Social Science Matrix and D-Lab have received a grant from the Social Science Research Council’s Social Data Research and Dissertation Fellowship program to pursue a new, year-long initiative entitled “Solidarity and Strive: Democracies in a Time of Pandemic.”

Focusing on social media datasets culled from Twitter, Reddit, and Youtube, this project takes a comparative approach to assessing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on political polarization and solidarity in the United States and the United Kingdom—two nations governed by populist leaders who initially denied the seriousness of the viral outbreak. It will examine public discourse surrounding the forthcoming US elections and the actualization of Brexit in the context of the pandemic. Under the mentorship of the principal investigators, at least two graduate student research teams will attend to the dialectics of solidarity and strife that are shaping contemporary political processes and animating social media movements in these two democracies. Working together, the researchers will develop an innovative methodology for evaluating the intersection between the pandemic and democratic discourse, using sentiment analysis jointly with user accounts’ meta-data to measure political cohesion and polarization. To situate the study of the social media landscapes in conversations about emerging best practices, two complementary research initiatives will be formed: a data-intensive training program for the graduate student researchers and a cross-disciplinary seminar series. The seminars will ground topic-specific inquiry in ethical reflections that are rooted in political economy, setting qualitative frames around methodological and ethical questions. Funding will underwrite this unique collaboration between two social science research infrastructures at UC Berkeley: D-Lab and Social Science Matrix. Outputs will include substantive research projects on the datasets, the training workshop and seminar series, and a white paper on the ethics of social media research.

The project will enlist a team of graduate student researchers (Social Media Research Fellows), who will be trained in data science tools and methods and will realize their own research projects within the context of the research initiative. Social Media Research Fellows will work under the mentorship of the principal investigators: Marion Fourcade, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and Director of Social Science Matrix; David Harding, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and Director of D-Lab; and Claudia von Vacano, Executive Director of D-Lab and Digital Humanities at Berkeley. The project also involves a collaboration with Gregory Renard, a computer scientist and NLP specialist working in industry.

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