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The Critical Periphery in the Growth of Social Protests.

Barberá P, Wang N, Bonneau R, Jost JT, Nagler J, Tucker J, González-Bailón S - PLoS ONE (2015)

Bottom Line: Although committed minorities may constitute the heart of protest movements, our results suggest that their success in maximizing the number of online citizens exposed to protest messages depends, at least in part, on activating the critical periphery.Peripheral users are less active on a per capita basis, but their power lies in their numbers: their aggregate contribution to the spread of protest messages is comparable in magnitude to that of core participants.Theoretical models of diffusion in social networks would benefit from increased attention to the role of peripheral nodes in the propagation of information and behavior.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Center for Data Science, New York University, New York, New York, 10003, United States of America.

ABSTRACT
Social media have provided instrumental means of communication in many recent political protests. The efficiency of online networks in disseminating timely information has been praised by many commentators; at the same time, users are often derided as "slacktivists" because of the shallow commitment involved in clicking a forwarding button. Here we consider the role of these peripheral online participants, the immense majority of users who surround the small epicenter of protests, representing layers of diminishing online activity around the committed minority. We analyze three datasets tracking protest communication in different languages and political contexts through the social media platform Twitter and employ a network decomposition technique to examine their hierarchical structure. We provide consistent evidence that peripheral participants are critical in increasing the reach of protest messages and generating online content at levels that are comparable to core participants. Although committed minorities may constitute the heart of protest movements, our results suggest that their success in maximizing the number of online citizens exposed to protest messages depends, at least in part, on activating the critical periphery. Peripheral users are less active on a per capita basis, but their power lies in their numbers: their aggregate contribution to the spread of protest messages is comparable in magnitude to that of core participants. An analysis of two other datasets unrelated to mass protests strengthens our interpretation that core-periphery dynamics are characteristically important in the context of collective action events. Theoretical models of diffusion in social networks would benefit from increased attention to the role of peripheral nodes in the propagation of information and behavior.

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Reach measured as a fraction of all followers.In this schematic representation, there are three protest participants that accumulate six unique followers. The relative reach of each participiant (nodes in red) is the fraction of their direct followers over the total available in the system (nodes in orange). We normalize these counts to fall in the interval [0,1] for the three networks.
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pone.0143611.g001: Reach measured as a fraction of all followers.In this schematic representation, there are three protest participants that accumulate six unique followers. The relative reach of each participiant (nodes in red) is the fraction of their direct followers over the total available in the system (nodes in orange). We normalize these counts to fall in the interval [0,1] for the three networks.

Mentions: We measure reach as the fraction of followers that every participant has over the total number of followers in the network. As Fig 1 illustrates, this means that some followers (like node l) are counted more than once. Because of the clustering in the Twitter network [23], our count probably overestimates the number of unique users who are exposed to protest information; however, prior research on complex contagion and the psychological effects of repeated exposure suggests that the adoption of a given behavior (such participation in a protest) is more likely after individuals become familiar with the stimuli [13, 14, 24]. Psychological research also shows that familiarity with statements increases the likelihood that those statements will be judged to be valid and true [25, 26]. By counting the same followers more than once, we tap into the mobilization potential of repeated exposure–all else equal, node l will be more likely to join the flow of protest communication than other followers who are only exposed to protest information from a single source. For the same reason, we assume that a similar feedback mechanism exists among participants who are following other participants: the more information they are exposed to, the more engaged they are likely to become. Although we cannot disentangle any causal relationships given the observational nature of our data, this positive feedback is likely to drive (at least in part) the higher density of ties we identify at the core of the network, where participants are on average more active in posting messages and retweets.


The Critical Periphery in the Growth of Social Protests.

Barberá P, Wang N, Bonneau R, Jost JT, Nagler J, Tucker J, González-Bailón S - PLoS ONE (2015)

Reach measured as a fraction of all followers.In this schematic representation, there are three protest participants that accumulate six unique followers. The relative reach of each participiant (nodes in red) is the fraction of their direct followers over the total available in the system (nodes in orange). We normalize these counts to fall in the interval [0,1] for the three networks.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4664236&req=5

pone.0143611.g001: Reach measured as a fraction of all followers.In this schematic representation, there are three protest participants that accumulate six unique followers. The relative reach of each participiant (nodes in red) is the fraction of their direct followers over the total available in the system (nodes in orange). We normalize these counts to fall in the interval [0,1] for the three networks.
Mentions: We measure reach as the fraction of followers that every participant has over the total number of followers in the network. As Fig 1 illustrates, this means that some followers (like node l) are counted more than once. Because of the clustering in the Twitter network [23], our count probably overestimates the number of unique users who are exposed to protest information; however, prior research on complex contagion and the psychological effects of repeated exposure suggests that the adoption of a given behavior (such participation in a protest) is more likely after individuals become familiar with the stimuli [13, 14, 24]. Psychological research also shows that familiarity with statements increases the likelihood that those statements will be judged to be valid and true [25, 26]. By counting the same followers more than once, we tap into the mobilization potential of repeated exposure–all else equal, node l will be more likely to join the flow of protest communication than other followers who are only exposed to protest information from a single source. For the same reason, we assume that a similar feedback mechanism exists among participants who are following other participants: the more information they are exposed to, the more engaged they are likely to become. Although we cannot disentangle any causal relationships given the observational nature of our data, this positive feedback is likely to drive (at least in part) the higher density of ties we identify at the core of the network, where participants are on average more active in posting messages and retweets.

Bottom Line: Although committed minorities may constitute the heart of protest movements, our results suggest that their success in maximizing the number of online citizens exposed to protest messages depends, at least in part, on activating the critical periphery.Peripheral users are less active on a per capita basis, but their power lies in their numbers: their aggregate contribution to the spread of protest messages is comparable in magnitude to that of core participants.Theoretical models of diffusion in social networks would benefit from increased attention to the role of peripheral nodes in the propagation of information and behavior.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Center for Data Science, New York University, New York, New York, 10003, United States of America.

ABSTRACT
Social media have provided instrumental means of communication in many recent political protests. The efficiency of online networks in disseminating timely information has been praised by many commentators; at the same time, users are often derided as "slacktivists" because of the shallow commitment involved in clicking a forwarding button. Here we consider the role of these peripheral online participants, the immense majority of users who surround the small epicenter of protests, representing layers of diminishing online activity around the committed minority. We analyze three datasets tracking protest communication in different languages and political contexts through the social media platform Twitter and employ a network decomposition technique to examine their hierarchical structure. We provide consistent evidence that peripheral participants are critical in increasing the reach of protest messages and generating online content at levels that are comparable to core participants. Although committed minorities may constitute the heart of protest movements, our results suggest that their success in maximizing the number of online citizens exposed to protest messages depends, at least in part, on activating the critical periphery. Peripheral users are less active on a per capita basis, but their power lies in their numbers: their aggregate contribution to the spread of protest messages is comparable in magnitude to that of core participants. An analysis of two other datasets unrelated to mass protests strengthens our interpretation that core-periphery dynamics are characteristically important in the context of collective action events. Theoretical models of diffusion in social networks would benefit from increased attention to the role of peripheral nodes in the propagation of information and behavior.

Show MeSH