Pablo Barberá

Computational Political Scientist



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The Monkey Cage / Washington Post | 6 December 2017

This explains how social media can both weaken — and strengthen — democracy.

Co-authored with Joshua Tucker, Yannis Theocharis, and Margaret E. Roberts.

The past year has seen a flood of concern about how social media can undermine democracy. And yet not too long ago, after the Arab Spring, social media was being hailed as a "liberation technology" that would help spread democracy. How can this be?

In a recent ungated article in the Journal of Democracy, we answer this question with two observations. First, social media is a tool for giving voice to those excluded from access to the mainstream media. Second, despite the fact that social-media democratizes access to information, those using it can simultaneously censor and manipulate information to try to silence others’ voices. Some of these forms of censorship — such as hindering access to information or threatening would-be opposition figures — are centuries old. Others — such as employing bots and trolls to change the online conversation — are particular to the digital age.

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The Monkey Cage / Washington Post | 4 November 2016

Twitter trolls are actually hurting democracy

Co-authored with Yannis Theocharis, Zoltán Fazekas, and Sebastian Popa.

In May, the New Yorker called 2016 “The Year of the Political Troll.” Hate speech, intimidation, mockery, and racism are increasing globally online. In fact, there’s so much incivility, animosity, and disrespect on social media that some 65 percent of American social media users express resignation and frustration about online political conversations.

That’s not just affecting individual social media users. It’s hurting democracy. Here’s why.

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The Monkey Cage / Washington Post | 16 June 2015

Who is the most conservative Republican candidate for president?

The Republican field is crowded, which implies that primary voters have little information about where some of the candidates stand. That is particularly the case this season, with a few relatively unknown contenders who lack legislative experience or a long history of campaign contributions that would allow researchers to precisely identify where they stand on the liberal-to-conservative political dimension.

However, one characteristic all candidates share is that they have active and popular Twitter accounts. And as I showed in an article published earlier this year in the journal Political Analysis — now freely available online as an Editors' Choice article — it is possible to analyze the candidates’ Twitter networks to compute precise ideological scores and thus identify how conservative or liberal each of them is.

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Agenda Pública / | 27 November 2014

Social Media and Political Representation

Co-authored with Gonzalo Rivero

A common element to most previous studies on social media and political participation is the claim that social media democratizes access to public communication. Since they homogeneously reduce the cost of broadcasting messages to a large number of individuals, independently of who the sender is, it is often argued that social media should contribute to the quality of political representation. However, as we demonstrate in a new study that uses Twitter data, forthcoming in the journal Social Science Computer Review, this is not the case. Quite the opposite: political actors with a larger presence in offline public debates remain central on social media websites, which intensifies biases in political participation. This result also calls into question the potential of social media data to become a reliable source of information about public opinion.

Click here for Spanish version

Co-authored with Megan Metzger

The past three days have been the most violent in recent Ukrainian history. Over 70 people are reported to have died since violence erupted on Tuesday, including following the reemergence of violence on Wednesday after the collapse of a truce between the government and protestors. Thursday, the EU formally announced that it will impose sanctions on those it deems responsible for the violence, marking the first active international intervention since the beginning of protests in November. As in other events of collective actions in the past few years, social media appears to be playing a prominent role in organizing and motivating Ukrainian protestors.

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The Monkey Cage / Washington Post | 4 December 2013

How Ukrainian protestors are using Twitter and Facebook

Co-authored with Megan Metzger

Protests on the streets of Kiev, and in other cities across the Ukraine, have been ongoing now for two weeks. Organized in response to a decision on the part of the Ukrainian government to move towards closer ties with Russia, and away from strengthening the relationship with the European Union, the protests are the largest in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution in 2004. As with many recent protests, there has been much conversation about the role that social media has played in Ukraine. An article in the Kyiv Post argued that social media had played a critical role. At the Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) lab at NYU, we have been collecting all tweets mentioning the most common Twitter hashtags of the protest since the morning of Monday, Nov. 25, as well as data on public Facebook activity. What can we learn from these digital traces about the role of social media in the Ukrainian protests?

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Blog | 26 November 2013

Introducing the Rfacebook package

My new R package Rfacebook is now available on CRAN. This package is intended to provide access to the Facebook Graph API within R. It includes a series of functions that allow R users to extract their private information, search for public Facebook posts that mention specific keywords, capture data from Facebook pages, and update their Facebook status.

