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Cyberscholar Working Group at Yale University

April 16, 2015 at 2:30PM
Yale University
40 Ashmun Street
New Haven, CT 06520

The Cyberscholar Working Group is a forum for fellows and affiliates of MIT, Yale Law School Information Society Project, Columbia University, NYU, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University to discuss their ongoing research. Each session is focused on the peer review and discussion of current projects submitted by a presenter. Meeting alternatively at Harvard, MIT, Yale, NYU, and Columbia, the working group aims to expand the shared knowledge of young scholars by bringing together these preeminent centers of thought on issues confronting the information age. Discussion sessions are designed to facilitate advancements in the individual research of presenters and in turn encourage exposure among the participants to the multi-disciplinary features of the issues addressed by their own work.
1. The Bully Pulpit, Social Media, and Public Opinion: A Big Data Approach
In this paper, we seek to understand the contemporary power of the Presidential “bully pulpit”—the persuasive power of the nation’s highest elected office—in a context of shifting patterns of mediation. We do so by examining a major emerging communication medium (Twitter) for evidence of changes in public opinion before and after President Obama’s high-profile statements on net neutrality and immigration in November 2014.

In research designs that attempt to measure changes in public opinion and public attention on specific issues, delays between the event of interest and a poll reduce our confidence that changes can be attributed to the event. Twitter offers a high-frequency dataset that represents a significant subset of the public and offers insight into contemporary political discourse in the United States. There are approximately 60 million active users in the United States, sending more than 100 million tweets each day. Twitter users frequently react to political events and express their opinions on a wide range of issues. This process represents a culmination of a decade of growth in social media usage by political actors.

Employing an interrupted time-series research design, we use text analytic and machine learning techniques on a large dataset of tweets to analyze both the number and content of tweets before and a presidential statement. The statement, a recorded video message about net neutrality, outlined specific policy goals and occurred on November 10, 2014. The president’s net neutrality statement expressed the his desires for action by an independent agency. On the one hand, this may support the theory that the president’s true audience is the bureaucracy. But if the president is able to shift public opinion, he may also seek to deploy public opinion to pressure an independent agency.

We fully recognize that the Twitter user base is not representative of the American public. However, representativeness is not requisite for our study because we seek to identify relative changes in public attention and opinion, rather than absolute levels.

This study includes novel and comprehensive data on the effects a major recent presidential announcement had on public opinion. With social media playing a growing role in both campaign messages and policy discourse, this paper offers a methodological foundation for future studies in the changing nature of the Presidential bully pulpit and the role of social media as a tool of mediation in political communication.
Gabriel J. Michael is a Postdoctoral Associate in Law and a Fellow, Information Society Project, at Yale Law School. His research interests include the politics of intellectual property, Internet and technology policy, and policy diffusion. His work has been published in Review of Policy Research, the Journal of Information Technology and Politics and the Journal of Law and Religion.
Colin Agur is a Postdoctoral Associate in Law and Knight Law and Media Scholar at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. His research bridges the history of telecommunications and contemporary mobile phone usage, and seeks to understand the unanticipated consequences of network development. He received his PhD in Communications from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
2.  Information Privacy and Data Security
Information privacy and data security are two areas that are often either presumed to be entirely united or completely disjoint. This Essay takes a nuanced view that will aid law and policy development in both fields by defining their relationship to one another. While each field has distinct goals and methods, both information privacy data security rely on the same processes and code for handling personal information. Because information privacy and data security both arise from the same infrastructure, modifications to one impact the facts upon which the other rely for policy development. Furthermore, the information processing infrastructure, which is built with considerations of information privacy and data security in mind, both implicate issues of trust and institutional legitimacy from the point of view of the individuals whose data is being handled.

Lauren Henry is a Postdoctoral Associate in Law and a Knight Law and Media Scholar, Information Society Project, at Yale Law School. She holds degrees from Yale College and from Harvard Law School, where she served as an editor of the Journal of Law and Technology, as a law clerk at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and as a teaching fellow for courses on copyright and online privacy. She has worked for the Center for Democracy and Technology and for the ACLU. 
Past Event
Thursday, Apr 16, 2015
2:30 PM - 4:00 PM