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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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Related in: MedlinePlus

Core-periphery analysis for the Occupy and Indignados networks.Panels A and E visualize the connections across k-cores (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve visualization). Unlike the Turkish case, these protests did not have a clear epicenter, so nodes are colored in proportion to the number of retweets received (i.e. normalized instrength). Core-periphery dynamics are, however, similar to the Turkish case: most of the information flows from the core to the periphery, where users are significantly less active on a per capita basis but who, on the aggregate, contribute a similar volume of messages. Panels D and H show that removing the three outer k-cores results in a drop of audience of about 50%. The random benchmark is, again, based on 10,000 permutations of the data and it can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality.
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pone.0143611.g005: Core-periphery analysis for the Occupy and Indignados networks.Panels A and E visualize the connections across k-cores (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve visualization). Unlike the Turkish case, these protests did not have a clear epicenter, so nodes are colored in proportion to the number of retweets received (i.e. normalized instrength). Core-periphery dynamics are, however, similar to the Turkish case: most of the information flows from the core to the periphery, where users are significantly less active on a per capita basis but who, on the aggregate, contribute a similar volume of messages. Panels D and H show that removing the three outer k-cores results in a drop of audience of about 50%. The random benchmark is, again, based on 10,000 permutations of the data and it can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality.

Mentions: We replicated the same analyses with two more datasets related to protest events: one tracking communication related to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the other tracking the Spanish Indignados, both around the same global call for action in May of 2012. Panels A and E in Fig 5 illustrate the k-shells and their connectedness. Unlike the Turkish case, these protests did not have a clear epicenter, so nodes are colored in proportion to the number of retweets received or instrength [30], normalized to range between 0 and 1. The networks are smaller and sparser than in the Turkish case (see Table 1), resulting in fewer k-cores; however, the core-periphery dynamics are similar: most of the information flows from the core to the periphery, where users are significantly less active on a per capita basis but who contribute as many messages at the aggregate level. Panels D and H show that removing the three outer k-cores results, once again, in a drop in audience reach of approximately 50%.


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)

Core-periphery analysis for the Occupy and Indignados networks.Panels A and E visualize the connections across k-cores (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve visualization). Unlike the Turkish case, these protests did not have a clear epicenter, so nodes are colored in proportion to the number of retweets received (i.e. normalized instrength). Core-periphery dynamics are, however, similar to the Turkish case: most of the information flows from the core to the periphery, where users are significantly less active on a per capita basis but who, on the aggregate, contribute a similar volume of messages. Panels D and H show that removing the three outer k-cores results in a drop of audience of about 50%. The random benchmark is, again, based on 10,000 permutations of the data and it can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone.0143611.g005: Core-periphery analysis for the Occupy and Indignados networks.Panels A and E visualize the connections across k-cores (arcs with lower strength have been filtered to improve visualization). Unlike the Turkish case, these protests did not have a clear epicenter, so nodes are colored in proportion to the number of retweets received (i.e. normalized instrength). Core-periphery dynamics are, however, similar to the Turkish case: most of the information flows from the core to the periphery, where users are significantly less active on a per capita basis but who, on the aggregate, contribute a similar volume of messages. Panels D and H show that removing the three outer k-cores results in a drop of audience of about 50%. The random benchmark is, again, based on 10,000 permutations of the data and it can be interpreted as a line of perfect equality.
Mentions: We replicated the same analyses with two more datasets related to protest events: one tracking communication related to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the other tracking the Spanish Indignados, both around the same global call for action in May of 2012. Panels A and E in Fig 5 illustrate the k-shells and their connectedness. Unlike the Turkish case, these protests did not have a clear epicenter, so nodes are colored in proportion to the number of retweets received or instrength [30], normalized to range between 0 and 1. The networks are smaller and sparser than in the Turkish case (see Table 1), resulting in fewer k-cores; however, the core-periphery dynamics are similar: most of the information flows from the core to the periphery, where users are significantly less active on a per capita basis but who contribute as many messages at the aggregate level. Panels D and H show that removing the three outer k-cores results, once again, in a drop in audience reach of approximately 50%.

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