Researchers from the University of Helsinki and Aalto University will collect all public social media updates made by parliamentary candidates as well as the election updates of the parties. By combining these with news content and applying research methods used for big data, the researchers hope to discern how publicity is being generated in these elections and who controls the online discussion.
The researchers are interested in seeing whether the power dynamics of online media are similar to those of traditional media. Such power relations may include funding candidates, previous key political positions or the amount of publicity attained.
“Even though grand democratic hopes are sometimes attached to online publicity, previous research indicates that established power structures also influence digital communication,” says researcher Salla-Maaria Laaksonen from the Communication Research Centre.
Finding the source of discussion topics
Tens of thousands of updates from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, blogs and the Suomi24 discussion forum are being collected for the research. The researchers use computers to distinguish different discussion themes. One of the objectives of the research is to discover how these themes originate.
“We are particularly interested in how the power dynamic is manifested in the creation and spread of the themes,” says researcher Matti Nelimarkka from the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT.
Big data is everywhere
The Digivaali 2015 project combines social scientific research on communications and politics with big data analysis adopted from computer science. The research is being carried out in cooperation with the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology – run jointly by the University of Helsinki and Aalto University – and the Communication Research Centre at the University of Helsinki. The project is funded by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation.
The Finnish parliamentary elections will be held on 19 April.
Another group researching big data is the Helsinki Challenge team Citizen Mindscapes, which is analysing all discussions conducted on the Suomi24 forum.