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Coproduction or cooptation? Real-time spin and social media response during the 2012 French and US presidential debates


Major political events now unfold in a hybrid political information cycle: even as millions of citizens tune in to television broadcasts, many also comment – and receive others’ comments – over social media. In previous research, we have described how biobehavioral cues spur Twitter discussion of candidates during American presidential debates. Here we extend that research to also account for other elements of the communication environment – in particular, messages from political and media elites reaching them via a ‘second screen’ such as mobile phone or tablet – and we apply our analyses to debates in both the United States and France. Specifically, we examine the relationship between the Twitter posts of 300 politicians, organizations and media figures from each country and the relevant messages of the larger Twitterverse during the debates. Our findings reveal commonalities in social media response in the two countries, particularly the powerful role of party figures and pundits in spurring social media posting. We also note differences between the social media cultures of the two countries, including the finding that French elites commanded relatively more attention (in the form of retweets) than their American counterparts. Implications for debate evaluations and online expression are discussed.

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  1. For the information included in each Twitter object, see

  2. We also ran models using lagged measures of our dependent variables (see Shah et al, forthcoming); these models performed significantly less well than those presented here, perhaps indicating the rapid die-off of the effects described.

  3. It is possible that this is partly an artifact of our analytic technique: because we used retweets of handles as the measure of their activity in our independent variables, we had to remove them from the dependent variable. It is therefore possible that a highly retweeted category of user might not appear to predict general user activity – if many people retweeted those users but did not otherwise engage with them or the ideas they posted. That is, users may be more likely to reply to a pundit or party handle – in which case their response would occur in our data set. Future research might explore how users respond and interact differently to these different sorts of elite actors during debates.


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The authors wish to express their thanks to Dr Axel Meireder for help assembling the list in the French case, and Stephanie D. Lassen for help with coding the French debate. This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government NRF-2013S1A3A2055285.

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Correspondence to Chris Wells.


Appendix A

Table A1

Table A1 Elite handles selected for American case, by category

Appendix B

Table B1

Table B1 Elite handles selected for French case, by category

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Wells, C., Van Thomme, J., Maurer, P. et al. Coproduction or cooptation? Real-time spin and social media response during the 2012 French and US presidential debates. Fr Polit 14, 206–233 (2016).

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