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new study on twitter use in Congress

Nathan Yang is a PhD candidate in Economics at the University of Toronto and has co-authored a couple of studies about Twitter in Politics. He asked that we post the following story. Look for more from Nathan in the following months. Let us know what you think by leaving us a comment.

FGI once posted the abstract of a very innovative and interesting study called “Twitter Use by the U.S. Congress” (PDF) by Jennifer Golbeck, Justin Grimes and Anthony Rogers. They mined the text of thousands of Twitter posts made by American politicians, and found that over 50% of the posts were of informational value.

Those who believe that Twitter has paved the way for transparent government can use this study to back their cause; while skeptics will simply claim that the “openness” of information is simply a new form of government propaganda. Resolving this debate is not easy, as it requires understanding each politician’s incentives behind adopting Twitter. So here come the economists.

A study called “Twitter in Congress: Outreach vs Transparency” () by Feng Chi and Nathan Yang serves to do just that. It tries to understand the intrinsic factors behind who adopts and who does not. Understanding the cost-benefit trade-off will help us resolve this debate; at least, partially.

The story these researchers are trying to tell is that if U.S. Congressional members are using Twitter as a means of propaganda, the benefit should accrue as follows:

Representatives who have sponsored a large number of bills will enjoy a greater benefit from adopting Twitter as a means to generating public support. This support can, in turn, generate support from the political/ideological rivals they interact with on a regular basis; especially so if their rivals are ALSO Twitter adopters.

How relevant is this story? According to data on each representative’s decision to adopt Twitter or not, the researchers uncover the following patterns:

  • Representatives who have sponsored a large number of bills are more likely to adopt Twitter.
  • The effect that the number of bills has on the propensity to adopt is significant for the subsample of Republican representatives, but not for the subsample of Democratic representatives.
  • This effect is more pronounced for Republicans who belong to Congressional committees with a large number of peers who are Democratic Twitter users.

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