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.”
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.
My paper on using Google Trends in academic research is out – thank you to the First Monday team for their super-quick copy-edit efforts. Here is the abstract, you can access the full paper (open access) by clicking here.
Search Engines: From Social Science Objects to Academic Inquiry Tools – by Filippo Trevisan – First Monday, 19(11)
This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities involved in incorporating publicly available search engine data in scholarly research. In recent years, an increasing number of researchers have started to include tools such as Google Trends (http://google.com/trends) in their work. However, a central ‘search engine’ field of inquiry has yet to emerge. Rather, the use of search engine data to address social research questions is spread across many disciplines, which makes search valuable across fields but not critical to any one particular area. In an effort to stimulate a comprehensive debate on these issues, this paper reviews the work of pioneering scholars who devised inventive — if experimental — ways of interpreting data generated through search engine accessory applications and makes the point that search engines should be regarded not only as central objects of research, but also as fundamental tools for broader social inquiry. Specific concerns linked to this methodological shift are identified and discussed, including: the relationship with other, more established social research methods; doubts over the representativeness of search engine data; the need to contextualize publicly available search engine data with other types of evidence; and the limited granularity afforded to researchers by tools such as Google Trends. The paper concludes by reflecting on the combination of search engine data with other forms of inquiry as an example of arguably inelegant yet innovative and effective ‘kludgy’ design (Karpf, 2012).
I just got news that my paper “Search Engines: From Social Science Objects to Academic Inquiry Tools” was accepted for publication in the Internet studies journal First Monday. In this article I argue that, although so far most academic work on search engines has focused on their role in contemporary information gathering practices and their implications for democracy, social science scholars have much to gain in approaching these platforms as useful research tools too. In particular, I discuss the challenges involved in integrating accessory search engine applications such as Google Trends into social science research, including analyzing data obtained through these media in conjunction with the outputs generated by more traditional methods such as content analysis. Watch this space for a link to the article once that is available online (November/December 2014).
The paper that I presented at the 12th APSA Political Communication pre-conference on the 27th of August in Washington, DC together with Dounia Mahlouly is now available on the website of the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. Click here to download a copy (password protected – pre-conference attendees only). This is part of my Voter Ecology project on search engines and elections in the UK, the U.S., Italy and Egypt.
While I pack to leave for freezing (!) Toronto, you can now download a free copy of the paper that Paul Reilly (University of Leicester) and I are going to be presenting at the 2014 International Studies Association’s (ISA) Annual Meeting. This is a piece of work that uses freely available online application Google Trends to gain new insights into the rise of anti-political establishment parties in Europe, focusing in particular on the case of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Click here to access the paper (ISA login required). If you’re at ISA, please come say hi – Paul and I will present our work on Saturday 29th March, 1:45pm in the MacDonald Room at the Hilton Hotel and I am likely to be at other ICOMM events the rest of the time. If you’re not in Toronto but still have some interesting thoughts about the paper or my research more generally, feel free to email or reach me on Twitter.
After presenting at the 2014 Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association’s Conference yesterday in Bournemouth it was time to catch a glimpse of the beach. However, if you were unable to be at our panel, you can still read about the role of search in elections in the UK, the U.S., Egypt and Italy on the research blog I curate for the VoterEcology Project.
I will be talking about the Voter Ecology Project at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park on Wednesday Nov. 20th, 2pm. My presentation is entitled “No Laughing Matter: Political Gaffes and Online Information Search in Election Campaigns” and will discuss how publicly available search engine data can help journalists, campaigners, and researchers alike to reach beyond appearances in considering patterns of information consumptions in times of elections. I look forward to discussing this work and how online media are transforming political reporting more generally with students and faculty at the cutting edge of journalism scholarship. The event will take place in Room 1109, Knight Hall.
I was asked some great questions at ECREA Communication and Democracy Annual Conference in Munich earlier this month. This prompted me to write a new blog post for the Voter Ecology Project’s website. If you’re interested in reading on our most recent fatigues and the evolution of political communication scholarship more broadly, click here. A full set of presentation slides is also available here.
I recently started blogging on online research and election issues for the Voter Ecology Project – read my first update “Turning the Pyramid Upside Down” here.