How do politicians use Facebook? An applied Social Observatory

Simon Caton, Margeret Hall, Christof Weinhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


In the age of the digital generation, written public data is ubiquitous and acts as an outlet for today's society. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn have profoundly changed how we communicate and interact. They have enabled the establishment of and participation in digital communities as well as the representation, documentation and exploration of social behaviours, and had a disruptive effect on how we use the Internet. Such digital communications present scholars with a novel way to detect, observe, analyse and understand online communities over time. This article presents the formalization of a Social Observatory: a low latency method for the observation and measurement of social indicators within an online community. Our framework facilitates interdisciplinary research methodologies via tools for data acquisition and analysis in inductive and deductive settings. By focusing our Social Observatory on the public Facebook profiles of 187 federal German politicians we illustrate how we can analyse and measure sentiment, public opinion, and information discourse in advance of the federal elections. To this extent, we analysed 54,665 posts and 231,147 comments, creating a composite index of overall public sentiment and the underlying conceptual discussion themes. Our case study demonstrates the observation of communities at various resolutions: “zooming” in on specific subsets or communities as a whole. The results of the case study illustrate the ability to observe published sentiment and public dialogue as well as the difficulties associated with established methods within the field of sentiment analysis within short informal text.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBig Data and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 27 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Facebook
  • Social Observatory
  • computational social science
  • political discourse
  • sentiment analysis
  • text analytics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Information Systems
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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