Reconsidering the Connections between New Media, (In)Equality, and Political Participation in the United States

Social Data Research Fellowship

Abstract

In an ideal democracy, many voices are expressed and heard. In US American democracy, this ideal has not yet been realized; marginalized groups, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), women and gender minorities, and those with low socioeconomic status have been systematically excluded from equal participation in politics. Although the Internet brought optimistic predictions that its openness was intrinsically more inclusive and democratic, research demonstrated that the early elites of the Internet era looked a lot like pre-Internet elites. While the expression of opinions proliferated online, traditional inequalities—both in whose voices were heard online and in how that attention transcended into offline political action—remained. However, there are reasons to believe that new forms of political communication and participation enabled by social media are shifting this imbalance. A growing body of evidence suggests that social media, especially Twitter, may be shifting the balance of who has voice and influence in the public sphere, allowing ordinary citizens greater access to influence mainstream politics. This research examines how Twitter has changed political voice and attention dynamics, and in turn, how these changes translate to offline political behavior, including voting and making campaign donations in the 2020 US presidential election. This research will demonstrate whether and how Twitter has changed how marginalized groups experience political voice, attention, and participation in the United States.

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Brooke Foucault Welles

Associate Professor, Northeastern University

  • Bio ▾

    Brooke Foucault Welles (she/her) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, core faculty of the Network Science Institute, and director of the Communication Media and Marginalization (CoMM) Lab at Northeastern University. Combining computational and qualitative methods, Foucault Welles studies how online communication networks enable and constrain behavior, with particular emphasis on how these networks mitigate and enhance marginalization. She is the coauthor of #HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice and co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Networked Communication. Other recent contributions include a series of studies of the transformative power of networked counterpublics, techniques for the longitudinal analysis of communication event networks, and guidelines for the effective use of network visualizations as communication tools. Dr. Foucault Welles received the Northeastern University Excellence in Teaching award in 2017 and the International Communication Association’s award for Applied/Public Policy Research in 2020. She teaches classes in social science research methods, children and media, networked communication, and social network analysis. Dr. Foucault Welles earned her PhD from Northwestern University and BS and MS degrees from Cornell University.

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