Twitter data show that a few powerful users can control the conversation


Twitter advocates like to talk about how Twitter giveseveryone avoice. But we should have no illusions that all voices are equal. A Twitter user at the 99th percentile for followers will have 50 times as many as the median Twitter user. This is far more unequal than even the notoriously skewed income distribution in the US, where someone at the 99th income percentile makes about eight times (pdf) what the median person does. The inequality raises a question: to what extent do a few powerful voices control the way we perceive events? To answer this, I looked at reactions to more than a dozen news events over the past year and analyzed the extent to which powerful Twitter accounts dominated discussion.

Consider, as a first revealing example, Obama’s speech on the 50th anniversary of the Selma march. For each line in the speech, I calculated the number…

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