LSC researchers publish on the development of nanotechnology discourses in social media environments

LSC doctoral student Kristin K. Runge and a team of Life Sciences Communication researchers have research on nanotechnology Twitter traffic in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Nanoparticle Research.

The study, “Tweeting nano: how public discourses about nanotechnology develop in social media environments,” mapped social media traffic about nanotechnology, finding that Twitter traffic expressing opinion about nanotechnology is more likely to originate from states with a federally-funded National Nanotechnology Initiative center or network than states without such centers.

Runge and her co-authors used computational linguistic software to analyze a census of all English-language nanotechnology-related tweets expressing opinion posted on Twitter over one calendar year. In addition to mapping tweets by state, the team coded sentiment along two axes: certain vs. uncertain, and optimistic-neutral-pessimistic. They found 55% of nanotechnology-related opinions expressed certainty, 41% expressed pessimistic outlooks and 32% expressed neutral outlooks.

In addition to shedding light on how social media is used in communicating about an emerging technology, this study is believed to be the first published study to use a census of social media messages rather than a sample.

“We likely wouldn’t have captured these results if we had to rely on a sample rather than a complete census,” said Runge. “That would have been unfortunate, because the distinct geographic origins of the tweets and the tendency toward certainty in opinion expression will be useful in helping us understand how key online influencers are shaping the conversation around nanotechnology.”

Runge’s co-authors include fellow doctoral students Sara K. Yeo and Michael Cacciatore, LSC faculty Dietram A. Scheufele and Dominique Brossard, and Communication Arts faculty, Michael Xenos. Ashley Anderson (Ph.D., ’12), Doo-hun Choi, Jiyoun Kim, Nan Li, Xuan Liang, Maria Stubbings (M.S., ’12), and Leona Yi-Fan Su were fellow researchers on the study.

This study is based on work supported by grants from the National Science Foundation to the the UW-Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center in Templated Synthesis and Assembly at the Nanoscale (Grant No. SES-DMR-0832760), and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (Grant No. SES-0937591). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The full text of the study can be found here.