Analyzing polarization in social media: Method and application to tweets on 21 mass shootings

Dorottya Demszky, Nikhil Garg, Rob Voigt, James Zou, Matthew Gentzkow, Jesse Shapiro, Dan Jurafsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We provide an NLP framework to uncover four linguistic dimensions of political polarization in social media: topic choice, framing, affect and illocutionary force. We quantify these aspects with existing lexical methods, and propose clustering of tweet embeddings as a means to identify salient topics for analysis across events; human evaluations show that our approach generates more cohesive topics than traditional LDA-based models. We apply our methods to study 4.4M tweets on 21 mass shootings. We provide evidence that the discussion of these events is highly polarized politically and that this polarization is primarily driven by partisan differences in framing rather than topic choice. We identify framing devices, such as grounding and the contrasting use of the terms “terrorist” and “crazy”, that contribute to polarization. Results pertaining to topic choice, affect and illocutionary force suggest that Republicans focus more on the shooter and event-specific facts (news) while Democrats focus more on the victims and call for policy changes. Our work contributes to a deeper understanding of the way group divisions manifest in language and to computational methods for studying them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Apr 2 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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