Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications

Institute of Communications Studies

Social Media as a Source of Public Opinion Information: How Useful Is It?

Dr Nick Anstead

This ICS Research Seminar will be presented by Dr Nick Anstead, Lecturer in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. It will take place in the ICS Lecture Theatre (Room G.12, Clothworkers’ Building North).

The emergence of two-screen viewing, evident in political events such as the appearance of Nick Griffin on BBC Question Time and the 2010 Prime Ministerial debates, wherein citizens watch one media stream while commenting using another, has opened avenues for new forms of research about politics. This presentation documents that potential, seeking to understand both the possible shortcomings and advantages of social media-derived public opinion research. While such techniques do not measure up to the ideals of opinion polling-type public research (most famously articulated by George Gallup), they are still useful if different theoretical conceptions of the public and public opinion are employed. However, these new conceptions also raise new questions about the role of social media research in democratic life.

Nick Anstead’s research is about the relationship between political institutions and new media, and how the two influence each other. He is especially interested in campaigning politics and the emergence of new modes of participation and organisation. While it is clear that the internet is changing established institutional forms – such as parties, political broadcasting and election campaigns – these alterations are not consistent across national contexts. His argument contains a normative element, as it allows us to identify the institutional models that are best suited to offering opportunities for citizen participation in the digital era. He develops this strand of his work by engaging with the policy community, notably in the Fabian Society pamphlet ‘The Change We Need’ (2008), which he co-edited. His work until now has tended to focus on the United States and the United Kingdom and he has written for mainstream press, radio and TV outlets.

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