New study maps social identity clusters on Twitter

New NECSI study maps Twitter social clusters among readers of The New York Times.

If you tweet about articles from The New York Times, chances are you fall into one of five social groups, but, contrary to popular wisdom, you may not be ideologically liberal. A new study produced by researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) found that Twitter users who share New York Times links most often separate into three camps – those with interests in global politics, New York news, or national business stories. Individuals who are nationally oriented subdivide further into liberal and conservative groups.

What may be most interesting about the NECSI study is how geography appears to play a smaller role in defining Twitter social groups than other forms of self-identification. Regardless of location, Twitter users in the study tended to associate with other users of like interests. Those interests might still relate to particular geographic concerns, but they were not overly based on a user’s local origin.

For example, individuals interested in international politics tended to follow other tweeters interested in the same, but not necessarily other Twitter users nearby. This cosmopolitan group consisted largely of users in cities around the world.

Politically liberal and conservative tweeters likewise appeared to cluster together separately from their locations of origin.

Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of NECSI and one of the authors of the study notes the sociological implications of the Twitter research:

Twitter cannot be ignored in how peer-to-peer and mass media are connecting people separated in space and time—and what that means in the behavior of social systems.

The NECSI study was conducted by analyzing 521,733 tweets posted by 223,950 unique Twitter users across a fifteen-day period in September of 2011. All users in the study posted or retweeted at least three links to New York Times articles in that time.

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