This research will involve designing, implementing, and evaluating computational tools to support frame reflection in processes of online political engagement. The internet, social media, and online communication have great potential as a platform for political engagement, from seeking political information to participating in political discussion and deliberation. The wealth of content available via the web can make for more informed discussion, and the fact that discussion can take place on a much larger scale than face-to-face forums offers the potential for participation by many and diverse groups. However, thus far, online political participation has not proven radically democratic. Rather, it has tended to reproduce preexisting inequalities and balkanization in political talk. The constantly and rapidly increasing quantity of political content produced on a daily basis can also be difficult to understand and evaluate, particularly with respect to how issues are framed. The latter is especially important given the fact that, as numerous researchers have shown, how issues are framed?that is, how they are formulated in terms of familiar assumptions, metaphors, and images?profoundly affects how citizens understand, assess, and act upon those issues.
This project will both leverage existing computational techniques and develop novel analytic approaches to encourage citizens to identify and evaluate the frames that underpin competing positions on issues. Through evaluation in two real-world settings, public deliberative forums and readers of political blogs, this work will make two distinct sets of contributions. First, this project will develop human-computer interaction design principles for interactive tools and visualizations involving complex computational techniques. These principles will help ensure that such tools are designed to be useful for, comprehensible to, and interpretable by users. Second, by examining the impacts of various computational interventions, this work will enhance political and social scientific understanding of online political deliberation, both in terms of how technology mediates the deliberative process, and in terms of how deliberation can be improved through increased awareness of and reflection about framing.
The immediate impacts of this research will take the form of tools deployed in real-world settings with politically engaged users, namely through a partnership with a non-partisan convener of online forums, and through public deployment among readers of political blogs. Additionally, the tools developed in this project will be made readily available for use by others, either in support of political deliberative processes or in other contexts. In the long term, the work has significant potential to improve understanding of political deliberation, and it provides an opportunity to explore alternative roles that technology can play in supporting political participation.