While Dems Talk Policy, Republicans Attack Their Characters Online
An analysis of 200,000 tweets revealed significant online attacks on the character, but not the policies, of the Democratic front-runners after the last debate
As soon as former vice president Joe Biden finished defending his son Hunter during the Tuesday night CNN/New York Times Democratic debate, his rivals seemed to back off the topic. The internet, though, was ablaze with vigorous criticism of him. People on Twitter, led by a group of high-profile tweeters close to the president, launched barrage after barrage of attacks on Biden’s character.
Donald Trump Jr.’s tweet—“Yea, #QuidProJoe had no idea what was going on and never discussed business with his son!🙄”—was shared almost 10,000 times in the lead-up to and during the debate. “Sleepy Creepy Sloppy Slow Crooked Joe is not above the law!” was being shared heavily as well.
In fact, Biden was the most attacked Democratic candidate on Twitter in the three days before and during the debate, according to an analysis of approximately 200,000 tweets by MarvelousAI, a startup using natural language processing techniques to explore political narratives and misinformation on social media. Notably, many of the tweets weren’t created during the three days before the debate, but rather saw a groundswell of sharing activity before and after it.
The research, led by Berkeley-trained linguist Olya Gurevich, started with clustering tweets by similar topics; human annotators then assigned a specific narrative to each cluster. Those narratives were then segregated by tone and meaning as either attacks (“Joe Biden is corrupt,” or “Elizabeth Warren is a liar and opportunist”) or support (“Bernie Sanders is a consistent progressive,” or “Kamala Harris speaks truth”).
Their analysis of debate-night tweets, along with tweets from the three days before the debate, showed that one-third of the major narratives that emerged were about Biden, and nearly 99% of them were attacks, specifically on his character…