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.
PhD Supervisor and Honorary Research Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London
Fellow of Newspeak House, University of Oxford