Small Worlds with a Difference: New Gatekeepers and the Filtering of Political Information on Twitter

author: Pascal Jürgens, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
published: July 19, 2011,   recorded: June 2011,   views: 3945


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Political discussions on social network platforms represent an increasingly relevant source of political information, an opportunity for the exchange of opinions and a popular source of quotes for media outlets. We analyzed political communication on Twitter during the run-up to the German general election of 2009 by extracting a directed network of user interactions based on the exchange of political information and opinions. In consonance with expectations from previous research, the resulting network exhibits small-world properties, lending itself to fast and efficient information diffusion. We go on to demonstrate that precisely the highly connected nodes, characteristic for small-world networks, are in a position to exert strong, selective influence on the information passed within the network. We use a metric based on entropy to identify these New Gatekeepers and their impact on the information flow. Finally, we perform an analysis of their input and output of political messages. It is shown that both the New Gatekeepers and ordinary users tend to filter political content on Twitter based on their personal preferences. Thus, we show that political communication on Twitter is at the same time highly dependent on a small number of users, critically positioned in the structure of the network, as well as biased by their own political perspectives.

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