Emeric Henry, Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, Sergei Guriev, 21 May 2020

The most recent manifestations of populism owe a portion of their rise to social media and the unfettered spread of false and misleading narratives or, as they are sometimes called, ‘alternative facts’. This column makes use of an online experiment conducted among Facebook users in France during the 2019 European Parliament elections to show that fact-checking can staunch the flow of false information, as can the imposition of small costs such as requiring an additional click to confirm a user’s willingness to share news.

Nicolas Ajzenman, Tiago Cavalcanti, Daniel Da Mata, 02 May 2020

Regardless of their scientific soundness, COVID-19 recommendations from political leaders such as President Trump are taken seriously by followers. In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has publicly flaunted social distancing measures and downplayed the seriousness of the disease in at least two well-publicised instances. This column analyses the effects of Bolsonaro’s actions and speeches in the month of March on Brazilians’ social-distancing behaviours, using electoral data and geo-localised mobile phone data from 60 million devices. The findings suggest that social distancing behaviour decreased in municipalities with stronger support for Bolsonaro.

Ruben Enikolopov, Alexey Makarin, Maria Petrova, 17 December 2019

Social media has been labelled a ‘liberation technology’ that empowers ordinary citizens, makes politicians more accountable, and leads to faster democratisation in authoritarian countries. This column estimates the causal effect of social media on politics in a non-democratic environment, using the case of Russia during 2011–2012, a period with the largest wave of anti-government protests since the fall of the Soviet Union. It exploits quasi-random variation in the spread of VKontakte, the most popular social network in Russia, across cities and finds that VKontakte penetration affected both the incidence and the size of the demonstrations by reducing the costs of collective action. 

Daron Acemoğlu, Ali Makhdoumi, Azarakhsh Malekian, Asuman Ozdaglar, 18 November 2019

The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted the sophisticated ways social media platforms can allow companies to infer information about users and non-users from shared data. This column shows how correlations between platform users’ and non-users’ characteristics mean companies can obtain data at below equilibrium prices, implying welfare inefficiencies for individuals. The authors make some suggestions of regulations that could improve on these data-sharing inefficiencies for users and non-users of the platforms.

Ria Ivandic, Tom Kirchmaier, Stephen Machin, 06 September 2019

The attacks on mosques in Oslo and Christchurch have again called attention to the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment that is increasingly becoming normalised in media and on social platforms. This column studies the role the media plays in local increases in Islamophobic hate crime following jihadi terror attacks. Data from Greater Manchester Police reveal a spike in Islamophobic hate crime and incidents following ten international jihadi attacks. Other jihadi attacks that were much less prominent in the UK media, but no less lethal, did not generate the same spikes, suggesting that anti-Muslim hate crime is magnified by media coverage. 

Yves Zenou, 09 August 2019

When does social media polarize opinion, and when does it bring us closer together? Yves Zenou tells Tim Phillips about a new economic model that shows us how affinity can become division, and why the trolls often win.

Michele Cantarella, Nicolò Fraccaroli, Roberto Volpe, 11 July 2019

'Fake news' has undeniably been biased in favour of populist or anti-establishment parties. As politically charged misinformation has been proliferating online, it is no wonder that many have been questioning whether the spread of fake news has affected the results of recent elections, contributing to the growth of populist party platforms. This column examines evidence from a natural experiment occurring in Italy and discusses how fake news might have played a less than obvious role in influencing political preferences during the general elections of 2018.

Federica Liberini, Michela Redoano, Antonio Russo, Ángel Cuevas Rumin, Ruben Cuevas Rumin, 07 November 2018

The ways we access news and, with it, the nature of political communication have radically changed since the advent of social media. This column uses a unique dataset that matches individuals to Facebook audiences to examine the extent and intensity of online political campaigns conducted on the site before the 2016 US presidential elections. The social platform had a significant effect in persuading undecided voters to support Trump and in persuading Republican supporters to turn out on election day, but had no effect on Clinton’s side.

Dirk Bergemann, Alessandro Bonatti, 11 October 2018

The growth of social media over the past decade has brought a parallel explosion in the size and value of information markets. This column presents the findings from a comprehensive model of data trading and brokerage. The model identifies three aspects of information markets – the value of information, the nature of competition in these markets, and consumers’ incentives – which are in particular need of further research and understanding. 

