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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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Audience size and activity levels across k-cores.Panel A shows the distribution in number of followers (or reach) across k-shells. Panel B plots the distributions in number of tweets sent (or activity) across k-shells. Panel C shows the effects on overall reach and activity of removing k-cores progressively, starting from the lowest or most peripheral as illustrated by the networks below the horizontal axis. Removing the first five k-cores results in a drop of slightly more than 50% in total reach capacity, suggesting that the sphere of influence of core participants is much reduced without peripheral contributors. The random benchmark is based on 10,000 permutations of the data where assignment to k-cores is randomly re-shuffled; this benchmark can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality, i.e. a scenario in which all k-cores contribute the same amount to overall activity and reach.
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pone.0143611.g004: Audience size and activity levels across k-cores.Panel A shows the distribution in number of followers (or reach) across k-shells. Panel B plots the distributions in number of tweets sent (or activity) across k-shells. Panel C shows the effects on overall reach and activity of removing k-cores progressively, starting from the lowest or most peripheral as illustrated by the networks below the horizontal axis. Removing the first five k-cores results in a drop of slightly more than 50% in total reach capacity, suggesting that the sphere of influence of core participants is much reduced without peripheral contributors. The random benchmark is based on 10,000 permutations of the data where assignment to k-cores is randomly re-shuffled; this benchmark can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality, i.e. a scenario in which all k-cores contribute the same amount to overall activity and reach.

Mentions: Fig 4 shows that, on average, participants across all k-shells have a similar number of followers (panel A). Peripheral users are substantially less active on a per capita basis than core participants (panel B), but their power lies in their numbers: there are so many more of them (38% in the 1-shell or 15% in the 2-shell vs .13% in the 158-shell, see S1 Text) that their aggregate contribution to the exchange of information is, in fact, greater than that of core participants. Panel C in Fig 2 shows how activity levels and overall reach would vary if outer k-cores were progressively removed. As described in the previous section, we define reach as the aggregate size of participants’ audience, and activity as the total number of protest messages published, whether or not they are retweets. Removing the lowest five k-cores results in a drop of slightly more than 50% in reach; overall activity levels drop less prominently, but those messages now have a significantly lower chance of being seen or retweeted. Thus despite the relative lack of reach of any particular individual in these last five k-cores, the reach of the active core participants would have been substantially diminished by the absence of these peripheral members of the network.


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)

Audience size and activity levels across k-cores.Panel A shows the distribution in number of followers (or reach) across k-shells. Panel B plots the distributions in number of tweets sent (or activity) across k-shells. Panel C shows the effects on overall reach and activity of removing k-cores progressively, starting from the lowest or most peripheral as illustrated by the networks below the horizontal axis. Removing the first five k-cores results in a drop of slightly more than 50% in total reach capacity, suggesting that the sphere of influence of core participants is much reduced without peripheral contributors. The random benchmark is based on 10,000 permutations of the data where assignment to k-cores is randomly re-shuffled; this benchmark can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality, i.e. a scenario in which all k-cores contribute the same amount to overall activity and reach.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone.0143611.g004: Audience size and activity levels across k-cores.Panel A shows the distribution in number of followers (or reach) across k-shells. Panel B plots the distributions in number of tweets sent (or activity) across k-shells. Panel C shows the effects on overall reach and activity of removing k-cores progressively, starting from the lowest or most peripheral as illustrated by the networks below the horizontal axis. Removing the first five k-cores results in a drop of slightly more than 50% in total reach capacity, suggesting that the sphere of influence of core participants is much reduced without peripheral contributors. The random benchmark is based on 10,000 permutations of the data where assignment to k-cores is randomly re-shuffled; this benchmark can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality, i.e. a scenario in which all k-cores contribute the same amount to overall activity and reach.
Mentions: Fig 4 shows that, on average, participants across all k-shells have a similar number of followers (panel A). Peripheral users are substantially less active on a per capita basis than core participants (panel B), but their power lies in their numbers: there are so many more of them (38% in the 1-shell or 15% in the 2-shell vs .13% in the 158-shell, see S1 Text) that their aggregate contribution to the exchange of information is, in fact, greater than that of core participants. Panel C in Fig 2 shows how activity levels and overall reach would vary if outer k-cores were progressively removed. As described in the previous section, we define reach as the aggregate size of participants’ audience, and activity as the total number of protest messages published, whether or not they are retweets. Removing the lowest five k-cores results in a drop of slightly more than 50% in reach; overall activity levels drop less prominently, but those messages now have a significantly lower chance of being seen or retweeted. Thus despite the relative lack of reach of any particular individual in these last five k-cores, the reach of the active core participants would have been substantially diminished by the absence of these peripheral members of the network.

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