It won’t come as a surprise to anyone monitoring Twitter reactions to the events in Ferguson, MO, but there are essentially two isolated and polarized groups talking at each other and paying no attention to the other side’s arguments.
Emma Pierson, a statistician, studied tweets and twitterati and found them in two self-selecting camps, divided by race and politics. The only quality they share is the inability to hear the other side.
I studied this question using a platform which has has played a major role throughout events in Ferguson: Twitter. Twitter has been used to disseminate live (and sometimes inaccurate) information about Ferguson, organize protests, and even to cyberattack the KKK. In the days before the no-indictment decision, I collected a sample of more than 200,000 tweets related to Ferguson, and they painted a stark picture of how divided people were.
In the image at the top, each point is one of the most talkative tweeters, and two points are connected if one mentions the other: in essence, the image depicts the social network of who talks to whom. It shows two clearly divided groups.
Who are these groups? Group membership is strongly connected with political party: tweeters who describe themselves as “conservative” (or using similar adjectives) are disproportionately likely to be in the red group, and tweeters who describe themselves as “liberal” are disproportionately likely to be in the blue group. Group membership is also connected with race: tweeters whose profiles contain “African-American”, or similar adjectives, are far more likely to be in the blue group.
So, when it comes to Ferguson, two groups with very different political and racial backgrounds ignore each other. This seems likely to cause problems, and in fact it does. For one thing, the two groups think drastically different things. Here are the most common things retweeted by each group:
Key to the problem, though Pierson doesn’t apparently address it directly, is the misinformation supplied via Twitter. And the widespread efforts by twitterati to deliberately inflame the situation, rather than help quiet things down.
@ChuckCJohnson, I am looking at you.