How Does Facebook Influence Parliament?

Royal Holloway, University of London

Abstract

The recent revolution in digital technologies has made fundamental changes to our political discourse. Concerns about the impacts of these changes on our social and political fabric vary, from broad issues like the rise of populism, polarization, and posttruth fake news, to specific impacts on the day-to-day business of politics. In this project we will develop tools to quantify the influence of public Facebook activity on a democratic institution. By quantifying how the sharing of a topic on Facebook can be used to forecast parliamentary discussion on the same topic, we can statistically find evidence for a causal relationship between Facebook and parliamentary activity. Our primary data sources will be the official Hansard transcript of UK parliamentary discourse and new data released by Facebook that contains URL-sharing frequencies. We will also include traditional media sources as a control dataset. We will demonstrate our key results to the public in an engaging way by visualizing how bursts and rhythms of social media activity can shape parliamentary debates and agendas. Our results will directly contribute to guidance for parliamentarians to more effectively manage and mitigate the impacts of misinformation, disinformation, and other viral social media on their limited schedules. A key methodological advance from our project is the ability to infer causal relationships between sections of society based on which topics they are discussing.

Research Team

Principal Investigator

John Bryden

PhD Supervisor and Honorary Research Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London

  • Bio ▾

    John Bryden is a research fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, and also a fellow of the London College of Political Technology, Newspeak House. Bryden is interested in the interface between mathematics and social sciences, specifically applying models to human behavioural interactions. His work includes early studies of cultural groups on Twitter, investigating Donald Trump's Twitter support, and detection of cultural transmission between individuals. His background includes a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and mathematics before working for six years as a software developer in industry. Following that, Bryden has worked 15 years in academia, publishing over 20 academic manuscripts studying social animals from aphids to bees to humans. Moving toward political behavior, Bryden has developed a close understanding of the UK political system through working at the London College of Political Technology. More information about his work is available at jbryden.co.uk.

Participants

Lewis Westbury

Fellow of Newspeak House, University of Oxford

  • Bio ▾

    Lewis Westbury is a fellow of Newspeak House, a software engineer, and a volunteer. He holds an undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of Cambridge and is currently working on a master’s in software and systems security at the University of Oxford. He has a strong interest in open data and democracy developed through his time as a fellow of the London College of Political Technologists, Newspeak House. Westbury is a proficient full-stack software developer and has worked on a number of enterprise services carrying large amounts of data across his career. Through his voluntary activities running Police Rewired (a group for volunteer professionals working on projects in public safety), Westbury has supported projects that pioneer new uses of open data sources. Westbury has a unique view of technology and an interest in studying the impact of social media on society.

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