AAAI Publications, Eleventh International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media

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A Long-Term Analysis of Polarization on Twitter
Venkata Rama Kiran Garimella, Ingmar Weber

Last modified: 2017-05-03

Abstract


Social media has played an important role in shaping political discourse over the last decade. At the same time, it is often perceived to have increased political polarization, thanks to the scale of discussions and their public nature. In this paper, we try to answer the question of whether political polarization in the US on Twitter has increased over the last eight years. We analyze a large longitudinal Twitter dataset of 679,000 users and look at signs of polarization in their (i) network — how people follow political and media accounts, (ii) tweeting behavior — whether they retweet content from both sides, and (iii) content — how partisan the hashtags they use are. Our analysis shows that online polarization has indeed increased over the past eight years and that, depending on the measure, the relative change is 10% - 20%. Our study is one of very few with such a long-term perspective, encompassing two US presidential elections and two mid-term elections, providing a rare longitudinal analysis.

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