A Measure of Polarization on Social Media Networks Based on Community Boundaries

author: Pedro H. Calais Guerra, Department of Computer Science, Federal University of Minas Gerais
published: April 3, 2014,   recorded: July 2013,   views: 4045

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Polarization in social media networks is a fact in several scenarios such as political debates and other contexts such as same-sex marriage, abortion and gun control. Understanding and quantifying polarization is a longterm challenge to researchers from several areas, also being a key information for tasks such as opinion analysis. In this paper, we perform a systematic comparison between social networks that arise from both polarized and non-polarized contexts. This comparison shows that the traditional polarization metric – modularity – is not a direct measure of antagonism between groups, since non-polarized networks may be also divided into fairly modular communities. To bridge this conceptual gap, we propose a novel polarization metric based on the analysis of the boundary of a pair of (potentially polarized) communities, which better captures the notions of antagonism and polarization. We then characterize polarized and non-polarized social networks according to the concentration of high-degree nodes in the boundary of communities, and found that polarized networks tend to exhibit low concentration of popular nodes along the boundary. To demonstrate the usefulness of our polarization measures, we analyze opinions expressed on Twitter on the gun control issue in the United States, and conclude that our novel metrics help making sense of opinions expressed on online media.

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