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Understanding Frames in User Comments on the News

The next Digital Methods panel starts with a presentation by Gianna Haake, whose interest is in framing analysis in social media. Social media texts are often very short, of course, making interpretation and framing analysis very difficult; attempts to analyse content may be inherited from other media forms, too, which may not always be appropriate. Where social media and mainstream media content intersect (e.g. in the form if user comments in news sites), user-generated content could be analysed as media content, or as a reaction to media content.

Frames can be described as persistent patterns of interpretation, and can be broken down into a number of elements which show that there are more than simply thematic contexts for debates; frames support interpretation and action, for example. How may we find indicators for frames, or frame elements, in the short user-generated texts of social media?

Gianna's study focussed in reproductive medicine, and examined user comments on the online pages of five German print outlets related to the topic. She examined the original articles and developed a number of thematic (or framing) clusters from this analysis. What are the relevant categories for identifying these clusters? What ideal types of frames emerged from this? How are the user comments distributed across these types?

Key categories in this debate were the definition of problems, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and suggestions for further action. For each of these categories, several thematic clusters emerged from the analysis - but the distribution of these clusters across articles and user comments is clearly different - comments are often less specific and do not go into enough detail to be able to associate the comment with a specific cluster. One exception from this is where clear need for action is perceived - several comments do address this thematic cluster.

Overall, only broad clusters can be identified for the comments, then - ethical issues, reproductive technology, and social conflict around reproductive medicine were all thematised. There was also a clear distinction across moral (for/against) perspectives in the comments, while the distinction in the new articles wasn't anywhere near as clear-cut.

Still, the framing categories developed for the articles were moderately useful in categorising the frames present in user comments. However, the short length of the comments means that full frames are rarely developed or deployed; rather, comments undertake if anything a reframing of media frames, in this case especially around the definition of problems and the moral evaluation.