Citation: Bailo, F. (2015). Mapping online political talks through network analysis: a case study of the website of Italy’s Five Star Movement. Policy Studies, 36(6), 550-572.
Keywords: Five Star Movement; online deliberation; network analysis; social media and politics; political discussion; political participation; Italian politics; Italian general elections 2013; Beppe Grillo
Understanding relations among online users involved in political discussions can help us understand similarities and differences with corresponding offline interactions. Online communities generally demonstrate too high a level of homophily among users to be illustrative. But online political discussions do not necessarily prevent diversity of opinions. The discussion Forum of Italy’s Five Star Movement provides an interesting case study because of the diverse political orientations of participants and the wide range of discussion topics. I apply network analysis to map in detail the relations among the Forum’s users to unravel network characteristics and actor behaviours. After harvesting 86,943 discussions and 461,297 comments published by 84,203 unique users, I capture features of the network topology to understand: whether users participate in various discussions; if discussions fragment in multiple threads showing assortative mixing tendencies; and if comments concentrate around few discussions approaching a power-law like distribution. This paper aims to improve understanding of the argumentative political discourse, but has also applications for political institutions interested in enhancing computer-mediated public reasoning.