NUI Galway study shows how Twitter is altering political narratives

29 Sep 201772 Shares

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Donald Trump’s use of Twitter was heavily discussed during the election. Image: JStone/Shutterstock

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Magical realism, negative comments and real-life consequences.

New research from NUI Galway focuses on how US presidential candidates used Twitter as a strategic tool in creating their election narratives.

The research study has been published by the International Conference on Information Systems (2017) in Seoul, South Korea, and is one of the first studies to use a magical-realism perspective to examine how Twitter was used to create candidate-specific narratives.

‘Political actors are now eager to catch Twitter users’ attention because they not only produce word-of-mouth effects, but influence other online users’ informational choices’
– DR TREVOR CLOHESSY

What is magical realism?

Magic realism is a literary style used by writers to portray irony, surreal fantasy and hyperbole within their narratives in a realistic way. Consequently, the reader’s ability to distinguish between fiction and reality becomes blurred.

Magical realism has appeared in print with increasing frequency over the last few decades, in a vast number of television advertisements and in the popular press.

Twitter users are not just passive recipients

Lead author of the study, Dr Trevor Clohessy from the JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway, said: “Political actors are now eager to catch Twitter users’ attention because they not only produce word-of-mouth effects, but influence other online users’ informational choices.

“In this sense, Twitter users are not just passive information recipients. Rather, they are conceived as power shareholders who control information flow through their interaction with mainstream media.”

Clohessy explained that existing research suggests that users’ experiences of the credibility of a social medial platform affect their perceptions pertaining to the quality of the message being conveyed.

“Given the brevity and the ambiguous nature of information contained within a 140-limit tweet, users often have to rely on the credibility of the Twitter platform to interpret the extent of the credibility of the tweets being pushed out by the individuals they are following.”

In short, the more credible a platform seems, the more people view tweets as a valid information source.

He gave an example of the real-life consequences of this phenomenon: “For instance, when Donald Trump tweeted in January 2017 that Toyota would face a ‘big border tax’ if the company went ahead with plans for a new plant in Mexico, Toyota’s shares subsequently plummeted, resulting in a loss of $1.2bn in a mere five minutes following the posting of the tweet.”

What about the other candidates?

Clohessy told Siliconrepublic.com that Trump’s tweets were akin to 1950s McCarthyism “and the anti-communist and anti-progressive hysteria of the time”, and were underpinned by negative statements.

He said Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein’s core issues were isolated, narrow in focus and ultimately may not have resonated effectively across all of the electorate demographic base (eg women’s equality, middle class, student loans).

He also mentioned that Trump “repeatedly invoked personal reactions from the other candidates during the six months to distract voters from specific scandals or from the fragilities of some of his proposed policies”.

Twitter 2020

As far as Twitter’s role in the 2020 election goes, the study authors envisage that future political candidates will use Trump’s Twitter activity as a blueprint for weaponising their campaigns.

“It is our hope that by bringing the concept of magical realism to the attention of the public, that they will be able to assess the credibility of the narrative being constructed by the candidate and ultimately distinguish fact from fiction.”

Donald Trump’s use of Twitter was heavily discussed during the election. Image: JStone/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com