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In the US, and in other countries as well, Twitter has become an important platform for political communication. The paper examines the infrastructure for communication in this platform with a special focus on communication between political officials and citizens. As US House constituencies have grown, up to 700,000+ per district, the infrastructure of communication that could be used to reach constituents has changed dramatically. Broadcast TV has become the primary vehicle for reaching such a large audience.Twitter is a very different infrastructure for communication supporting a variety of types of communication. In a paper in 2014 and a more recent paper we have shown that retweets dominate political communication. They are between 70% and 80% of the tweets. Retweeting is the underpinning of the constitution of networks. Analysis of the networking potential of Twitter in the communication between constituents and officials is the primary focus of the paper.
Data will be collected from the profile pages of the Members of the House and also using NodeXL. The profile page information is a cumulative history of activity and the NodeXL is an analysis of the network constituted around the members. NodeXL does a search for network connections, provides data about the structure of the network and brings together the tweets that are the communication.
The table illustrates differences we expect to find. One is a member who is reasonably active posting to Twitter, but whose interaction -- likes and being retweeted -- is very modest. The Ocasio-Cortez numbers show roughly the same amount of activity posting to Twitter, but the interaction in relationship to other users is quite different. That is particularly obvious in the information found in the NodeXL analysis. The network constituted around Ocasio-Cortez is substantially larger than that of KatiHill4CA.
Member House Joined Tweets Followers Following Likes
KatieHill4CA 4/7/2017 2390 30995 1820 2217
AOC 4/28/2010 6545 2555482 1346 9993
Vertices Edges Addressed Mentions Retweets
KatieHill4CA 142 279 71 37 2
AOC 2340 5080 1111 3239 739
The goal is to assess the flow of communication in the networks. There are at least four identifiable network flows we have identified. Once the networks are established the communication style of the central figure will be examined.
One style is broadcast. It is easy to identify. President Trump is quintessential broadcast. He is producing 10 or more tweets a day. However, he almost never retweets another user's tweets and the number of likes of other user's tweets is 7. It is a style readily emulated by bots. Another is a celebrity configuration. A core figure receives large numbers of mentions but is not frequently retweeted. The Obama presidency on Twitter had much this character. A third is a network that is about a subject rather than an individual and is generally composed of a number of smaller networks joined by the same subject matter.
The one of particular interest is a Twitter version of one identified by Dick Fenno that he called homestyle. Homestyle was a pattern of interaction that depended on travel between D.C. and the district and a small enough constituency that the understanding of the interaction spread through the constituency. He suggested that trust rather than policy agreement was key to the homestyle relationship, and trust had to earned again and again requiring regular communication, i.e., the Tuesday-Thursday mode of work in Washington. In the interaction the constituents had to come to feel the person was one with them, shared their concerns and had the expertise to convert the concerns into action by the government. The infrastructure of Twitter makes this type of interaction and networking possible. We can show it happening for individuals we have said are on a new route to political leadership. Ocasio-Cortez brings the skills and commitment to interaction on Twitter that becomes homestyle in this new infrastructure of communication, and we have been following her communication on Twitter since her election.
The paper will lay out the current state of network communication occurring between officials and constituents based on a systematic examination of networks constituted around individual members of Congress. The paper is also a theory about how a specific form of communication could rise again in the very different platform of communication that is Twitter. It is based on a substantial amount of research already done plus research that will be completed before the meeting.
The original homestyle was a politics of high trust in government and low cost election campaigning. If that could be recovered via a new platform of communication it would be a relief from the current practice of politics.