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An exploration of social identity: The geography and politics of news-sharing communities in twitter

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Abstract

The importance of collective social action in current events is manifest in the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. Electronic social media have become a pervasive channel for social interactions, and a basis of collective social response to information. The study of social media can reveal how individual actions combine to become the collective dynamics of society. Characterizing the groups that form spontaneously may reveal both how individuals self-identify and how they will act together. Here we map the social, political, and geographical properties of news-sharing communities on Twitter, a popular microblogging platform. We track user-generated messages that contain links to New York Times online articles and we label users according to the topic of the links they share, their geographic location, and their self-descriptive keywords. When users are clustered based on who follows whom in Twitter, we find social groups separate by whether they are interested in local (NY), national (US) or global (cosmopolitan) issues. The national group subdivides into liberal, conservative and other, the latter being a diverse but mostly business oriented group with sports, arts, and other splinters. The national political groups are based across the US but are distinct from the national group that is broadly interested in a variety of topics. A person who is cosmopolitan associates with others who are cosmopolitan, and a US liberal/conservative associates with others who are US liberal/conservative, creating separated social groups with those identities. The existence of “citizens” of local, national, and cosmopolitan communities is a basis for dialog and action at each of these levels of societal organization. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Complexity 19: 10–20, 2013

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