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When Form Trumps Substance: A Dynamic Analysis of Microblogging During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Primary Debates

49 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2017 Last revised: 22 May 2017

Ron Berman

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Colman Humphrey

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School

Shiri Melumad

Columbia University, Columbia Business School, Marketing

Robert J. Meyer

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department

Date Written: May 5, 2017

Abstract

Microblogging sites such as Twitter play an important role in the transmission of news and opinion about economic, social and political events. There is, however, little guarantee that the content provides an unbiased account of the original events.  In this paper we explore this issue by analyzing how the substantive and affective content of Tweets evolved throughout a series of important political events in 2015 and 2016: the Republican presidential primaries.  We find that while the debates were in progress users Tweeted and retweeted a mix of policy-related and sensationalist topics, but that after the debates retweeting focused primarily on sensationalism.  An analysis of content choice over time suggests that the persistence of such content was associated with a social diffusion process wherein sensationalist Tweets were most often initiated by “little voices” who had small followings and tended to post infrequently, then spread (through retweeting) by “shouters” who also had small followings but posted more actively, and finally were sustained after the debate by “leaders” with large followings who tended to Tweet selectively.

Keywords: Microblogs, Social Media, Elections, Diffusion, Sentiment

JEL Classification: D71, D72, L86

Suggested Citation

Berman, Ron and Humphrey, Colman and Melumad, Shiri and Meyer, Robert J., When Form Trumps Substance: A Dynamic Analysis of Microblogging During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Primary Debates (May 5, 2017). Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 17-13. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2905484

Ron Berman (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Colman Humphrey

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Shiri Melumad

Columbia University, Columbia Business School, Marketing ( email )

New York, NY
United States

Robert J. Meyer

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department ( email )

700 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6340
United States

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