Online Hostility Towards Local Election Officials Surged in 2020

28 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2023

See all articles by Joelle Gross

Joelle Gross

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Samuel Baltz

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mara Suttmann-Lea

Northwestern University

Lia Merivaki

Mississippi State University

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: February 8, 2023

Abstract

One of the biggest success stories of the 2020 presidential election was the ability of election officials to conduct a smooth and safe election despite the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This success story, however, brought a barrage of harsh rhetoric against election officials in online spaces, driven by false information about the legitimacy of elections. More election officials are now using social media to communicate with voters, but recent trends show that voters also use these channels to disrupt the provision of information by posting threats and negative rhetoric. Evidence from the 2020 election shows state election officials were subject to this behavior on Twitter. In this chapter, we investigate whether these trends exist at the local level by analyzing the content and sentiment of responses to local election official's tweets between 2012 and 2022. We collect and analyze tweets from all 258 Twitter accounts run by local election officials, analyzing their 264,905 tweets and the 133,199 replies to those tweets over the last decade. Considering the surges in resignations of local election officials since 2020, it is important to investigate how harsh language directed at them on social media adds to a hostile environment, making it difficult for election officials to administer elections.

Keywords: local election officials, election officials, election administration, social media, state and local politics, sentiment analysis

Suggested Citation

Gross, Joelle and Baltz, Samuel and Suttmann-Lea, Mara and Merivaki, Thessalia and Stewart III, Charles, Online Hostility Towards Local Election Officials Surged in 2020 (February 8, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4351996 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4351996

Joelle Gross (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

30 Wadsworth Street (Rm 470)
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Samuel Baltz

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

30 Wadsworth Street (Rm 470)
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Mara Suttmann-Lea

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Thessalia Merivaki

Mississippi State University ( email )

Mississippi State, MS 39762
United States

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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