From Obscurity to Prominence in Minutes: Political Speech and Real-Time Search

Metaxas, Panagiotis Takis; Mustafaraj, Eni

Recently, all major search engines introduced a new feature: real-time search results, embedded in the first page of organic search results. The content appearing in these results is pulled within minutes of its generation from the so-called “real-time Web” such as Twitter, blogs, and news websites. In this paper, we argue that in the context of political speech, this feature provides disproportionate exposure to personal opinions, fabricated content, unverified events, lies and misrepresentations that otherwise would not find their way in the first page, giving them the opportunity to spread virally. To support our argument we provide concrete evidence from the recent Massachusetts (MA) senate race between Martha Coakley and Scott Brown, analyzing political community behavior on Twitter. In the process, we analyze the Twitter activity of those involved in exchanging messages, and we find that it is possible to predict their political orientation and detect attacks launched on Twitter, based on behavioral patterns of activity.