Political Polarization on Twitter

author: Michael Conover, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University
published: Aug. 18, 2011,   recorded: July 2011,   views: 675
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Description

In this study we investigate how social media shape the networked public sphere and facilitate communication between communities with different political orientations. We examine two networks of political communication on Twitter, comprised of more than 250,000 tweets from the six weeks leading up to the 2010 U.S. congressional midterm elections. Using a combination of network clustering algorithms and manually-annotated data we demonstrate that the network of political retweets exhibits a highly segregated partisan structure, with extremely limited connectivity between left- and right-leaning users. Surprisingly this is not the case for the user-to-user mention network, which is dominated by a single politically heterogeneous cluster of users in which ideologically-opposed individuals interact at a much higher rate compared to the network of retweets. To explain the distinct topologies of the retweet and mention networks we conjecture that politically motivated individuals provoke interaction by injecting partisan content into information streams whose primary audience consists of ideologically-opposed users.We conclude with statistical evidence in support of this hypothesis.

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