On September 26th, the School of Journalism and Electronic Media graduate seminar on political communication monitored social media activity during the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Using technology inside the Adam Brown Social Media Center, the class of 10 students, which have dubbed themselves The Political Social Media Research Group, sifted through hundreds of thousands of online posts about the debate in order to find trends and collect reportable data.
The class is led by the school’s Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor, Stuart Brotman. Professor Brotman said of the initiative, “UT is one of the few universities in the world to have access to state-of-the-art social media analytic technology that can be used for this type of impactful research. ... We want to get cited widely, given the unique research we will be offering."
The Adam Brown Social Media Center utilizes Salesforce Marketing Cloud Social Studio software which monitors social media across the web and offers useful analytic tools for companies and research groups alike. The namesake of the center, Adam Brown, is a UT graduate and executive at Salesforce and he provided funding for the construction and operation of the center.
The students, who range from master's to doctoral degree candidates, were palpably excited about the project on the night of the debate.
"Just because something comes up in the debates, that doesn't mean that's what people at home are talking about," said Joshua Cunningham, a student participating in the research. According to Cunningham, even "if Trump and Clinton happen to be talking about foreign policy, perhaps on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram folks are really more concerned about climate change as the conversation progresses."
After viewing the debate and reportedly collecting data from more than 467,000 social media comments, the team released some of their findings. Among their observations, they found that republican nominee Donald Trump had more than double the amount of negative comments directed towards him than that of his democratic counterpart Hillary Clinton. Additionally, they found that the most requested items when using the hashtag #FactCheck were birtherism, Iraq War, and tax returns. And some of the most popular terms used on social media pertaining to issues discussed during the debate were ISIS, police, emails, and immigration.
You can view a full press release of the group's initial findings by clicking here.
In addition to the first presidential debate, the class plans on monitoring social media activity during upcoming debates between the presidential candidates, vice presidential candidates, and on election day.