Twitter as Virtual Town Square: Citizen Engagement During a Nationally Televised Republican Primary Debate
29 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2012 Last revised: 19 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2012
The Internet and social media create a geographically independent virtual town square (Kavanaugh, Perez-Quinones, Tedesco, & Sanders, 2010) that transforms citizen participation in political discourse. In our study, we examine over 185,420 publically available Twitter messages (hashtag #CNNDebate) during a Republican Primary Debate in November 2011, hosted by CNN and viewed by over 3.5 million individuals in the United States. Through analysis of how individuals use the syntactical features of Twitter such as @-mentions, @Reply’s, hashtags, links and retweets we identify how civic discourse occurs at different phases of a televised debate. Understanding how individuals engage with each other in an open forum has broad implications for understanding social media’s effect on civic engagement and information diffusion among elected officials, candidates and citizens. Our findings suggest that a significant number of the syntactical features specific to Twitter such as retweeting, @reply’s and hashtags are utilized to relay information, engage in discourse and create new threads of discourse related to issues that are brought up during the debate.
Keywords: twitter, social media, electoral debates, politics, technology, big data, civic discourse
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