Institut für Kommunikationswissenschaft und Medienforschung (IFKW)




Topic Dynamics in the Online Public Sphere


Project title: Topic Dynamics in the Online Public Sphere – A Keyword, Network and Content Analysis of Current Topics on Twitter

Chief Investigator for the sub-project in Munich: Prof. Dr. Christoph Neuberger
Project assistant: Sanja Kapidzic

Grant: German Research Foundation (DFG)

Project partner: Prof. Dr. Stefan Stieglitz (Computer Science, University of Duisburg-Essen)

Project Goals:
Social Media such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and weblogs have simplified and expanded the possibilities of participation in public discourse for ordinary people, consumers, political organizations and companies. Public discourse in online environments differs from the traditional mass media context because it is not guided by journalistic gatekeepers. In order to explore how communication in this novel interaction context differs from traditional mass communication, we created an interdisciplinary research project. The project brings together communication science scholars and information systems researchers with the joint goal of analyzing participants, structures, and processes of public communication in social media. More specifically, the aim is to explore topic dynamics, which we define as the spread and development of a topic, on the example of the microblogging service Twitter. The network structure, its open access nature, and the visibility of public communication make the internet an ideal subject for the study of topic dynamics and development. To date, neither a fully-developed theoretical approach, nor adequate research tools (e.g. analysis software) exist for the analysis of topic dynamics. One of the core goals of the project is to further develop the theoretical framework, grounding it in agenda-setting, diffusion theory and social network analysis methods. The second goal is to analyze public communication centered on topics. In the first part of the project topics will be analyzed using a combination of automated network- and keyword analysis, as well as relational content analysis. This will permit us to track and explore single events and issues that arise within a predefined broader topic area. This approach will allow us to answer questions about participation structure, the role of journalistic gatekeepers, the degree of fragmentation, and the possibility to influence topic development. In the second part of the project we aim to explore “spill-over effects”, the crossing of topics from one sphere of public discourse to another, between Twitter and professional journalistic websites. Topics reported on professional journalistic websites are often discussed on Twitter. Similarly, content generated in social media is often picked up by journalistic websites. We plan to conduct a content analysis to explore the extent and type of references made to Twitter on journalistic websites. Furthermore, we plan to conduct sentiment and word analyses to compare the role of structural features in the diffusion of information on Twitter and professional journalistic websites.

Project duration: August 2012 – March 2017

Prof. Dr. Christoph Neuberger
Department of Communication Science and Media Research
Phone: +49 89 2180-9424