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Mapping Twitter Topic Networks

Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters

The Pew Research Center published an interesting article on their findings after a study of various political activity on Twitter. Twitter, being a website in which anyone with an account can post their thoughts in short, candid, concentrated bursts immediately after those thoughts come to them. The article finds that there are several different types of clusters that emerge from the activity based on activities, hobbies, political leanings and the camps people belong to. For example, the tight crowd features a group of highly interconnected members, few of whom are isolated. Another example that I find pertinent are Polarized Crowds, characterized by two big groups that have little connection between them. I found this highly relevant to the course, being that we are studying networks in the same way the Pew Center is. The Polarized Crowd reminds me of when Professor Kleinberg was teaching us about the global friendship network. In lecture, we discussed whether or not the global friendship, in which the nodes are all people, and the edges are friendships/relationships, is connected. We concluded that it likely was not connected (some people out of 7 billion are bound to be completely isolated), which is contrasts it with the Polarized Crowd. The Pew Center reasoned that Twitter users tend not to engage with people they have nothing in common with, and even fewer are likely to engage with someone in the polar opposite camp as them.


While in the real world global friendship network, there are hard divisions due to isolated members, even the highly polarized and cross-connection averse Polarized Crowd has at least a few links between the major components. What this teaches me is that the internet has changed the game. A huge majority of internet users on social media websites are likely connected through at least some path of edges to someone in the other major component. Even those on the fringes of one group, being connected to many in their own group, have an exponential number of possibilities by which to have an edge path to someone in the other camp. It amazes me to see how far human society has come in connecting people across the world. In that lecture, Professor Kleinberg commented about looking back at human society 10,000 years ago, in which the global population comprised of a huge number of isolated little groups. As our population grew and developed, so too did our ability to interface with people from different backgrounds and even diametrically opposed ideologies. This connects to how we learned that bridges between groups are a very strong source of novel information, be that about life, opinions, opportunities, or arguments. I find this to be highly valuable as a means to improve discourse and spread awareness of other viewpoints that people may not have been exposed to before.


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September 2017