New research outlines the six types of communities on the social network and what that means for communication
Fil Menczer, a professor at the University of Indiana Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing, has researched the potential applications of this type of analysis for years. Menczer’s research touches on every aspect of Twitter’s role as a mirror for human communities, like examining the relationship between social data and the stock market, the spread of infectious diseases and how political campaigns manipulate data to spread misleading information. In a 2012 paper on the spread of memes on Twitter, Menczer and his team sought to demystify how information spreads on unrelated topics, yielding similar network structures to those uncovered by Pew.
One of the major lessons of network analysis, both Pew and Menczer emphasize, is that the Twitter commons hasn’t necessarily made society as democratic as techno-utopians would have you believe. Twitter isn’t a wide-open space, free of boundaries or obstacles: It’s a "mirror," as Menczer says, for the social structures of the real world.
“One of the presumptions about the rise of social media is that it’s changed everything,” says Himelboim. “In fact, if you look at the broadcast networks and brand clusters (two archetypes described by Pew), big, important and powerful institutions that wield tremendous influence offline still do on the Internet. This is really a reality check against those louder voices who claim the world has somehow been transformed."
“It makes you wonder about polarization in political discourse: Is this something that social media is responsible for?” asks Menczer. “Is more polarization easier because of social media, or are we observing what was already there with new technology? Or, even simpler: Would our discourse be better if Twitter and Facebook just didn’t exist?”