Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) has been categorized as a “town hall” of political discussion. If that is the case, it’s a town hall with two different addresses depending on one’s political affiliation.
According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, conversations, re-tweets and followers tend to take place among people with like-minded political outlooks. Rather than expand the political dialogue and promote a diverse understanding, Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) tends to operate as a reinforcing filter where like-minded people rarely engage those with a different political point of view.
Twitter users talk to those of similar political beliefs
The study found that “Twitter create networks with identifiable contours as people reply to and mention one another in their tweets.” The conversations differ depending on the topic, but the study identified six structures that were regularly observed: divided, unified, fragmented, clustered, and inward and outward hub and spoke structures. “These are created as individuals choose whom to reply to or mention in their Twitter messages and the structures tell a story about the nature of the conversation.”
While political groups on Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) tend to talk to those in their defined group, the study also points out that Twitter users, which represent just 18% of all internet users, are not reflective of the full population. In a previous study, Twitter users were identified as generally more liberal than the population at large.
Different “crowd” behavior depending on topic
The study broke down the Twitter audience into six types of “network crowds.”
Polarized Crowd: This crowd has little connection between differing opinions and the topics discussed are often highly divisive and heated political subjects, as the chart above illustrates. Despite the fact that they are focused on the same topic, polarized crowds on Twitter are not arguing, they are ignoring one another. This shows that partisan Twitter users rely on different information sources – typically liberals link to many mainstream news sources, conservatives link to a different set of websites, the study found.
Tight Crowd: These discussions are characterized by highly interconnected people on professional topics, hobby groups and conference topics. “These structures show how networked learning communities function and how sharing and mutual support can be facilitated by social media,” the report said.
Brand Clusters: This group is organized around well-known products or services or popular “light” subjects such as celebrities. Brand-mentioning participants focus on a topic, but tend not to connect to each other. Typically this group is “passing along the message of the institution or person and there is no extra exchange of ideas,” the report said.
Community Clusters: “Some popular topics may develop multiple smaller groups, which often form around a few hubs each with its own audience, influencers, and sources of information. These Community Clusters conversations look like bazaars with multiple centers of activity,” the report notes. Unlike the politically polarized group, this cluster can illustrate diverse angles on a subject, revealing a diversity of opinion and perspective on a social media topic.
Broadcast Network: This cluster is about Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) commentary around breaking news stories and the output of well-known media outlets, and members are often connected only to the hub news source. “There are still powerful agenda setters and conversation starters in the new social media world,” the report noted. “Enterprises and personalities with loyal followings can still have a large impact on the conversation.”
Support Network: This groups centers on customer complaints and attempts to resolve and manage customer issues, connecting otherwise disconnected users. “As government, businesses, and groups increasingly provide services and support via social media, support network structures become an important benchmark for evaluating the performance of these institutions.”
The report, rather than showing how Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) opens up the political dialogue, shows in the Polarized Crowd, two big groups of mostly disconnected people talk about the same subject but in very different ways and not to people in the other group, the report notes. “There are few bridges between the groups.”