Zeitzoff, Thomas, John Kelly, and Gilad Lotan. “Using Social Media to Measure Foreign Policy Dynamics. An Empirical Analysis of the Iranian–Israeli Confrontation (2012–13).” Journal of Peace Research 52.3 (2015): 368-83.
Does social media reflect meaningful political competition over foreign policy? If so, what relationships can it reveal, and what are the limitations of its usage as data for scholars? These questions are of interest to both scholars and policymakers alike, as social media, and the data derived from it, play an increasingly important role in politics. The current study uses social media data to examine how foreign policy discussions about Israel–Iran are structured across different languages (English, Farsi, and Arabic) – a particularly contentious foreign policy issue. We use follower relationships on Twitter to build a map of the different networks of foreign policy discussions around Iran and Israel, along with data from the Iranian and Arabic blogosphere. Using social network analysis, we show that some foreign policy networks (English and Farsi Twitter networks) accurately reflect policy positions and salient cleavages (online behavior maps onto offline behavior). Others (Hebrew Twitter network) do not. We also show that there are significant differences in salience across languages (Farsi and Arabic). Our analysis accomplishes two things. First, we show how scholars can use social media data and network analysis to make meaningful inferences about foreign policy issues. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we also outline pitfalls and incorrect inferences that may result if scholars are not careful in their application.