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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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Area above reach and activity curves, bounded by random benchmark (panel A) and area between reach and activity curves, which serves as an index of core-periphery dynamics (panel B).The diagrams on the upper-right corner indicate the areas that were computed in each panel. The Oscars dataset is the only one in which removing the lower cores has a greater impact on activity than reach–hence its different color in the barplot of panel B.
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pone.0143611.g007: Area above reach and activity curves, bounded by random benchmark (panel A) and area between reach and activity curves, which serves as an index of core-periphery dynamics (panel B).The diagrams on the upper-right corner indicate the areas that were computed in each panel. The Oscars dataset is the only one in which removing the lower cores has a greater impact on activity than reach–hence its different color in the barplot of panel B.

Mentions: These differences can be best measured as the area between curves, illustrated in Fig 7. Panel A shows the area between the activity and reach curves, and the random benchmark, which, again, can be interpreted as a line of equality where the contribution of all k-cores is perfectly equal. The areas are more similar for the two datasets that are not protest-related. Furthermore, the only dataset that does not track political communication is the only one in which the area above activity is larger, signifying that the network is more hierarchical in the distribution of content creation (with most of it concentrated in the periphery). Panel B plots the area between the activity and reach curves for the five datasets; this measure serves as an index of core-periphery activity. Again, the non-protest networks show a visible difference: the two curves are closer, signaling a lack of division of labor between core and peripheral users.


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)

Area above reach and activity curves, bounded by random benchmark (panel A) and area between reach and activity curves, which serves as an index of core-periphery dynamics (panel B).The diagrams on the upper-right corner indicate the areas that were computed in each panel. The Oscars dataset is the only one in which removing the lower cores has a greater impact on activity than reach–hence its different color in the barplot of panel B.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone.0143611.g007: Area above reach and activity curves, bounded by random benchmark (panel A) and area between reach and activity curves, which serves as an index of core-periphery dynamics (panel B).The diagrams on the upper-right corner indicate the areas that were computed in each panel. The Oscars dataset is the only one in which removing the lower cores has a greater impact on activity than reach–hence its different color in the barplot of panel B.
Mentions: These differences can be best measured as the area between curves, illustrated in Fig 7. Panel A shows the area between the activity and reach curves, and the random benchmark, which, again, can be interpreted as a line of equality where the contribution of all k-cores is perfectly equal. The areas are more similar for the two datasets that are not protest-related. Furthermore, the only dataset that does not track political communication is the only one in which the area above activity is larger, signifying that the network is more hierarchical in the distribution of content creation (with most of it concentrated in the periphery). Panel B plots the area between the activity and reach curves for the five datasets; this measure serves as an index of core-periphery activity. Again, the non-protest networks show a visible difference: the two curves are closer, signaling a lack of division of labor between core and peripheral users.

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