Information Flows during the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions (1-2)
This article which was published by the International Journal of Communication details the networked production and dissemination of news on Twitter during snapshots of the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions as seen through information flows—sets of near-duplicate tweets—across activists, bloggers, journalists, mainstream media outlets, and other engaged participants. It differentiates between these user types and analyze patterns of sourcing and routing information among them.
Additionally, our datasets involved a significant number of users who were difficult to classify—others—suggesting that many influential Twitter users do not easily fit into traditional categorization schemes that attempt to distinguish among actors. That is, it may be that unaffiliated people who do not easily fit into traditional categories of media actors can play a significant role in global news events like the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. Future work focusing on such users, and adopting case study methodologies, might help to explicate these new practices.
Trends in Information Flows
The information flow data graphed in Figure 3 reveal a relatively low number of flows started by organizations versus individuals, most distinctively seen in the Egypt dataset. We see a more balanced distribution across organizations and individuals regarding flow size. Considering that, on average, organizations tend to have more followers than individuals, this finding suggests that influencing audiences to participate on Twitter might be, in part, derived from individual personality, balancing out raw follower count in the flow size data.
If individuals are generally more successful than organizations in seeding prominent information flows, it may be that they are perceived as more trustworthy than organizations—even when they work for organizations, as in the case of some individual journalists. It could also be that there are simply more individual Twitter accounts, giving them an influential advantage over organizational accounts. Or, it could be that, during politically volatile events, individuals are more willing to spread information than organizations. More normatively, it is important to note that this does not mean that individuals are necessarily better at spreading quality information, or that their information is more trustworthy than organizations’ information. Indeed, another interpretation is that individuals are more likely to seed information flows because they share information more liberally than organizations, spreading information before it has been vetted or verified. It could also be that individuals more casually share information of uncertain value because they lack the resources required to evaluate information themselves, assuming that their network of Twitter followers will determine a tweet’s veracity.
A different study examining why individuals seem to occupy these positions within information flows could look at the content and motivations of tweets to determine what kind of information individuals were spreading, and whether this information proved to be helpful, trustworthy, or true.
The findings related to an information flow’s size—effectively, the number of participants engaged by a particular actor type—suggest that there is, indeed, a difference between how individuals’ and organizations’ tweets are perceived. In Tunisia, tweets from bloggers had the highest number of retweets, while in Egypt, those from non-media organizations were the most likely to spread.
The differences in information flows between Egypt and Tunisia suggest that Twitter reveals differences in how each country behaves as a media system. Since our study was bounded within the use of Twitter, we cannot make broader claims about the two countries, but we can note that the following things appear to be true on Twitter: mainstream media and individual activist tweets appeared to generate many more responses in Egypt than in Tunisia; non-media orgs appeared to generate many more responses in Egypt than in Tunisia; journalists appeared to have equally large information flows in both countries; and bloggers in Tunisia had greater information spread than those in Egypt. We also cannot say whether these patterns are related to how media systems behave within Egypt and Tunisia— we did not cross-index these patterns with an actor’s geographic location—but we can observe that Twitter makes such differences visible. Recalling the high overlap between users in the Egypt and Tunisia datasets, these findings suggest that Twitter itself—without knowing where its users may be located—is a platform on which a similar set of users behaves differently depending on the topic they are using it to discuss.
Trends in Sub-Flows
The sub-flow data give us a more atomic look at the patterns of interaction among actor types, shedding light on the notion that some interactions among actors generate more retweets than others. We clearly see that the most prominent retweet interactions happen between journalists and activists in both the Egypt and Tunisia datasets. Table 4 clearly shows that journalists and activists were the main sources of information on Twitter, engaging their audiences to retweet much more, on average, than other actor types. We can speculate that journalists and activists are similar, in that they are often based in the region at the center of the news event, i.e., within Tunisia, Egypt, or MENA more generally. Within this context, proximity to the event may lend credibility to the source, thus increasing the user’s likelihood of being retweeted. The numbers shift slightly from Tunisia to Egypt, in which journalists overtake activists as the top sources. This could reflect the fact that, in Tunisia compared to Egypt, MSM were highly censored, and Western media were generally not very welcome to work. In both of these cases, we would expect to see a larger role for journalists on the ground in Egypt, and activists and bloggers filling that news void in Tunisia.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 27/06/2012