Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication and Information

Major Professor

Courtney Childers

Committee Members

Elizabeth Avery Foster, Erin Whiteside, Karen Freberg


This dissertation explores the role of online opinion leaders in the context of Twitter conversations around controversial social issues, specifically anthem protests by Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe. Drawing from extant and emerging scholarship in public relations, network theory, social psychology, and opinion leadership, this study analyzes the online conversation around anthem protests in two phases: (1) social network analysis to identify influential figures in the conversation and identify the topical communities in which they operate, and (2) in-depth interviews with opinion leaders to explore the various ways they use Twitter to voice their perspective on the issue and how their moral foundations guide their participation in the conversation. Results offer insight into the types of accounts that comprise opinion leaders in the context of controversial subjects, demonstrate how topical clusters form, and establish a contextualized approach for exploring online opinion leaders’ use of social media and how their intuitive ethics shape their views on controversial issues. Theoretical as well as practical implications are discussed.

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