In a recent research paper, “Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters”, the Pew Internet Project studied the landscapes of Twitter, analyzing the discussions exchanged among Twitter users and the content of their tweets. Listed below are quick descriptions of the six network structures, presented in the paper, that characterize Twitter interactions among users and how information is spread within and across user groups.
Network Structure 1: Polarized Crowd
Discussions in the Polarized crowd feature large separated groups with no overlap in discussion. A clear example would be political discourse. Data trends reveal that while two political groups may be talking about the same topic, often times the information remains insulated within a group. There is no significant dialogue exchanged between the two groups as the exchange of information occurs within group rather than across groups.
These discussions attract groups of people who share a common interest and are engaged in discussion topic, directly interacting with one another via Twitter. A key component of the Tight Crowd is that participants are strongly interconnected and are aware of each other, exchanging dialogue and conversation amongst one another in contrast to having isolated discussion groups such as those seen in the Polarized Crowd.
Examples of a Brand Clusters include users who tweet about a product or service of a large company such as Apple or fans who tweet a commentary about Rihanna. The key attribute of this network structure is that Brand Clusters are formed by commentary from many isolated participants who are not connected to each other in any way other than by the topic of their tweet; in essence, they are parallel in content but with no ties amongst each other.
Characterized as a more connected versions of Brand Clusters, Community Clusters arise from popular topics discussed among multiple smaller groups. Discussion will form around a key person, referred to as a “hub”, who serve as a source of information and news. Various individuals will gather to gain information from this key person and each hub has a unique set of followers.
This Broadcast Network takes on an in-ward wheel shape with a hub and spoke structure. A well-known individual or organization such as a political pundit or popular news source, will tweet a commentary on a current event or issue and its followers who are individual users who follow the Twitter page of this central hub and repeat what the hub tweets. An important notion is that followers are reaching into the hub for information.
While similar in shape to the Broadcast Network, the interaction of a hub and its followers of a Support Network is unique in that rather than the followers accessing the tweets spread by the hub, instead the hub follows the tweets of the individuals and replies to the many disconnected users. Therefore the connection is the hub reaching out to the individual users rather than the individual users reaching in to the hub. An example of a Support Network is a Twitter service account of a company that specifically serves the role of handling customer complaints regarding the company’s products and services.
When we learn about social structures in the classroom, they are often spoken of in abstract terms or old examples. However, with the utilization of technological analysis and visualization, we can now further explore the landscapes of social media platforms, which are increasingly significant gathering centers for information in our current society. We now have the tools to efficiently collect mass data and better understand patterns and behaviors our society on a scale inconceivable to sociologists of previous generations. Just as past sociologists observed physical gathering spaces to gain knowledge on how information spreads, sociologists of our day and age can now turn to a newer and more relevant town square of our current society. Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit have become the dominant central gathering space and social network maps such as the ones in this article allow social scientists to observe and gain critical insight on the various roles of social media platforms. In turn, this type of analysis allows us to observe the shifting dynamics of information exchange and trends of collective thought from past to present.
If information diffusion and mapping online discussion structures are of interest to you, learn more about these exciting topics from the full article here!