Michael On Everything Else

A Twitter Divided

We already knew it, but here’s illustrated proof just how politically-polarized Twitter is.

Two sets of groups using the #my2k hashtag over a two-day period in Jan 2013. Marc Smith/Social Media Research Foundation
In the map above, the cluster to the right is the “liberal group” and the one to the left the “conservative group.” Not only do they rarely talk to each other, they also use different hashtags and link to different websites within their tweets. Only the rare user, such as @YasserMohamed2 (now suspended) has links to both groups. Unsurprisingly, researchers call this a “polarized crowd.” It is one of six archetypical network structures they found to exist on Twitter.

I’ve had a couple dust-ups on past Twitter accounts and it usually gets nasty quickly. I think in a lot of ways, the polarization extends into everyday life.

Here’s a quote from Ludwik Fleck, a virologist who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp:

When people begin to exchange ideas, a thought collective arises, bonded by a specific mood, and as a result of a series of understandings and misunderstandings a peculiar thought style is developed. When a thought style becomes sufficiently sophisticated, the collective divides itself into an esoteric circle (professionals) and an exoteric circle (laymen). A thought style consists of the active elements, which shape ways in which members of the collective see and think about the world, and of the passive elements, the sum of which is perceived as an “objective reality”. What we call “facts”, are social constructs: only what is true to culture is true to nature. Thought styles are often incommensurable: what is a fact to the members of a thought collective A sometimes does not exist to the members of a thought collective B, and a thought that is significant and true to the members of A may sometimes be false or meaningless for members of B.

Social media greatly increases the formation of thought collectives and makes it even harder to have a contrary opinion to your peers, I think because of the partial anonymity and also the disconnectedness of it. Think of the difference in disagreeing with someone on Twitter as opposed to face-to-face. It’s much easier on Twitter.

Resist the thought collective! Resist assimilation!