Tweeting Nano: How Public Discourses about Nanotechnology Develop in Social Media Environments (2013)

Kristin K. Runge, Sara K. Yeo, Michael Cacciatore, Dietram A. Scheufele, Dominique Brossard, Michael Xenos, Ashley Anderson, Doo-hun Choi, Jiyoun Kim, Nan Li, Xuan Liang, Maria Stubbings, Leona Yi-Fan Su

Department of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin, Madison 53706, USA

The growing popularity of social media as a channel for distributing and debating scientific information raises questions about the types of discourse that surround emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, in online environments, as well as the different forms of information that audiences encounter when they use these online tools of information sharing. This study maps the landscape surrounding social media traffic about nanotechnology. Specifically, we use computational linguistic software to analyze a census of all English-language nanotechnology-related tweets expressing opinions posted on Twitter between September 1, 2010 and August 31, 2011.

Figure 1: Analysis of 1,577,325 English-language social media posts about nano (September 1, 2010- August 31, 2012). 45% of posts are about national security/consumer products

Results show that 55 % of tweets expressed certainty and 45 % expressed uncertainty. Twenty-seven percent of tweets expressed optimistic outlooks, 32 % expressed neutral outlooks and 41 % expressed pessimistic outlooks. Tweets were mapped by U.S. state, and our data show that tweets are more likely to originate from states with a federally funded National Nanotechnology Initiative center or network. The trend toward certainty in opinion coupled with the distinct geographic origins of much of the social media traffic on Twitter for nanotechnology-related opinion has significant implications for understanding how key online influencers are debating and positioning the issue of nanotechnology for lay and policy audiences.