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Study maps Twitter’s information ecosystem | Al Jazeera America

Posted on by Brandon Klein

A report from the Pew Research Internet Project highlights how researchers have developed six general models of the types of communities on the eight-year-old social network. As Pew's researchers see it, these visualizations represent the clearest picture of what civil society looks like when translated into the sprawling wasteland of the Internet.

“For a long time we’ve seen that social networks, the ones that are real and on display in places like Facebook and Twitter, are a special venue where people come together to learn and share things,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Internet Project, told Al Jazeera. “We want to use new tools to literally look at the shape of crowds. It feels like you’re taking an aerial photo of a crowd while having microphones buried in the ground to listen to what people are saying.”

The Pew Research Center normally produces public opinion polls describing American attitudes toward the Internet. To conduct this type of detailed social network analysis, Rainie and his team scoured the connections between Twitter users, the popularity of certain keywords and hashtags (like #My2K, for example, a White House campaign launched during November’s budget fight) and the density of mentions as people bantered back and forth on the service. The resulting analysis yielded six distinct social network structures that occurred regularly and could not be reduced to one another: a "polarized" crowd, a "tight" crowd, "brand clusters," "community clusters," a "broadcast network" and a "support network."