An Automated Snowball Census of the Political Web
34 Pages Posted: 9 May 2011 Last revised: 19 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 9, 2011
This paper solves a persistent methodological problem for social scientists studying the political web: representative sampling. Virtually all existing studies of the political web are based on incomplete samples, and therefore lack generalizability. In this paper, I combine methods from computer science and sampling theory to conduct an automated snowball census of the political web and constructs an all-but-complete index of English political websites. I check the robustness of this index, use it to generate descriptive statistics for the entire political web, and demonstrate that studies based on ad hoc sampling strategies are likely to be biased in important ways. In future research, this bias can be eliminated by using this index as a sampling universe. In addition, the methods and open-source software presented here can be used to creating similar sampling frames for other online content domains.
Keywords: sampling theory, web mining, text classification, computational social science
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