New Article on Social Media, Disability, and Mental Health in Elections

SM+S coverI’m delighted to share my latest open access article ‘Do you want to be a well-informed citizen, or do you want to be sane?’ Social Media, Disability, Mental Health and Political Marginality, which was published earlier this month in Social Media + Society. The article reviews evidence from focus groups with voters with disabilities to explore their experience with Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. From this, social media platforms emerge as both empowering tools and sources of mental health problems for this traditionally marginalized group in an increasingly polarized political context such as the U.S.

This article is part of a forthcoming special issue on Social Media and Marginality expertly edited by Katy Pearce, Amy Gonzales, and Brooke Focault-Welles.

Here is a copy of the abstract, for the full open access article click here.

This article examines the experiences of people with disabilities, a traditionally marginalized group in US politics, with social media platforms during the 2016 presidential election. Using focus groups with participants with a wide range of disabilities, the significance of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook is discussed. Results highlight ambivalent experiences with these platforms, which support some elements of political inclusion (more accessible and more relevant election information) but at the same time also exacerbate aspects of marginality (stress, anxiety, isolation). Four coping strategies devised by participants to address digital stress (self-censorship, unfollowing/unfriending social media contacts, signing off, and taking medication) are illustrated. The relationship between these contrasting findings, social media design and affordances, as well as potential strategies to eliminate an emerging trade-off between discussing politics online and preserving mental health and social connectedness for people with disabilities are discussed.

Google Trends: Instructions for Use on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage

Last week, I published a piece on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog about what Google Trends can tell us about televised debates and other important election moments (spoiler: not as much as some news coverage suggests). With insights from my research with Google Trends in the U.S., UK, and Italy, this article provides a useful resource on how to correctly interpret Google Trends data for journalists, campaign staff, and voters interested in knowing more about digital information flows related to the 2020 election campaigns.

New Open Access Article in International Journal of Communication

homeHeaderLogoImage_en_USMy latest article “Using the Internet to Mobilize Marginalized Groups: People with Disabilities and Digital Campaign Strategies in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” was recently published in the International Journal of Communication. This article discusses how the 2016 campaigns – particularly Hillary Clinton’s – tried to engage with the disability community online and draws key lessons about the inclusion of people with disabilities and other minority groups in digital election strategy planning. The full paper can be accessed freely here.

Here’s the abstract:

It is important to understand the implications of online election campaigning for groups that have been marginalized in politics. To this end, this article discusses a focus group study on digital campaigning in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with voters with a wide range of physical, mental, and communication disabilities. Digital campaigns can deepen or curtail opportunities for people with disabilities to be active citizens. Participants in this study had high expectations to learn about the candidates through new media platforms, particularly Google and YouTube. However, the 2016 campaigns seemed to struggle to understand Americans with disabilities as an emerging online constituency. This mismatch between demand and supply in online election communication is discussed with a view to illuminating the sociotechnical foundations of digital campaigning and its effect on political participation among citizens with disabilities. There are important opportunities for digital mobilization and inclusion here, but their realization is dependent on a cultural shift that values people with disabilities as full citizens.

Interview – Google and the Upcoming Brazilian Elections

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 11.43.39As the October 7 Brazilian elections draw closer, I talked to Folha de São Paulo – Brazil’s most-read newspaper – about Google Trends and what it can tell us about key election information trends. Although Google Trends data can’t predict election outcomes, they show a marked rise in interest for populist firebrand and presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro. Read the full article here (in Portuguese).

Populists Triumph in Italian Election amid Misinformation and a Broken Media System – New article in The Conversation

I published a new article in The Conversation about the online misinformation and broken media system that aided the success of populist and far-right parties in the Italian parliament election held on March 4. Here is a short excerpt from the article – click here for the full text:

“The rise of these populist and far-right parties was supported by dramatic shifts in the information diet of Italian voters. […] The problem is not simply that misinformation is readily available online, but also that a large proportion of Italians find this content credible.” And this is in no small part due to Italy’s broken media system, which has undermined the credibility of journalists. “Long-term efforts to restore trust in journalism among Italian audiences are essential. This will involve strengthening media literacy skills, boosting the independence of the public broadcasting sector, and possibly reorganizing media ownership so that it is not as tightly concentrated. Without this ambitious set of measures, online misinformation and propaganda are unlikely to go out of fashion in Italy anytime soon.”

New Book Chapter: “Mapping the Search Agenda” – Election case studies from Italy, the UK and the U.S.

