Welcome to Britain’s First Ever Prime Ministerial Primary

This blog post, in an abridged form, has been republished at the LSE’s Politics and Policy blog here.

#JezWeCan? It’s a laughable comparison, of course: the engrossing election of 2008 which brought the United States its first African-American president, at the expense of its first female one, propelled by the power of hope, change, and the unifying rhetoric of the most gifted politician the twenty first century has so far seen. Continue reading “Welcome to Britain’s First Ever Prime Ministerial Primary”

What’s at the end of Facebook’s rainbow?

(c) Philippa Willitts on Flickr
(c) Philippa Willitts on Flickr

In a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago, I posed the following thought experiment: what if Mark Zuckerberg woke up feeling like Rupert Murdoch? For decades it’s been accepted – if seldom celebrated – that Murdoch’s red-tops command serious influence over the British electorate. Not for nothing, then, is it said that ‘it was the Sun wot won it‘ for John Major’s Conservatives in 1992; similar arguments could be made for each general election since, not least the most recent one. Continue reading “What’s at the end of Facebook’s rainbow?”

Big Data – What’s New(s)?

The following is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield this week, presenting work by myself and Ralph Schroeder.

The question of what drives news coverage far pre-dates the Internet and the rise of social media, and over the decades – or indeed the centuries – of mass media, myriad explanations have been offered in answer. Continue reading “Big Data – What’s New(s)?”

The MPs whose Wikipedia pages have been edited from inside Parliament

Grant Shapps is in the headlines after being accused of self-serving edits made to his own entry on Wikipedia, as well as unflattering changes made to rivals’ pages. But he may not be the only politician giving himself a virtual facelift. Analysis of the Twitter account @parliamentedits, which tracks edits to Wikipedia made from inside the Houses of Parliament, shows other attempts to edit the online encyclopedia, many of them controversial.
Continue reading “The MPs whose Wikipedia pages have been edited from inside Parliament”

What the Thornberry Affair tells us about politicians online

Published on the the LSE British Politics and Policy blog.

Many commentators have speculated what was going through the mind of Emily Thornberry, the shadow Attorney General, when she tweeted a picture of a terraced Rochester house draped in three England flags and a white van parked in the driveway, with the simple caption ‘Image from Rochester’. Continue reading “What the Thornberry Affair tells us about politicians online”

The Crowd in the Cloud? Three challenges for gauging public opinion online

Cowls, Josh (2014) The Crowd in the Cloud? Three challenges for gauging public opinion online. IPP2014: Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy, September 2014, Oxford, UK.

Much excitement surrounds the use of social sources of big data – harvested from popular networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as other forms of socially generated data including Wikipedia edits and Google searches – in the pursuit of social scientific discovery. In this paper I assess the extent to which these newly available sources of socially-generated big data can tell us about public opinion in a society at large. I draw on data from a series of interviews conducted with researchers at the forefront of big data approaches to social science, in order to outline the opportunities and issues around this area of research. In my analysis I identify three challenges to the validity of online public opinion measurement – the reliability of the data collected, the representativeness of the ‘sample’ being analysed, and the replicability of this form of public opinion research – and suggest various ways in which these challenges can be met.

Nationalism and the Scottish Genius

It’s the smell that hits you first. Stepping into Waverley is to step into a wave of malty musk which suffuses your sinuses. Off the platform and into the car, it’s what you feel that gets you next: the juddery drive over improbably cobbly streets. And finally, what you see: Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat, peaks that, if it’s misty, you might only be able to peek at. Continue reading “Nationalism and the Scottish Genius”

Murder in the time of virality

careless-talk-costs-lives
(For today’s social media landscape, invert the megaphone)

That the beheading of journalist James Foley is ‘media’ is horrific. Whether it is ‘social’ falls on all of us.

I, like millions of others, learned about the death of journalist James Foley on social media. But it just so happened that the news was delivered to me in as sensitive and sombre a way as possible. Continue reading “Murder in the time of virality”

Social media and public opinion: what’s new?

I’m currently writing up a paper for submission to the Internet, Politics and Policy 2014 conference to be held by the OII in September. My paper – which draws substantially on interviews conducted as part of the Sloan Foundation-funded project of which I’m part – asks whether and to what extent the measurement of public opinion has been transformed by the new availability of socially-generated sources of big data, such as social media postings and search queries, and the tools which allow us to analyse them. Continue reading “Social media and public opinion: what’s new?”