The twelve creators of this site enrolled in Professor Adrienne Christiansen’s course "Cyber Politics" at Macalester College in fall 2011. We are an eclectic group of students, coming from different parts of the world and representing a variety of academic disciplines. However, we all have a passion for the material of this course. Our class was fascinated with the Internet’s potential to change the face of politics.
We dove into the world of Internet politics and web campaigning utilizing a team-based learning approach. The first half of the semester focused on the study of the vast expansion of the Internet in the last two decades and the changes it inspired political campaigning. Each of the four teams chose a presidential candidate from the 2012 presidential primary race and followed his use of social media after announcing his bid for the nomination. This website publishes our class findings about how presidential candidates used Twitter during the early months of the campaign and identifies the political/rhetorical functions are met by the nascent use of Twitter.
This rhetorical analysis of Twitter feeds examined tweets used during the 2012 presidential primary season by four major candidates. We first divided our class into four teams and each team chose a candidate whom it believed would remain in the campaign until the end of the semester (or until December 2011 when the course ended).
Each team extracted every tweet from each of four candidate's account(s) from the time the candidate officially announced his presidential candidacy until September 30th. We chose September 30th as the cut off date to maintain consistency among the data across the candidates. Moreover, September 30 also fell within one week of a televised Republican debate. We were interested in discovering and analyzing the ways in which candidates utilized Twitter in the days following a debate.
After collecting the tweets, the teams used a simple online content analysis tool called Wordle to count word frequency and to suggest recurring patterns of meaning and political functions utilized by the technology. Worlde also helped us to visualize the content of the tweets by generating a multi-dimensional "word cloud" which drew on the most-frequently occurring words. Teams then analyzed the generated word count tables and "word clouds," extracted the most frequent, unique words and categorized them according to recurring political/rhetoric functions. Once those categories were established, teams cataloged each tweet into one of the function categories we had previously established.
Following this preliminary analysis of individual candidates, the teams cross-compared each candidate’s use of Twitter to determine the functions which were shared among each campaign. We established four main functions utilized by candidates Twitter accounts: Helping to Establish a Sense of the Candidate’s “Authentic Self,” Advertising, External Linking to Other Sources of Information and Broadcasting the Candidate’s Policy Positions.
Overall, we analyzed a total of 2119 tweets (19% Perry, 28% Huntsman, 28% Ron Paul, 25% Obama). Candidates Rick Perry and John Huntsman's supplementary accounts proved to be integral to their campaign. As a result, we gathered data from the two additional accounts associated with the Perry and Huntsman campaigns. In so doing, we gathered more tweets in order to get a better idea of the primary functions the presidential candidates’ campaigns utilized.