On Friday, February 1, 2019, Josh Pasek, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan and S3MC member, will give a talk as part of the MIDAS Seminar Series titled “What Can Tweets Tell Us About Public Opinions? Uncovering the Data Generating Process by Linking Twitter Data with Surveys”. The talk can be attended in person at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus in Room 340, East Hall (1085 S. University Ave), or via livestream.
Abstract: A growing body of research has employed Twitter and other social media data as a way of understanding phenomena previously studied using surveys and experiments. Although studies have provided a number of valuable insights into attitudes and behaviors using data science methods, scholars have needed to walk back some of the most initially promising results. In this talk, I discuss how the social processes generating Twitter data differ from traditional measures of public opinions, outline some distinct models for what social media data could be telling us about society, and present a series of empirical results helping us to think about how well those models apply to politically oriented Twitter data. Collectively, these results imply that tweets, when examined at scale, are not simple reflections of public opinion. Instead, they appear to blend the attention and attitudes of some sets of individuals with patterns of more general information dissemination. To conclude, I consider what these results suggest for attempts to use Twitter data to understand public attitudes and behaviors.