“Divided” Twitter Networks and the Politics of the Crash
I’m an on-and-off Twitter user. These blog posts all go to my Twitter feed, so that those who are following me get the latest, and there are times when one Twitter account or another (yes, I have more than one) will get a great deal of my attention for a time.
But when it comes to conversation through Twitter, I’m still just a novice.
Part of this reflects busy-ness. I don’t have the time I’d like for conversations in physical reality with family, colleagues and friends. Engaging in the Twitter-sphere pales in comparison to the importance of those engagements.
Part of this reflects my personality type, especially my “I” on the Myers/Briggs scale. I’m an introvert. Conversations need to be with my “intimates,” or they need to have a purpose. Trolling the Twitter feeds (#shouldIcare?) doesn’t immediately leap to the top of my “want to do this” list.
In part, again, this is because I’m a novice.
But in part, it reflects something the Pew Research Center team put its collective fingers on in a recent study of Twitter “networks.” (Thanks to Chris Cillizza’s blog yesterday for alerting me to this)
This nifty infographic illustrates the different network structures nicely:
Note that the first “structure” listed (“Divided”) is not, in fact, one network, but two (or more). Twitter conversations in the “divided” world operate parallel to each other, without any points of intersection, without any substantive engagement with each other. That’s fine if these conversations are about different things (say, the best way to make herb bread, on the one hand, and the best place to eat sushi in Albuquerque, on the other). But in the “divided” Twitter network, the parallel universes are talking about the same topic. What they aren’t doing is talking (or, more importantly, listening) to anyone outside their own echo chamber.
What does this sound like?
Politics today in the U.S.
And that’s exactly the example the Pew team gives to illustrate a “divided” network.
Please note that this division is self-enforcing on all sides of the ideological spectrum. It’s not that liberals are kept out of the conservative conversation, or vice versa (at least, the Pew study does not seem to support that notion). It’s that we self-select for the conversation in which we want to participate.
In a way, when we attempt to understand politics and policy this way, it’s like we are driving down the interstate looking out of only one window. Look to the right only, and we’ll be aware of dangers and opportunities in the slower lanes, on the shoulder, and exiting and entering. Look to the left only, and we’ll be informed about the fast-moving vehicles there, and what lies between us and vehicles hurtling in the opposite direction on the other side of the median.
What I’m most concerned about is that we are so fixated on our left- or right-ward orientation that we’ll miss what’s right in front of us . . . and what’s coming up quickly from behind.