kept only blogs that:•  had at least 5 posts,•  were written in English, and•  had existed since at least 31 August 2007.
  13. 13. Poll Blogger.com’s recently updated list. 23,904 blogsResearch team inspects & eliminates 8,861 blogsspam blogs and blogs only partially inEnglish. stick gures from XKCD
  14. 14. Poll Blogger.com’s recently updated list. 23,904 blogsResearch team inspects & eliminates 8,861 blogsspam blogs and blogs only partially inEnglish.Code posts as political / nonpolitical, 8,765 blogsclassify blogs by genre. Eliminate 2.3M postsadditional spam & partially Englishblogs.
  15. 15. classifying posts as political or notBroad de nition of political: any mention of public policy,campaigns, and elected or appointed o cials, and did notrestrict this de nition to US politics.
  16. 16. classifying posts as political or notBroad de nition of political: any mention of public policy,campaigns, and elected or appointed o cials, and did notrestrict this de nition to US politics. Research team categorized 6,691 posts as political or not. (oversampled political posts; κ = 0.969)
  17. 17. classifying posts as political or notBroad de nition of political: any mention of public policy,campaigns, and elected or appointed o cials, and did notrestrict this de nition to US politics. Research team categorized 6,691 posts as political or not. (oversampled political posts; κ = 0.969) Used to train multinomial naïve Bayes classi er, classify remaining posts. (κ = 0.902) 217,727 political posts and 2,136,551 non-political posts.
  18. 18. estimating prevalenceSimple tally is problematic:•  overestimate percent political on blogs with few political posts (more opportunities for false positives)•  Underestimate political posts on blogs with many political posts (more opportunities for false negatives)
  19. 19. estimating prevalenceSimple tally is problematic:•  overestimate percent political on blogs with few political posts (more opportunities for false positives)•  Underestimate political posts on blogs with many political posts (more opportunities for false negatives)Consider a blog that is always political:Political posts" False negatives (12.6%)"Consider a blog that is never political:Non-political posts" False positives (0.5%)"
  20. 20. estimating prevalenceSimple tally is problematic:•  overestimate percent political on blogs with few political posts (more opportunities for false positives)•  Underestimate political posts on blogs with many political posts (more opportunities for false negatives)When reporting about blogs or bins, we handle this withrevised estimates (p*): prevalence ! (1! specificity) p* = sensitivity ! (1! specificity) (Zhou et al 2002)
  21. 21. categorizing blogs Classify blogs into seven categories: diary, hobby & fan, professional & sales, politics, religion, civic & issue, health &wellness, and ethnic / cultural. At least 5 categorizations per blog, + determine nal category with get-get-another-label another-label (Sheng, Provost, Ipeirotis 2008) Check against ratings from research team (overall κ = 0.72)
  22. 22. coding comments 244 threads classi ed by research team. Inter-rater reliability on 56 comments on 42 blog posts.
  23. 23. coding comments 244 threads classi ed by research team. Inter-rater reliability on 56 comments on 42 blog posts.
  24. 24. coding comments 244 threads classi ed by research team. Inter-rater reliability on 56 comments on 42 blog posts.
  25. 25. resultsoverall prevalence | prevalence by category | engagement
  26. 26. resultsoverall prevalence | prevalence by category | engagement
  27. 27. prevalence of political posts
  28. 28. prevalence of political posts ~25% of political blog posts come from blogs that talk about politics less than 20% of the time. "
  29. 29. prevalence of political posts by day US election day" Limited to posts from non-political blogs. Start of US presidential primary season"
  30. 30. resultsoverall prevalence | prevalence by category | engagement
  31. 31. categories: descriptions & summary statistics
  32. 32. categories: descriptions & summary statistics
  33. 33. categories: descriptions & summary statistics
  34. 34. prevalence of politicalposts by category
  35. 35. prevalence of politicalposts by category
  36. 36. prevalence of politicalposts by category
  37. 37. prevalence of politicalposts by category
  38. 38. prevalence of politicalposts by category
  39. 39. resultsoverall prevalence | prevalence by category | engagement
  40. 40. mean comments per post
  41. 41. mean comments per postexpected comments per post F(4, 8764) = 3.862e+05 (p<0.0001); adjusted R2 = 0.3962.
  42. 42. engagement & agreementAmong 990 comments on 244 political posts:
  43. 43. engagement & agreementAmong 990 comments on 244 political posts:
  44. 44. this is a start. (and a challenge.)
  45. 45. this is a start. (and a challenge.) ere’s a lot of political talk happening on non-political blogs.
  46. 46. this is a start. (and a challenge.) ere’s a lot of political talk happening on non-political blogs. Not taboo: readers engage with this political content in replies.
  47. 47. this is a start. (and a challenge.) ere’s a lot of political talk happening on non-political blogs. Not taboo: readers engage with this political content in replies.? What is the actual discourse quality? Civility? Arguments expressed? How does this stack up against other spaces?
  48. 48. e Prevalence of Political Discoursein Non-Political BlogsSean A. Munson @smunson samunson@umich.eduPaul Resnick @presnick presnick@umich.edubalance.projects.si.umich.eduFunded by the National Science Foundation under award IIS-0916099and a Yahoo! Key Technical Challenge Grant. anks to Liz Aderhold, Erica Willar, and Emily Rosengren.

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