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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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K-core decomposition of the network of retweets that emerged during the 2013 Taksim Gezi Park protests in Turkey (see S1 Text).Participants have been grouped in their corresponding k-shells, here represented by nodes. Lower k-shells contain participants at the periphery of the network; higher k-shells contain core participants. Node size is proportional to aggregated activity, measured as total number of protest messages (not just retweets). Arcs indicate retweeting activity, and their width is proportional to normalized strength (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve the visualization of the network). The darkness of nodes is proportional to the percentage of participants who reported being in the Taksim Gezi Park (the geographical epicenter of the protests), as indicated by the geographic information attached to their tweets. Most of these participants are at the core of the network where most RTs are also sourced from, thus allowing information to flow from the core to the periphery.
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pone.0143611.g003: K-core decomposition of the network of retweets that emerged during the 2013 Taksim Gezi Park protests in Turkey (see S1 Text).Participants have been grouped in their corresponding k-shells, here represented by nodes. Lower k-shells contain participants at the periphery of the network; higher k-shells contain core participants. Node size is proportional to aggregated activity, measured as total number of protest messages (not just retweets). Arcs indicate retweeting activity, and their width is proportional to normalized strength (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve the visualization of the network). The darkness of nodes is proportional to the percentage of participants who reported being in the Taksim Gezi Park (the geographical epicenter of the protests), as indicated by the geographic information attached to their tweets. Most of these participants are at the core of the network where most RTs are also sourced from, thus allowing information to flow from the core to the periphery.

Mentions: Fig 3 illustrates the k-core decomposition of the communication network that emerged during the Turkish protests. This network offers a simplified map of participants’ interactions and information exchange. The group with the highest percentage of users who reported being at the Taksim Gezi Park (the geographical epicenter of the protests) constitutes the core of the network, where most of the RTs are also directed—or sourced—from. This indicates that information flowed largely from the core to the periphery, allowing many participants who were not on the streets to be informed in real time of activity on the ground. Access to timely information through online networks is especially important in the Turkish context, where mainstream media is heavily controlled and, in the early stages of the protests, was used to divert attention away from the events happening in Gezi Park. Famously, the major news network broadcasted a penguin documentary rather than covering the massive protest mobilization and confrontation with police taking place in the park [29].


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)

K-core decomposition of the network of retweets that emerged during the 2013 Taksim Gezi Park protests in Turkey (see S1 Text).Participants have been grouped in their corresponding k-shells, here represented by nodes. Lower k-shells contain participants at the periphery of the network; higher k-shells contain core participants. Node size is proportional to aggregated activity, measured as total number of protest messages (not just retweets). Arcs indicate retweeting activity, and their width is proportional to normalized strength (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve the visualization of the network). The darkness of nodes is proportional to the percentage of participants who reported being in the Taksim Gezi Park (the geographical epicenter of the protests), as indicated by the geographic information attached to their tweets. Most of these participants are at the core of the network where most RTs are also sourced from, thus allowing information to flow from the core to the periphery.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone.0143611.g003: K-core decomposition of the network of retweets that emerged during the 2013 Taksim Gezi Park protests in Turkey (see S1 Text).Participants have been grouped in their corresponding k-shells, here represented by nodes. Lower k-shells contain participants at the periphery of the network; higher k-shells contain core participants. Node size is proportional to aggregated activity, measured as total number of protest messages (not just retweets). Arcs indicate retweeting activity, and their width is proportional to normalized strength (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve the visualization of the network). The darkness of nodes is proportional to the percentage of participants who reported being in the Taksim Gezi Park (the geographical epicenter of the protests), as indicated by the geographic information attached to their tweets. Most of these participants are at the core of the network where most RTs are also sourced from, thus allowing information to flow from the core to the periphery.
Mentions: Fig 3 illustrates the k-core decomposition of the communication network that emerged during the Turkish protests. This network offers a simplified map of participants’ interactions and information exchange. The group with the highest percentage of users who reported being at the Taksim Gezi Park (the geographical epicenter of the protests) constitutes the core of the network, where most of the RTs are also directed—or sourced—from. This indicates that information flowed largely from the core to the periphery, allowing many participants who were not on the streets to be informed in real time of activity on the ground. Access to timely information through online networks is especially important in the Turkish context, where mainstream media is heavily controlled and, in the early stages of the protests, was used to divert attention away from the events happening in Gezi Park. Famously, the major news network broadcasted a penguin documentary rather than covering the massive protest mobilization and confrontation with police taking place in the park [29].

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
Related in: MedlinePlus