Those of us who monitor Twitter won’t be terribly surprised at these findings, but a statistician studying the reactions to the events in Ferguson, MO, found twitterati are polarized by race and political persuasion.
The only thing they share is a notable inability to understand or listen to the other side, says Emma Pierson.
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: