Let Them Tweet Cake: Estimating Public Dissent Using Twitter

41 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2019 Last revised: 6 May 2020

See all articles by Ethan Spangler

Ethan Spangler

Independent

Ben Smith

University of Nebraska at Omaha - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 5, 2020

Abstract

This paper establishes a new method of estimating public dissent, one that is both cost efficient and adaptable. Our approach utilizes the proliferation of social media and advances in text analysis. Twitter allows users to post short messages that can be viewed and shared by other users, creating a network of freely and easily observable information. Drawing data directly from Twitter, we collect tweets containing specified words and phrases from citizens voicing dissatisfaction with their government. The collected tweets are processed using a regular expressions based algorithm to estimate individual dissent; which is aggregated to an overall measure of public dissent. A comparative case study of Canada and Kenya during the summer of 2016 provides proof of concept. Controlling for user base differences, we find there is more public dissent in Kenya than Canada. This obvious, but necessary, result suggests that our measure of public dissent is a better representation of each country’s internal dynamics than other more sporadic measures. As a robustness check, we test our estimates against real-world civil unrest events. Results shows our estimates of public dissent are significantly predictive of civil unrest events days before they occur in both countries.

Keywords: Public Dissent, Twitter, Civil Unrest

JEL Classification: C80, O57, P16

Suggested Citation

Spangler, Ethan and Smith, Ben, Let Them Tweet Cake: Estimating Public Dissent Using Twitter (May 5, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3418050 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3418050

Ethan Spangler (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

Ben Smith

University of Nebraska at Omaha - Department of Economics ( email )

College of Business Administration
60th and Dodge Streets
Omaha, NE 68182
United States

HOME PAGE: http://bensresearch.com

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