Twitter Metadata Shows Intractable Political Divide Over Ferguson
The Twitter discussion about Ferguson is as polarized and entrenched as the online discussion of Israel and Palestine, according to statistician Emma Pierson. When she collected over 200,000 #Ferguson tweets, two main groups of users emerged that fell mainly along political and racial lines. The two groups tended not to engage each other in substantive issues but rather posted invective and highly emotional statements.
The red group contained users who self-identified as conservative while the blue group was dominated by liberals and those of African-American descent. The red group talked about terms like “race baiting” and “mob justice”; the blue group talked about “breaking the system” and “human rights.”
Pierson also looked at instances when the two groups did engage, finding mostly destructive criticism rather than a willingness to listen to each other:
“So we have two groups of people who rarely communicate, have very different backgrounds, think drastically different things, and often spray vitriol at each other when they do talk. Previous studies of Twitter have found similar echo chambers, the Israel-Palestine conflict offering one representative example.”
To date, social media seem better at reinforcing established political beliefs than creating a space where people actively listen to each other. This is a problem, says historian Tim McCarthy. In his Big Think interview, McCarthy argues that Twitter is too limited a medium to spark a social movement:
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