Investigating Political Participation and Social Information Using Big Data and a Natural Experiment
16 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2014 Last revised: 15 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 3, 2014
Investigating Political Participation and Social Information using Big Data and a Natural Experiment Social information is particularly prominent in digital settings where the design of platforms can more easily give real-time information about the behaviour of peers and reference groups and thereby stimulate political activity. Changes to these platforms can generate natural experiments allowing an assessment of the impact of changes in social information and design on participation. This paper investigates the impact of the introduction of trending information on the homepage of the UK government petitions platform. Using interrupted time series and a regression discontinuity design, we find that the introduction of the trending feature had no statistically significant effect on the overall number of signatures per day, but that the distribution of signatures across petitions changes — the most popular petitions gain even more signatures at the expense of those with less signatories. We find significant differences between petitions trending at different ranks, even after controlling for each petition’s individual growth prior to trending. The findings suggest a non-negligible group of individuals visit the homepage of the site looking for petitions to sign and therefore see the list of trending petitions, and a significant proportion of this group responds to the social information that it provides. These findings contribute to our understanding of how social information, and the form in which it is presented, affects individual political behaviour in digital settings.
Keywords: collective action, politicial participation, big data, experiments, natural experiments, regression discontiunity design, petitions
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