Following the San Bernardino shootings on December 2, 2015, this article was written by Jeff John Roberts at fortune.com in order to shed light on the social network, or rather, social networks, which arose on Twitter caused by the exchange of opinions and information about the tragic event.
Twitter exploded with posts about the shootings, and the “Twittersphere” was rather divided in opinion. As shown in the picture below, there were three distinct groups involved in the topic. “Second Amendment Defenders” are shown in blue, those who posted about firearms and hunting are in purple, and the red dots represent those who advocate for Gun Safety measures. These groups are well-known, and as the article points out, it is not surprising that the groups formed. However, it is alarming that the groups are so polarized and not interacting more outside their comfort zone.
The situation outlined by Roberts in the article demonstrates a phenomenon in human behavior called homophily, which we have spoken about and read about in the course. Homophily refers to our tendency to connect and interact with people that are similar and like-minded to us. It is homophily that caused the division between these groups and the formation of clusters of different networks within Twitter. For example, Gun Safety Advocates only wanted to share the information with other Gun Safety Advocates, because those are the people they are comfortable sharing information and their opinions with over the Internet. Roberts argues that the lack of interaction between different groups in relation to mass shootings is causing a lull in progress in solving these issues. This idea that Roberts puts forth connects with the idea that we have discussed in class that their is strength in weak ties. Here, the weak ties are those between Gun Safety advocates and the other two groups. Because there are less of these weak tie interactions being made, there are not as many new opinions being shared, not as many collaborative conversations being had, and not as many problems being solved. This Time article suggests that the same occurrence takes place in Congress. So, even our country’s leaders are not having these valuable interactions.
While there is polarization, there is also some interaction going on between the sportsmen and the Second Amendment Defenders, likely because these two groups are both conservative, and while their reasoning is different, their opinions are relatively similar. The network formed by these three groups is structurally balanced in that there is exactly one positive interaction (between Second Amendment Defenders and hunters) and two negative interactions (Gun Safety Advocates are a mutual enemy of the other two groups.). The challenge now is to put our differences aside and to change the structural balance from one”+” to three “+”‘s for the purpose of solving a pressing issue. There are large media outlets within Twitter and elsewhere that can lead this charge.As shown in the network, accounts such as @BradyBuzz, @ ConcealNCarryNt, and @Trident_Arms, are leading these conversations among those who agree with them (oh, those strong ties), but they need to challenge their numerous readers to branch out and start future-oriented conversation.