Rebekah Tromble, Ph.D.
Originally from the United States, I am currently an assistant professor of political science at Leiden University in the Netherlands. My main area of expertise is media and politics, with a focus on social media.
Research Methods & Research Design
Text as Data
Digital Political Participation
Computational Social Science
My research primarily focuses on political discourse and political behavior on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and reddit. I am particularly interested in whether, when, and why politicians choose to interact (i.e., hold actual back-and-forth conversations) with members of the public via social media, as well as what effects these interactions have on people's political attitudes and behavior. I also conduct research into the manipulation of political opinion via social media bots and the spread of fake news. I examine these questions across Western democracies, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.
Much of my research is computational in nature, and I am committed to making computational methods more accessible to social scientists and making social science theories and concepts more accessible to data and computer scientists. As such, I also research and write about digital research methods and ethics for both audiences.
Social media are frequently touted for their potential to strengthen democratic processes by bringing politicians and citizens into dialogue with one another. Social media may enrich the public sphere and improve democratic decision-making by allowing politicians and constituents to discuss matters of political import directly, free from intermediaries. But what factors impact whether this potential is realized? Previous research has focused on politicians’ structural incentives for strategic communication online but neglected the impact of citizen demand for politicians’ attention. I examine the role of citizen demand using an original dataset comprising the Twitter activity from and to members of the lower legislative houses in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States during the latter half of October 2013. The data suggest that citizen demand plays a crucial role in determining the presence, as well as the extent, of politicians’ reciprocal engagement with members of the public.
Social media are the great social leveler – or so some commentators would have us believe. Social media put the power of communication directly into the average person’s hands. They also present opportunities for politicians to improve their contacts with the common person – to directly share their messages with and better understand the concerns of constituents. This study explores whether and to what extent the potential for such citizen– politician engagement is fulfilled. Deploying an original dataset of tweets from politicians in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, this exploratory study examines the interlocutors with whom politicians engage reciprocally via Twitter. The results show that a large share of politicians’ genuinely reciprocal exchanges includes average citizens. Although there is much room for improvement, this study suggests that Twitter is indeed opening spaces for citizens and policymakers to engage one another on matters of political import.
Media framing scholars have long examined why journalists select certain frames over others at a given point. However, we know much less about why certain frames persist over time in the media while others fade away and still others disappear very quickly. In this study, we bring attention to the study of frame duration and offer an approach based in event-history methodologies that can assess the causes of repeated frame deployment over both long and short periods of time. As an illustration, we examine the British coverage of the 2006 Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy, demonstrating a rigorous and analytically sound approach to the longitudinal analysis of media framing dynamics.
In a time of rapid, globalized communication, what are the possibilities for truly meaningful cross-cultural political dialogue? Optimists contend that we may now speak of transnational public spheres—of spaces in which people reach across national boundaries to engage one another on issues of common concern. Skeptics, on the other hand, maintain that political, cultural, and linguistic barriers continue to preclude truly meaningful transnational discourse. And in the wake of 9/11 and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many express specific skepticism about the potential for Western and Muslim societies to bridge such divides. Yet little systematic empirical research investigates the realities of cross-national dialogue, particularly between Western and non-Western societies. Using an original dataset produced via content analysis of British and Pakistani newspapers, we examine the discursive links formed during a quintessential transnational media event: the 2005–2006 Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy. Comparing the frames deployed and actors engaged in each of these countries, we find clear evidence of genuine transnational engagement between Muslims and non-Muslims. And though the scope of our data limits our findings, they nonetheless provide a sense of cautious optimism regarding the potential for the formation of transnational public spheres.
How do we balance the digital media user’s right to privacy against the social scientist’s need for data integrity and reproducibility? As various public and private actors have begun to recognize internet users’ “right to be forgotten,” finding an answer to this question has become ever more difficult. This study examines some of the practical implications of observing this right in social media research by taking Twitter activity during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” in Hong Kong as a case study. We compare two datasets collected from Twitter’s historical archive, both of which contain tweets issued between October 1st and 15th, 2014 that contain at least one of six popular hashtags. However, the two datasets were collected one year apart, in December 2014 (just as the protests were ebbing) and December 2015. Because deleted tweets are removed from Twitter’s archive, analysis of this data allows us to better understand how digital data might “decay” over time when researchers respect users’ right to erase their own content from various platforms.
Provided expert commentary on a path-breaking study of the spread of false claims on Twitter.
Provided expert commentary on political parties' social media use.
In this research-based article for the Washington Post's "Monkey Cage", we examined the amount and types of sexist comments Hillary Clinton faced on Twitter in spring 2016. As the Democratic presidential primary contest between Clinton and Bernie Sanders grew closer, some commentators suggested that Clinton’s campaign was being bombarded with sexist invective — especially from Sanders supporters. But based on systematic analysis of Twitter data during the New Hampshire primary, we found that few of the attacks directed at Clinton could be attributed to the left in general or Sanders supporters in particular. And a remarkably small number of tweets mentioning Clinton contained the most egregious and overt forms of sexism. These results do not mean Sanders supporters were free of misogyny or sexism. However, our analysis did provide a better understanding of the extent and character of the attacks lodged against Hillary Clinton online. And it seems relatively little abuse originated from the left, or even left-mimicking trolls or bots, at the time.
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