Marina Della Giusta, 13 September 2018

Dr Marina Della Giusta, Associate Professor in Economics at the University of Reading, discusses how economists can use social media to get the public more involved in economics.

Andrea Prat, Tommaso Valletti, 26 July 2018

Competition authorities struggle to evaluate the effect of mergers between social media platforms when prices are zero and standard tools like cross-price elasticities are of little use. This column argues that social media platforms are 'attention brokers' that help incumbents maintain market power in other industries by restricting producers’ targeted access to individual consumers. User overlap is more important as a predictor of competition problems than traditional aggregate usage shares. 

Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Tho Pham, Oleksandr Talavera, 02 June 2018

The rise of social media has profoundly affected how people acquire and process information. Using Twitter data on the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election, this column studies how social media bots shape public opinion and voting outcomes. Bots have a tangible effect on the tweeting activity of humans, but the degree of their influence depends on whether they provide information consistent with humans’ priors. The findings suggest that effect of bots was likely marginal, but possibly large enough to affect voting outcomes in the two elections.

Bei Qin, David Strömberg, Yanhui Wu, 25 May 2018

The Chinese government has invested heavily in surveillance systems that exploit information on social media. This column shows that these systems are very effective, even in their simplest form. From the government’s point of view, social media, although unattractive as a potential outlet for organised social protest, is useful as a method to surveil protests, monitor local officials, and disseminate propaganda.

Levi Boxell, 01 October 2017

The internet has received a substantial amount of blame for the recent increase in political polarisation. Using US data, this column argues that, in fact, the internet has played no significant role in a generally increasing trend of political polarisation that goes back at least to the 1970s. The results highlight the importance of looking beyond convenient narrative explanations, and the need for a deeper understanding of the drivers of political sentiment.

Julia Cagé, Nicolas Hervé, Marie-Luce Viaud, 19 June 2017

The rise of news consumption through social media and the ‘fake news’ phenomenon has raised doubt over the value of original news production. This column uses a comprehensive dataset of French news content produced in 2013 to assess the commercial returns to original news production. It finds that media outlets with a larger fraction of original content do tend to receive greater audiences.

Vahid Gholampour, Eric van Wincoop, 15 May 2017

Large numbers of traders share their thoughts about the euro-dollar exchange rate on Twitter. By identifying and classifying opinionated tweets, and constructing a daily measure of sentiment, this column shows that a trading strategy that takes long or short positions based on the forecasts of high-follower accounts provides a Sharpe ratio significantly above that of the carry trade. The methodology could easily be applied to other currencies or portfolios of currencies, as well as other financial markets such as the stock market.

Maria Petrova, Ananya Sen, Pinar Yildirim, 28 February 2017

New communication technologies change the way people become informed and stay connected, and can also change voter behaviour. This column uses a dataset covering 1,814 candidates for the US Senate with Twitter accounts to analyse how using a new social media technology can overcome the barriers of communicating with voters. Candidates receive more campaign donations after they join Twitter, but adopting the technology seems to help only new, inexperienced politicians. This suggests that new technologies can ease entry to politics for new candidates and promote political competition.

Ruben Enikolopov, Maria Petrova, Konstantin Sonin, 20 June 2016

In addition to the traditional mass media, social media has become a channel through which citizens can hold public officials and corporate leaders to account. But social media commentators can be vulnerable to manipulation and reputational damage. This column uses data on a popular blogger in Russia to show that blogs are critical of corruption in state-controlled companies can lead to decreased profit diversion and corruption by the targeted companies. Social media appears to play an important role in improving accountability, particularly when traditional media is censored or political competition is limited.

Igal Hendel, Saul Lach, Yossi Spiegel, 19 June 2015

It is well-documented that social media is an enabler of mass protests. Social media-led protests and how they interact with the economy are, however, less well-understood. This column focusses on boycotts of cottage cheese (a staple food) in Israel as a protest against increased prices and finds that firms seem to react to these threats and set prices not only on the basis of demand elasticities, as traditional analysis in industrial organisation assumes, but also on the basis of the business environment – something which is not easily captured by traditional analysis.

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