The Potential of SNS Use in Government 2.0: RAA #4


Wills, David and Stuart Reeves (2009). “Facebook as a Political Weapon: Information in Social Networks.” British Politics 4 (2): 265-281.  DOI: 10.1057/bp.2009.3

(Also Available at Purdue)

Purpose of the Research

In today’s political environment in the US and UK, it seems as if every candidate has some semblance of a social media presence. This article primarily focuses on the UK and their politics with respect to data gathering and surveillance in Information Technology. With the rise of web 2.0 and government interest in endeavors using IT, it would be important to evaluate the political relevance and relative “strength” of an SNS as a tool.


The study is done as a case study of Facebook. It is evaluated on the basis of how it is implemented. Facebook was also selected due to the ease of data-mining. Users do not use pseudonyms, and the site uses specifics about political preferences about users that can be publicized. Social Network Analysis was also employed to look at the networks of the users. The data analysis is informed by the literature surrouding surveillance studies and human-computer interaction (HCI).

Main Findings

The paper finds that the information that can be gathered from Facebook and other SNS is likely valuable and relevant. Government IT projects, campaigns, and other political functions that are seeping into SNS may want to evaluate privacy and learn the SNS that they are looking to use, before implementing anything.

The study also identifies explicit and implicit information and how they can be extracted. Explicit information is information that users volunteer and publish on their profiles. Because SNS participation is not mandatory, it is important to note that not all users post information about their political views. Sometimes these views may not even be correct. Reasons for disclosure vary from user to user and sometimes SNS to SNS.

Implicit data can also be gleaned from SNS. The friends that users have can maybe give insight to the political views of certain users who do not disclose information. These analyses can be inaccurate due to the use of heuristics and inductive reasoning.


I think that Wills and Reeves have identified a lot of important points about SNS in politics. I think that they are absolutely right about the fact that there are two types of information that can be gleaned from Facebook and other SNS. I think a lot of what Wills and Reeves find is very important about the implementation of Government 2.0 and other SNS uses within politics.

I do think that Wills and Reeves are correct in maybe looking at the thought of implicit data mining from SNS. It has been found that spousal (Nickerson 2008) as well as social networks of friends (Parker, Parker, and McCann 2008) can be highly influential when it comes to political opinion. Although using Social Network Analysis to find this information is a heuristic (according to Wills and Reeves), it’s likely valuable regardless.

There was one aspect of the article I think that Wills and Reeves did not explore very well, and that is groups on Facebook. When voting (in the US), individuals with higher levels of group and community affiliation are also more likely to vote (Mutz 2006; Putnam 2000). Perhaps the evaluations of Facebook in academic research should also use Facebook Groups to analyze affiliations. This data is mostly available to data-mining and may also be helpful, especially if researchers are regarding SNS as a form of online community.

Additional Sources Cited

Nickerson, David W. 2008. “Is Voting Contagious? Evidence from Two Field Experiments.” American Political Science Review  102 (1): 49-57.

Mutz, Diane C. 2006. Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Parker, Suzanne L., Glenn R. Parker, and James A. McCann. 2008. “Opinion Taking Within Friendship Networks.” American Journal of Political Science  52 (2): 412-420.

Putnam, Robert. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Revival and Collapse of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.


About Mike Brownstein

I'm a Political Science MA student, and taking Tech 621 at Purdue University
This entry was posted in Commentary, Research Article Analysis, Social Sciences, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Potential of SNS Use in Government 2.0: RAA #4

  1. hanjunxian says:

    When you talk about implicit information and how one’s social network can be highly influential, is it because most of the states either support one party or another and friends usually come from the same state?

  2. If you’re curious about this I highly recommend the Parker, Parker, and McCann (2008) article as well as Mutz (2006). They talk about how friends are highly influential because they are who you like to be around. These friends can be in person or remote, but the idea is that you do not want to be condescending to your friends because you don’t want to let them down. Generally people agree with their friends’ opinions because they don’t necessarily want to let them down or get in fights with them.

  3. Hi there Mike,

    I’m one of the authors of that paper, so thanks for reading the paper and for writing a summary.

    One thing I would like to flag up, would be that our intention with writing this paper was somewhat critical. Our contention would be that political parties (and other actors outside a social network) might have an interest in using data on facebook for political campaigning. We wanted to show that this was possible, and that it would produce plausible looking results. We’re less convinced that this is a good thing, or about the accuracy of any heuristic measures (e.g. you probably have conservative politics if 75% of your friends also do). Our concern was that a lot of writing about privacy and personal information on Facebook focused on either privacy from other members, or privacy from facebook (and its advertisers). We wanted to highlight the possibility of external actors being parascitic on that data set. Being a political theorist, my thoughts immediately turned to political parties.

    The point you make about groups is sound.

    Best wishes,

    – David.

    • Mihaela says:

      Hi David,

      I am the instructor of the course Mike was taking when he wrote this analysis – I would like to thank you for taking the time to engage on this blog. It is wonderful when students can learn outside the classroom, even when the course is over!

    • Hello David,

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to comment on this post. I think you have a very valid reasoning to use political parties, because just like groups. For example, both the US Democratic and Republican parties keep databases on voters. These databases become important in campaign seasons, when engaged in door-to-door canvassing. I’m not sure how much of this information actually comes from Facebook, but that may be something valuable to look into as well. I think groups are valuable to evaluate in this area as well, just because of membership and echo-chamber concerns from a social standpoint.

      I see a very valid point from your article about this that might be helping to drive my own research in effects of IT on elections and public opinion! I should also let you know that I’m doing an independent study of an overview of politics, public opinion, and the Internet this semester as well. I will be looking at an overview of theoretical puzzles that can be approached within the paradigm of political science, with regards to the Internet. I will be using your article, because of the points you make about privacy on Facebook.

      Thank you again for taking the time to reply!

  4. Pingback: Learning with social media: Best-case scenario- People Research Connections

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s