SMaPP: Social Media and Political Participation

About SMaPP

The spectacular scientific opportunities afforded by the use of social media are readily apparent when we consider the richness and precision of data on participation in elections, protests, riots, and other spontaneous political events. We are constructing comprehensive data sets of incoming and outgoing social media messages using systematically structured formats that are ideally suited to machine learning methods. We plan to integrate information on social network connectivity and a vast array of metadata on individuals and their social contacts. By developing new methods to harvest and combine these data sources effectively, it will be possible to transform the scientific study of social and political attitudes and behavior.

Every time individuals use social media, they leave behind a digital footprint of what was communicated, when it was communicated, and, to whom it was communicated. Typically, such precise estimates of these variables are available only to laboratory investigators working in artificial settings. To our knowledge, no previous research team has successfully used fine-grained social influence data such as these to predict consequential behavioral outcomes, such as attendance at a given protest or rally or the casting of a vote in an election. We are also conducting panel surveys, which are essential for drawing causal inferences about the cognitive and motivational processes whereby social media use facilitates political participation.

Our overarching goal is to forge an interdisciplinary collaboration that examines the impact of social media on political behavior by iterating through stages of model development, testing, refinement, and validation. First, from social psychology and political science we derive fundamental hypotheses about how, why, and when social media affects citizens’ cognitions and motivations with respect to political participation. Second, we express these questions as empirically testable hypotheses derived from behavioral models (e.g., with quantitative response and predictor variables). And third, drawing from biology and computer science we adapt sophisticated computational methods of approximate inference and machine learning (adapting methods developed for the analysis of Systems Biology data) to evaluate our behavioral models using extremely large social media and social network datasets.

Who We Are:  The SMaPP Laboratory is organized by 4 Principle Investigators (Rich Bonneau, John Jost, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker) from Political Science, Psychology, Computer Science and Biology, and also includes contains post-docs, data scientists, graduate research associates and affiliated faculty collaborators. For a full list of SMaPP personnel see our People page.

SMaPP-Global: See as well the website of SMaPP-Global, an international collection of scholars studying social media and politics affiliated with the SMaPP lab and supported by the NYU Global Institute of Advanced Study.  SMaPP-Global holds bi-annual conferences at NYU-NY (in the fall) and at NYU global sites (in the spring).

New Opportunity at SMaPP!

Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab software engineer:

The SMaPP lab at NYU is looking for a full time software engineer to help us build software and tools for collecting, processing, analyzing, and understanding large social media data sets. The job involves Data Science broadly with components of database administration, data processing systems, machine learning and statistics, natural language processing, network analysis, and data visualization. We apply these methods to the study of social and political behavior. We require candidates to have either experience programming in relevant environments OR a degree in CS. Significant skills working with python are mandatory. Experience with linux/unix systems and bash , databases (NoSQL, particularly mongoDB ), R or javascript is a plus, as is experience with natural language processing.

Candidates will be given the opportunity to participate fully in the research environment, including authoring papers and open source software, attending conferences and seminars, and working closely with a broad group of researchers, activists, and policy makers associated with the lab.

While our preference is to hire a full-time employee, we will also consider qualified candidates for part-time employment, including those currently enrolled in undergraduate or postgraduate degree programs.

If interested please contact Professors Richard Bonneau, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker at:,, and

Please send a CV and links to any relevant coding projects, websites or projects. A brief cover letter describing relevant experience and explaining your interest in the position is optional.

New SMaPP Publications

Tweeting Identity? Ukrainian, Russian and #EuroMaidan
by Megan Metzger, Richard Bonneau, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker, Journal of Comparative Economics
Tweeting From Left to Right: Is Online Political Communication More Than an Echo Chamber?
by Pablo Barberá, John T. Jost, Jonathan Nagler, Joshua A. Tucker and Rich Bonneau, Psychological Science
The critical periphery in the growth of social protests.
by Pablo Barberá, N. Wang, Richard Bonneau, John T. Jost, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker, and Sandra González-Bailón. (2015).  PLoS ONE.
Political Expression and Action on Social Media: Exploring the Relationship Between Lower-and Higher-Threshold Political Activities Among Twitter Users in Italy
by Cristian Vaccari, Augusto Valeriani, Pablo Barberá, Rich Bonneau, John T. Jost, Jonathan Nagler and Joshua A. Tucker, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication
Protest in the Age of Social Media
by Joshua A. Tucker, Megan Metzger, Duncan Penfold-Brown, Richard Bonneau, John T. Jost and Jonathan Nagler, Carnegie Reporter
Drawing Inferences and Testing Theories with Big Data
by Jonathan Nagler and Joshua Tucker, PS: Political Science and Politics
Birds of the Same Feather Tweet Together: Bayesian Ideal Point Estimation Using Twitter Data
by Pablo Barberá. Political Analysis


Recent SMaPP in the Media

Joshua Tucker quoted in New York Times story on social media and protest – by Alan Rappeport and Nick Corasaniti
SMaPP lab research featured in Economist special report on Technology and Politics
Washington Post breakdown of Twitter’s role in spreading sectarian animus – by Alexandra Siegel
Al-Modon discussion of Alexandra Siegel’s Carnegie paper on Sunni-Shia sectarianism in the digital age- by Batoul Khalil
Washington Post analysis of global response to Paris terror attacks- by Alexandra Siegel
Washington Post explanation of Twitter use during the Egyptian elections- by Alexandra Siegel
Washington Post article on the Republican presidential debate- by Joshua Tucker
Washington Post read on Kasich’s performance in the Republican debate- by Andy Guess, Jonathan Nagler and Joshua Tucker
Sacramento Bee article on the Missouri protests, with an interview with Joshua Tucker- by Lisa Gutierrez analysis of the role of social media on campus protests, with an interview with Joshua Tucker — by Tim Darragh
Newsweek opinion piece exploring the way illiberal regimes use social media- by Kevin Munger
Huffington Post discussion of whether Twitter is more than an echo chamber based on SMaPP research – by Wray Herbert
Monkey Cage consideration of the true impact of social media on protest – by Joshua Tucker
New York Times discussion of work by Pablo Barberá and the role of social media in political polarization – by Claire Cain Miller
Wired report on Pablo Barberá’s finding that social media reduces mass political polarization – by Katie Collins
Interview with Joshua Tucker and Olga Onuch on LSE Ideas: “Social Media and Social Networks in the EuroMaidan Protests”
Interview with Joshua Tucker on Ukraine and the work of the SMaPP lab: Voice of America: Press Conference USA – by Carol Castiel (Podcast)
Joshua Tucker on social media and the Ukraine protests in: Ukraine’s Social Media Revolution Years in the Making – by Cecily Hilleary (Voice of America)