Investigating Political Participation and Social Information Using Big Data and a Natural Experiment

16 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2014 Last revised: 15 Aug 2014

Scott A. Hale

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Peter John

University College London - School of Public Policy

Helen Zerlina Margetts

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Taha Yasseri

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: August 3, 2014

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Hale, Scott A. and John, Peter and Margetts, Helen Zerlina and Yasseri, Taha, Investigating Political Participation and Social Information Using Big Data and a Natural Experiment (August 3, 2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2454570

Scott A. Hale

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.scotthale.net/

Peter John

University College London - School of Public Policy ( email )

29/30 Tavistock Square
London, WC1H 9QU
United Kingdom

Helen Zerlina Margetts (Contact Author)

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford ( email )

1 St Giles
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk

Taha Yasseri

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/?id=315

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