Professor in Political Science and Computer and Information Science

David Lazer

Uncovering social semantics from textual traces: A theory-driven approach and evidence from public statements of U.S. Members of Congress

Publication date: 
06/2015
Authors: 
Yu-Ru Lin
Drew B. Margolin
David Lazer
Uncovering social semantics from textual traces: A theory-driven approach and evidence from public statements of U.S. Members of Congress

The increasing abundance of digital textual archives provides an opportunity for understanding human social systems. Yet the literature has not adequately considered the disparate social processes by which texts are produced. Drawing on communication theory, we identify three common processes by which documents might be detectably similar in their textual features - authors sharing subject matter, sharing goals, and sharing sources. We hypothesize that these processes produce distinct, detectable relationships between authors in different kinds of textual overlap. We develop a novel n-gram extraction technique to capture such signatures based on n-grams of different lengths. We test the hypothesis on a corpus where the author attributes are observable: the public statements of the members of the U.S. Congress. This article presents the first empirical finding that shows different social relationships are detectable through the structure of overlapping textual features. Our study has important implications for designing text modelling techniques to make sense of social phenomena from aggregate digital traces.

Research Areas TOC

Computational Social Science, Collective Cognition

Computational Social Science, 21st Century Democracy, Political Networks

DNA and the Criminal Justice System

21st Century Democracy, Political Networks