How can we use Google Trends to map information flows in election campaigns? Andrew Hoskins (University of Glasgow), Sarah Oates (University of Maryland, College Park), Dounia Mahlouly (King’s College, London), and I addressed this question in a recently published book chapter titled: “Mapping the Search Agenda: A Citizen-Centric Approach to Electoral Information Flows.” The chapter is included in the volume (Mis)understanding Political Participation: Digital Practices, New Forms of Participation, and the Renewal of Democracy, which is edited by Jeffrey Wimmer, Cornelia Wallner, Reiner Winter, and Karoline Oelsner, and published by Routledge.

This chapter builds on a previous article and applies a new methodology that uses Google Trends data to map key information demand trends in elections in the U.S., UK, and Italy, comparing Internet search trends to the salience of key figures and issues in the news media in each country.  Findings for the Italian case (which explores the 2013 general election) are particularly relevant in light of the upcoming Italian election on March 4, 2018. Italian voters demonstrated a particular inclination to looking for information about anti-establishment leaders online by going directly to websites and social media accounts run by parties and other movements, instead of the websites of established news organizations. In light of this, the chapter reflects on how low levels of trust in traditional news outlets boost the relevance of the Internet as a source of alternative news and augment opportunities for political groups, particularly anti-establishment ones, to control the agenda and steer public debate.

Speaking at the 2017 Ruderman Inclusion Summit Nov. 19-20

Ruderman-Summit-2017I am honored an excited to speak at the 2017 Ruderman Inclusion Summit this weekend (Nov. 19-20) in Boston, MA. The Summit is one of the largest disability inclusion events in North America and brings together more than 1,000 people from a variety of sectors, including but not limited to: policy; advocacy; technology; human services; business; social justice; education; and housing, to share best practices and network. The aim is to motivate and educate attendees with the knowledge to advance inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life.

I will discuss my latest work on citizens with disabilities and online information in elections in a panel on effective political participation 15 years on from the signing of the Help America Vote Act (2002). I will be joined by commentator and political analyst Norman Ornstein, Michele Bishop of the National Disability Rights Network, and Kathy Hoell of the Statewide Nebraska Independent Living Center. Other speakers at the summit include, among others, Academy Award-winning actress and disability activist Marlee Matlin, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, and former President of Malawi Dr. Joyce Banda.

I am grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to correct the injustice of exclusion of children and adults with disabilities, for inviting me to speak at this event.

Voters with Disabilities and Online Election Campaigns at APSA 2017

I’m thrilled to be part of a Featured Papers in Information Technology and Politics panel at this year’s American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA. I will present some of my latest work on the experience of American voters with disabilities with online election campaigns in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Here’s the panel information:

Featured Papers in Information Technology and Politics – 30 min. paper presentations

Friday Sept. 1st, 12:00-1:30pm – Hilton Union Square, Union Square 14

This is a new APSA panel format in which three papers will be presented and discussed by the public, but without a formal discussant.

On “Disability and Digital Citizenship” Panel at ANZCA 2017

Third and final talk of this Australian trip – I am excited to join a pioneering panel on “Disability and Digital Citizenship” at the 2017 Australia-New Zealand Communication Association’s conference later today at the University of Sydney. The panel will start at 2:30pm in New Law 106.

This panel brings together a number of scholars doing work on disability, technology and different aspects of participation and inclusion, from economics, to media, to politics. I will present some new research on how Americans with disabilities used the Internet to participate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Thanks to my colleagues Prof. Gerard Goggin (of the conference organizing team) and Prof. Haiqing Yu for inviting me to this panel.

The Google Voter: New Article in Information, Communication & Society

Earlier this month, the journal Information, Communication & Society published the paper “The Google Voter: Search Engines and Elections in the New Media Ecology,” of which I am the lead author. This article, which can be accessed freely on the journal’s website,  discusses some of the main research findings from the VoterEcology project, on which I collaborated with Profs. Andrew Hoskins (University of Glasgow) and Sarah Oates (University of Maryland, College Park), as well as Dr. Dounia Mahlouly (King’s College, London). The paper fills an important gap in our understanding of contemporary information-gathering practices and media environments that surround elections, focusing on the use of search engines by voters in the U.S. and the UK. While search engines remain the primary channel for citizens in these and other democratic countries to engage with election-related information online, there is a dearth of research about the implications of this practice. This paper combines Google Trends data with the analysis of news media coverage to shed light on the opportunities and drawbacks generated by search engine use in elections and reflects on the need to develop innovative methodologies capable of exploring the new media ecologies that are emerging from the interaction of novel and more established forms of media.