Thomas R. Davidson

Ph.D. Candidate


 I’m a PhD candidate and member of the Social Dynamics Lab in the Department of Sociology at Cornell University. I study politics and culture using computational methods including machine learning, natural language processing, and social network analysis. My dissertation examines how radical right social movements, political parties, and their supporters have used social media to organize and engage with the public at an unprecedented scale. In addition to my dissertation research, I have published papers on hate speech, social capital, and predictive modeling in venues including Social Forces, Mobilization, and Socius.


Political sociology, social movements, culture, computational social science, social networks.

Committee members:

Michael Macy (chair), Mabel Berezin, and Filiz Garip.


The Dynamics of Political Debate and Activism on Social Media

Social media technologies have transformed both politics and our ability to study it. In my dissertation I pose three related questions, drawing upon theories from political sociology, social movements, and public opinion. Why have far-right, populist actors have been so successful at building remarkably large online audiences and has this online presence contributed to their electoral performance? To what extent is online social movement activity, engagement, and recruitment associated with offline events like protests, elections, and terrorist attacks? What is the role of individual opinion leaders in massive online debates? To address these questions, I have compiled novel datasets combining information from social media, newspapers, and other sources, which enable me to study the dynamics of activism and debate at scale and with high granularity. Methodologically, I use a range of statistical and computational methods including social network analysis, natural language processing, and time series modeling. These studies contribute to our understanding of contemporary far-right politics, online debates, and public opinion on issues including immigration and Brexit.