CHAPTER 3

Can Tweets Replace Polls? A U.S. Health-Care Reform Case Study

Annice Kim, Joe Murphy, Ashley Richards, and Heather Hansen,

RTI International

Rebecca Powell,

University of Nebraska

Carol Haney,

Toluna

Social media are a powerful source of information that can provide insights on what is happening in the world, what people are thinking, and how information is shared across social networks. With social networks like Twitter enabling mass sharing of information and opinions by users worldwide, researchers have a unique opportunity to harvest these data to understand trends in public opinion where survey data have traditionally been employed. Currently, 85% of American adults use the Internet (Pew Internet & American Life, 2012a) and 66% visit social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter that enable users to set up a profile and interact with a network of other users on the site (Pew Internet & American Life, 2012b). Among teens ages 12–17, 95% are online and 80% have a profile on a social networking site; social networking is the online activity they spend the most time on daily (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010; Pew Internet & American Life, 2012c). As these trends suggest, social networking sites have grown in popularity in recent years; Twitter grew from 8 million users in 2009 to more than 140 million users in 2012, generating more than 340 million Twitter postings (“Tweets”) daily (Twitter, 2012).

With the proliferation of user-generated content on social networking ...

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