Using Social Media to Gauge Iranian Public Opinion and Mood After the 2009 Election

Using Social Media to Gauge Iranian Public Opinion and Mood After the 2009 Election

Sara Beth Elson
Douglas Yeung
Parisa Roshan
S. R. Bohandy
Alireza Nader
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 108
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  • Book Info
    Using Social Media to Gauge Iranian Public Opinion and Mood After the 2009 Election
    Book Description:

    In the months after the contested Iranian presidential election in June 2009, Iranians spoke out about the election using Twitter--a social media service that allows users to send short text messages, called tweets, with relative anonymity. This research analyzed more than 2.5 million tweets discussing the Iran election that were sent in the nine months following it, drawing insights into Iranian public and mood in the post-election period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-5989-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  4. Figures and Table
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Summary
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  8. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    In 1979, the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, garnered vast popular support among the Iranian public by recording his sermons against the Shah onto cassette tapes while he was in exile in France, smuggling them into Iran, and distributing them throughout the country. Although today they may be obsolete, cassette tapes in the 1970s were a relatively new and important innovation in communications technology and played a pivotal role in the lead-up to an event that transformed Iranian history.

    More than 30 years after the Islamic Revolution, new Internet-based social media tools, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter,...

  9. CHAPTER TWO Methodology
    (pp. 5-10)

    Most methods of analyzing verbal communication—text or speech—focus almost exclusively on the subject matter. In contrast, what is unique about the LIWC method of text analysis is that it describes the psychological characteristics of written language (e.g., Alpers et al., 2005) and, potentially, of the writers. In other words, word-usage analysis using LIWC does not rely necessarily onwhatpeople are explicitly talking or writing about, buthowthey say it implicitly. This allows for conclusions that extend well beyond those that can be drawn from identifying themes in the subject matter and then extracting them. While all...

  10. CHAPTER THREE Background on Social Media Use in Iran and Events Surrounding the 2009 Election
    (pp. 11-22)

    In the Islamic Republic of Iran, social media has become a powerful political tool. Never was this more apparent than during the country’s 2009 presidential election and its aftermath. Following a contentious outcome that returned the far-right conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office for a second term, social media was used heavily by both sides of a starkly divided political spectrum—at first, by the opposition Green Movement and millions of Iranians who contested Ahmadinejad’s reelection, and then increasingly by the conservative government and other supporters of the official results. Whether to spread information, organize demonstrations, conduct surveillance, or sway public...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR Overall Trends in Public Mood in Iran After the 2009 Presidential Election
    (pp. 23-28)

    In this chapter, we will first discuss the general indicators of public mood we examined across the nine months after the election. Specifically, these indicators show the extent to which people used emotion-laden words, such as swearing, anxiety words, and positive emotion words; first-person singular pronouns, which signify feelings of depression; and first-person plural, second-person (singular and plural), and third-person (singular and plural) pronouns, all of which signify a focus on interactions with others. To the fullest extent possible, we looked for patterns that occurred across multiple indicators at the same time, on the assumption that a trend in public...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Iranian Public Opinion About Specific Topics in the Aftermath of the 2009 Election
    (pp. 29-60)

    Having explored overall public mood across the nine months after the election, we turn to more specific indicators of public opinion regarding political figures in Iran, including the candidates who ran for president during the 2009 election. These individuals include Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading electoral contender Mir Hussein Mousavi, and electoral contender Mehdi Karroubi. Because we could not find relevant prior work on social media in the Iranian context, and because of ambiguities surrounding our sample, we did not pose specific hypotheses regarding public opinion on these figures. Rather, we took a “bottom-up” approach to...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Methodological Considerations
    (pp. 61-66)

    In addition to indicating trends in Iranian public opinion, our results revealed important methodological considerations and limitations. These issues may inform how policymakers apply this methodology to future uses.

    In analyzing the IranElection tweets, we discovered one linguistic indicator—sadness—that also yielded results appearing to validate the methodology. Twitterers’ use of “sadness” words spiked at two points in time that fit well with events on the ground (see Figure 6.1). First, sadness words spiked during the week that included the 40th day after the death of Neda Soltan (i.e., week 7 after the election, or July 26–August 1;...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Next Steps: A Design for a Second Phase of This Program of Research
    (pp. 67-72)

    This report describes a novel method of analyzing politically oriented social media, but it represents only the first phase of a program of research. The results of this analysis regarding the 2009 Iranian presidential election offer initial insights into Iranian public opinion during this time period. With additional research, it will be possible to look ahead toward a future political event inside Iran, such as an upcoming presidential election, and to understand how public sentiment may shift regarding candidates and issues in the months leading up to that election. Additional research could also serve to validate more systematically the linguistic...

  15. APPENDIX Additional Details Regarding Methodology: Data Collection and Analysis
    (pp. 73-78)
  16. References
    (pp. 79-86)