Research shows what’s driving social accountability narratives on social media

Twitter icon on smart phone

New research from York University’s Schulich School of Business shows the combination of financial data and values-based messaging are key components in driving social accountability narratives on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. 

Accounting Professors Greg Saxton and Dean Neu at the Schulich School of Business co-authored the research paper, which used machine learning and data analytics to code and analyze nearly 300,000 tweets associated with the release of The Panama Papers in 2016. The data revealed the tax avoidance schemes employed by politicians, wealthy business people and sports stars. Titled, “Twitter-based Social Accountability Processes: The Roles for Financial Inscriptions-based and Values-based Messaging,” the paper was recently published in the Journal of Business Ethics. 

According to the paper, the combination of financial data and messages about ethical values, “help to construct and sustain a normative narrative about social accountability.”

“While numbers may spark outrage and drive initial participation in a social accountability conversation, appealing to ethical values also plays a key role in building and sustaining the conversation,” says Saxton. “If you’re a social movement organizer, for example, you need to understand what types of messages resonate with highly active users and lead users – the influencers of an accountability network.” 

Saxton also argues the results are important for large companies being “cancelled” by social accountability networks: “If your company is being targeted by these social media networks, you need to appreciate who these key network players are and what values are motivating them to mobilize against you. Ordinary users follow the leaders and thus it is critical to understand who these leaders are and what is driving them to engage.”