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Study Outlines how Twitter Affects Public Opinion

Update Date: Mar 11, 2014 11:15 AM EDT

Twitter, one of the most popular forms of social media, is a platform where people can share their opinions. Since Twitter has become more important in today's society, with some people using it as a news outlet and others for public advocacy, a new study set out to examine just how Twitter might shape public opinion.

For this research, Chinese investigators headed by Fei Xiong, a lecturer at Beijing Jiaotong University, collected six million messages that were posted on Twitter over the span of six months in 2011. Xiong and fellow researcher, Professor Yun Liu downloaded the data based on specific topics by using the platform's application programming interface (API). The team analyzed the data by separating them into categories.

The researchers reported that public opinions about one topic expressed on Twitter are always changing at a fast pace until one dominant opinion takes shape. The researchers noted that once a dominant opinion is formed, it becomes more difficult to change. The team added that the dominant opinion might not always be set by large groups. People might assume that larger groups might have more power and sway in convincing others since they have more resources. However, that is not always the case. Twitter has the ability to popularize one opinion regardless of who expressed it.

"Once public opinion stabilizes, it's difficult to change," he added.

Furthermore, Twitter users who express minority views rarely give up on their own opinions by joining the majority. Xiong concluded that Twitter users are more likely to try to convince other users as opposed to changing their own opinions. The researchers stated that their findings could help certain groups use the platform in educating and convincing others.

"By focusing on a network application, candidates or companies can analyze the characteristics and behavior patterns of their supporters and protesters to explore whether the measures they take can influence public opinion and which opinion may succeed," Xiong said

The study "Opinion Formation on Social Media: An Empirical Approach," was published in the AIP Publishing's journal, Chaos.

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