Stance detection, which aims to determine whether an individual is for or against a target concept, promises to uncover public opinion from large streams of social media data. Yet even human annotation of social media content does not always capture “stance” as measured by public opinion polls. We demonstrate this by directly comparing an individual’s self-reported stance to the stance inferred from their social media data. Leveraging a longitudinal public opinion survey with respondent Twitter handles, we conducted this comparison for 1,129 individuals across four salient targets. We find that recall is high for both “Pro’’ and “Anti’’ stance classifications but precision is variable in a number of cases. We identify three factors leading to the disconnect between text and author stance: temporal inconsistencies, differences in constructs, and measurement errors from both survey respondents and annotators. By presenting a framework for assessing the limitations of stance detection models, this work provides important insight into what stance detection truly measures.
Social biases are encoded in word embeddings. This presents a unique opportunity to study society historically and at scale, and a unique danger when embeddings are used in downstream applications. Here, we investigate the extent to which publicly-available word embeddings accurately reflect beliefs about certain kinds of people as measured via traditional survey methods. We find that biases found in word embeddings do, on average, closely mirror survey data across seventeen dimensions of social meaning. However, we also find that biases in embeddings are much more reflective of survey data for some dimensions of meaning (e.g. gender) than others (e.g. race), and that we can be highly confident that embedding-based measures reflect survey data only for the most salient biases.
Manual annotations are a prerequisite for many applications of machine learning. However, weaknesses in the annotation process itself are easy to overlook. In particular, scholars often choose what information to give to annotators without examining these decisions empirically. For subjective tasks such as sentiment analysis, sarcasm, and stance detection, such choices can impact results. Here, for the task of political stance detection on Twitter, we show that providing too little context can result in noisy and uncertain annotations, whereas providing too strong a context may cause it to outweigh other signals. To characterize and reduce these biases, we develop ConStance, a general model for reasoning about annotations across information conditions. Given conflicting labels produced by multiple annotators seeing the same instances with different contexts, ConStance simultaneously estimates gold standard labels and also learns a classifier for new instances. We show that the classifier learned by ConStance outperforms a variety of baselines at predicting political stance, while the model’s interpretable parameters shed light on the effects of each context.