As the 2020 presidential election season heats up, the Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) is providing important analysis on campaign advertising for researchers and the media alike. Over the summer, Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of WMP, worked with undergraduate students and others to accelerate the analysis of digital political advertising, which has seen enormous growth this year over previous cycles.
In the early summer, WMP hosted a mini-hackathon to begin the process of analyzing political ads on Facebook. They worked with summer students through the Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC), and with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Saray Shai and her students Adina Gitomer ’20 and Liz Atalig ’21 on political ad analysis. And in late August, WMP, with support from Academic Affairs and the Government Department, took students, staff, and a former student to the second annual Conference on Politics and Computational Social Science (PaCSS) in Washington, D.C.
The conference aims to develop a greater understanding of information and communication technologies as they relate to politics and social sciences. The Wesleyan delegation included Fowler; Laura Baum, WMP project manager; Pavel Oleinikov, associate director of the QAC, adjunct assistant professor of quantitative analysis; students Lance Lepelstat ’20 and Tsun Lok Kwan ’21; recent alumnus Carlo Medina ’18; and Jielu Yao, then a pre-doctoral research fellow.
The Wesleyan participants presented two working papers: “Nationalized News: Using Large-Scale Collections of Close Captions Text to Identify National Network Stories in Local News Broadcasts” (written by Oleinikov, Medina, Kwan, Baum, and Fowler), and “Do Women Candidates ‘Run as Women’ Online? An Automated Image and Text Analysis of Campaign Advertising on Facebook and TV” (written by Yao, Fowler, Lepelstat, and Frederick Corpuz ’20, who was not present at the conference).
The group also attended panels throughout the day and a poster session and reception after the conference.
“This was a very valuable experience for me as I was able to forge stronger connections with the WMP team, practice public speaking and concise communication of ideas, and learn a great deal about the fascinating world of computational social science through listening to presentations and talking with other presenters,” said Lepelstat.
WMP’s work, including student involvement, continues to ramp up this fall in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. To help increase WMP’s capacity, Fowler, Shai, and Oleinikov have launched a cross-disciplinary computational research group called Delta Lab with assistance from QAC post-doctoral fellow Courtney Page-Tan and students, including Lepelstat, Spencer Dean ’21, Conner Sexton ’20, Kevin McMorrow ’20, Corpuz, Arianna Sang ’20, Gitomer, Atalig, Bodhi Small ’22, and Daniel Knopf ’22. Hear a recent interview with Fowler on digital political advertising on WNYC’s “The Takeaway” here (Fowler comes in around 20 minutes), and see a New York Times column featuring WMP analysis.
Additional photos are below: