Wednesday, March 13, 2013

All Atwitter: Global Communication in the Age of Social Media

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All Atwitter: Global Communication in the Age of Social Media

Posted by the 30:180 Honors in Political Science Class
Think only the leaders of big countries have global followings on twitter? Think again.

People around the world are talking, and they’re talking about political leaders. The head of state of any given country is tweeted about in 16 different languages on average, according to a new study we conducted as University of Iowa students enrolled in Political Science Professor Bob Boynton’s Honors Seminar on the Study of Politics.

In order to analyze global communication, we collected tweets containing the name of the head of state of 12 different countries. Since twitter is global, anyone in the world can send out a message in their own native language. These tweets can be collected, catalogued, and identified by language using various online software. We used Quick Count, a site capable of capturing 1,500 twitter messages at a time containing a specified set of keywords.

We hypothesized that we would find evidence of global communication, since twitter use is not bound by geographic region. By “global communication” we mean, for example, finding Polish-speakers tweeting about United States President Barack Obama, and Spanish-speakers tweeting about United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron. As it turns out, they are.

Our initial hypothesis echoed the theories of Karl Deutsch, a 20th century American social and political scientist. Deutsch argued that as social communication increases, traditional boundaries separating countries will dissipate.

Our research found that communication is rapidly crossing geographic borders. Each head of state received between eight (Mario Monti, Italy) and 20 (Barack Obama, U.S.) unique language tweets over the span of three days.

And smaller countries aren’t left out of the loop. While we found a small positive correlation between the population size of a country and the number of different languages tweeted about the country’s head of state, smaller countries were still well represented in global communication. Taoiseach of Ireland (pop. 4,487,000) Edna Kenney was tweeted about in 15 different languages. Chancellor of Germany (pop. 81,726,000) Angela Merkel was tweeted about in 18 different languages. That’s a difference of only three languages, though Germany’s population is 20 times that of Ireland’s.

This semester, we will continue analyzing twitter’s role in global communication by studying messages, languages, demographics, and key global issues setting the twittersphere ablaze. Our goal is to better understand the extent to which Deutsch’s theories about social communication are applicable to social media today. For us, twitter is more than a social networking site. It’s a powerful tool which is enabling anyone with a computer or smart phone to participate in political dialogue.  Twitter’s ability to communicate between many languages simultaneously concerning a current political event will continue to influence politics across borders.


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