A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Campaign Tweets in the 2012 U.S. and South Korean Presidential Elections

aejmc14Presented August 8, 2014 at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Montreal, Qc., Canada, Political Communication Interest Group.

For more information about this paper available here, or by visiting the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

 

As America embarked on its second social media election, changes to South Korea’s election laws permitted the highly digital nation to have its first. Amidst concerns that reform might lead to Americanized campaigning in South Korea, we sought to compare the Twitter activity between candidates in the two countries.

We conducted an extensive content analysis of over 4,500 Tweets from the accounts of presidential candidates, from frontrunners like Barack Obama and Park Geun-hye to third-partiers or independents like Jill Stein and Kang Ji-won. Specifically, we were curious as to what topics candidates Tweeted about, whether they used collectivist or individualistic language, and how often they used Twitter to engage in opposition attacks.

Among the findings:

– U.S. candidate Twitter feeds focused on issues and candidate image, while South Korean feeds spent more time promoting campaign events.

– Surprisingly, South Korean feeds featured almost entirely third-person language. They were far less likely to use collective “we/you” language than American candidates. U.S. feeds were also more likely to engage in individualistic “I” language. This might be less of a result of cultural differences in communication styles and more a function of South Korean usage of Twitter as a campaign calendar more than a platform for ideas.

– American candidates used Twitter to attack opponents more often than South Korean candidates. However, given cultural and political norms in the two nations, the number of attacks in the U.S. was less than what one might expect in other campaign communications, while the noticeable presence of negative campaigning in South Korea was new and somewhat surprising.

Together, the findings denote some differences between the two countries in Twitter campaign communication. However, similarities also emerged, and tended to point toward an Americanization of political discourse.

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