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Game Theory and Twitter

This article by Virginia Heffernan talks about the Twitter postings of Anthony Weiner, a junior congressman. In just a short 20 months of using Twitter he was able to acquire some 77,000 followers solely from his “tweets.” She states that the users of Twitter, like Weiner, are all playing a strategy game, trying to find the right balance of “how much of your attention to expend to win attention to yourself.” She goes on to further describe this game as a variation on the Prisoner’s Dilemma, saying “you have to give to get; you have to get to give.” This makes an important connection between social networking and game theory.

Perhaps Prisoner’s Dilemma is too negative of a connotation to describe this phenomena, seeing as most of the choices do not involve an extremely negative consequence, such as years in prison as was discussed in class. It is more of a game of popularity, where your goal is to make connections and tweets that other people like, and ultimately gain followers. Every post or connection made on Twitter could help to increase popularity, better reputations, make more influential connections, and even build careers. However it could also cause a decrease in popularity, smashed reputation, severed connections, and even a sabotaged career. This trade-off is all dependent on the reactions of others, with the real question being whether each individual post is worth the risk. There is also the choice of whether or not to follow another person, and the tradeoffs of that choice can affect individuals in different ways. Another main difference between Twitter and the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the mere size of the game. Each individual is putting themselves out there for the response from a pool of the over 200 million people using Twitter and there are different tradeoffs for the reactions from each of these people. This strategy game can also be applied to other social networks, such as Facebook. It can even be taken further to apply loosely to every social interaction, though most face to face interactions are not as risky as some of the tweets on Twitter. Every choice that is made, any form of interaction, can have several responses from the other person that have a range of effects on each individual. Social media is a vehicle for increased social networking, which can also cause more harm when one makes a ┬ámistake. As communication becomes more public and visible, it makes it all the more risky.



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