In this post I describe and illustrate the current functions included in the package. Used in combination with other R packages, Rfacebook can be a very powerful tool for researchers interested in analyzing social media data. For any question, or to report any bug, you can contact me at pablo.barbera[at] or via twitter (@p_barbera), or on the comments section below.

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Blog | 9 September 2013

Who is tweeting about #Syria, and how?

President Obama's call for an air strike on Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons has, of course, generated a heated debate on social media. According to Topsy, more than 5 million tweets have mentioned 'syria' in the past month. As the plot below indicates, discussions about this issue have taken place not only in the US, but also around the world, in all languages. In this blog post I show that Twitter data can be a useful source of information for the systematic study of public opinion from a comparative perspective.

        Source of data: Topsy. Lines indicate dates of alleged chemical attack, UK vote on attack in Syria, and Pres. Obama's speech seeking Congress approval for attack.

Using my R package, streamR, I collected all geolocated tweets mentioning Syria in different languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Russian, Turkish, Japanese…) from August 1st to September 7h, as well as baseline samples of random tweets with and without geolocation. The main dataset contains a total of nearly 100,000 tweets sent from 170 different countries.

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Co-authored with Sandra González-Bailón

Social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr, appear to be playing a prominent role in the coordination of the still ongoing protests in Turkey. There is abundant evidence suggesting that social media have been pivotal in the spread of information, especially in the absence of coverage by traditional media; to recruit and mobilize protesters; to coordinate the movement without the infrastructure of formal organizations; and to draw the attention and support of the international community. The protests in Turkey add up to a long list of popular uprisings and massive demonstrations around the globe that took shape and gained momentum with the help of social media. However, there are still many open questions about how social networks facilitate the diffusion of information and whether some users play special roles in increasing the visibility of the protests. Results from a preliminary analysis of data collected at the SMaPP lab tracking protest activity in Twitter reveal patterns that are consistent with previous findings about protests in Spain and the US.

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Featured on the Atlantic: These Charts Show How Crucial Twitter Is for the Turkey Protesters.

Co-authored with Megan Metzger

Over the past several years the role of social media in promoting, organizing, and responding to protest and revolution has been a hot topic of conversation. From Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring Revolutions, social media has been at the center of many of the largest, most popular demonstrations of political involvement. The protests taking place in Turkey add to this growing trend, and are already beginning to add new layers to our understanding of how social media can contribute to public participation.

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Featured on Al Jazeera: A breakout role for Twitter in the Taksim Square protests?

Agenda Pública, | 12 February 2013

¿Por qué no castigamos la corrupción?

Co-authored with Pablo Fernández-Vázquez and Gonzalo Rivero

Las causas de la persistencia de la corrupción en nuestras instituciones son múltiples, en nuestra opinión, una de ellas se encuentra en la ausencia de un castigo en las urnas. Aquellos casos de corrupción que produjeron un enriquecimiento del municipio no generaron ningún tipo de consecuencias electorales. En definitiva, no se castiga porque se tolere la corrupción en sí, sino porque se valoran los beneficios indirectos de la misma

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Blog | 22 January 2013

Introducing the streamR package

I just released version 0.1 of my R package streamR on CRAN. This package includes a series of functions that give R users access to Twitter's Streaming API, as well as a tool that parses the captured tweets and transforms them in R data frames, which can then be used in subsequent analyses. streamR supports authentication via OAuth and the ROAuth package, as well as basic authentication with screen name and password.

This package is not a substitute to the already existing twitteR package, but rather a complement. While Jeff Gentry's very useful package interacts with the RESTful API, mine focuses on the Streaming API, and allows R users to capture tweets in (virtually) real time. It is thus comparable to libraries such as tweetstream for python, TweetStream for Ruby or user-stream for javascript/node.js. Combined, these two packages are very powerful tools for researchers interested in analyzing Twitter data.

In this post I describe and illustrate the four current functions included in the package, which I hope can be useful to other R users. For any question, or to report any bug, you can contact me at pablo.barbera[at] or via twitter (@p_barbera).

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This interactive figure shows how many times Obama and Romney have been mentioned on Twitter during the campaign.