Social media is increasingly home to civil society. As Pew Research notes, it is the place where knowledge sharing, public discussions, debates, and disputes are carried out. As the new public square, social media conversations are therefore as important to document as any other large public gathering. By analyzing many thousands of Twitter conversations, Pew identified six different conversational archetypes. The following infographic describes each type of conversation network and an explanation of how it is shaped by the topic being discussed and the people driving the conversation.
Conversations on Twitter create networks with identifiable contours as people reply to and mention one another in their tweets. These conversational structures differ, depending on the subject and the people driving the conversation.
Six structures are regularly observed: divided, unified, fragmented, clustered, and inward and outward hub and spoke structures. These are created as individuals choose whom to reply to or mention in their Twitter messages and the structures tell a story about the nature of the conversation.
If a topic is political, it is common to see two separate, polarized crowds take shape. They form two distinct discussion groups that mostly do not interact with each other. Frequently these are recognizably liberal or conservative groups. The participants within each separate group commonly mention very different collections of website URLs and use distinct hashtags and words. The split is clearly evident in many highly controversial discussions: people in clusters that we identified as liberal used URLs for mainstream news websites, while groups we identified as conservative used links to conservative news websites and commentary sources. At the center of each group are discussion leaders, the prominent people who are widely replied to or mentioned in the discussion. In polarized discussions, each group links to a different set of influential people or organizations that can be found at the center of each conversation cluster.
Still, the structure of these Twitter conversations says something meaningful about political discourse these days and the tendency of politically active citizens to sort themselves into distinct partisan camps.
And on a slightly less socio-economically serious side, here’s 10 curious facts about Twitter…