Right-wing influencers and uptake on Twitter: an LDA topic modelling approach

Speaker 2023

Right-wing metapolitical influencers employ online media like Twitter to reach an audience and spread their discourse. Some of them are so successful at this, they become important actors in the political and societal debate in the hybrid media system (e.g. Maly, 2020; Riedl et al., 2022). In their influential role, they have the potential to affect belief-forming and decision-making processes through implicit and explicit epistemic claims of what is (not) true, factual, believable or trustworthy (Lewis, 2018; Shahin, 2022).

This dynamic is the focus of the current research. We investigate two US right-wing metapolitical influencers, Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens, and their discourse on Twitter during two weeks around the 2022 US midterm elections in order to assess what the most popular topics in their discourse are and how they deploy these topics to generate interaction and influence on Twitter. Through LDA topic modelling in Python, we identify the topics present in over 155.000 tweets (722 original (re)tweets and 118.061 replies for Shapiro, 71 (re)tweets and 36.917 replies for Owens) This is followed up by analyzing the relation between discursive strategies and topics on the one hand, and human and algorithmic uptake (Maly, 2022) on the other hand.

This quantitative approach is complemented with a qualitative discourse analytical focus on the role of epistemic claims of truth, fact and knowledge in their tweets. Through this mixed-methods research design, we aim to gain in-depth insights into how Shapiro and Owens strategically deploy specific topics and epistemic claims on Twitter to increase their audience, voice and influence in the hybrid media system.


Lewis, R. (2018). Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube. Data & Society. Available online: https://datasociety.net/wp- content/uploads/2018/09/DS_Alternative_Influence.pdf (accessed on 14 April 2023).

Maly, I. (2020). Metapolitical New Right Influencers: The Case of Brittany Pettibone. Social Sciences. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9070113

Maly, I. (2022). Algorithms, interaction and power: A research agenda for digital discourse
analysis. Working Papers in Urban Language &
295. https://www.academia.edu/73221593/Algorithms_interaction_and_power_A_ research_agenda_for_digital_discourse_analysis

Riedl, M., Schwemmer, C., Ziewiecki, S., Ross, L. M. (2021). The Rise of Political Influencers – Perspectives on a Trend Towards Meaningful Content. Frontiers in Communication. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2021.752656

Shahin, S. (2022). Affective polarization of a protest and a counterprotest: Million MAGA March v. Million Moron March. American Behavioral Scientist. https://doi.org/10.1177/00027642221091212


Ruben den Boer

Don't want to miss out on the symposium? Sign up is now open.

Digital Humanities Tilburg