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Viral tweets and Twitter.

Explained | How Twitter shapes public opinion

There are over 300 million Twitter users and nearly 100 million of them are active on the platform every day. That’s a huge number. And, with such numbers it’s not hard to see why Twitter is increasingly becoming the place for understanding the public discourse.

One of the key factors that facilitates such rapid movement of news on Twitter is its ability to provide instant gratification — the feedback is immediate. The 140-character limit means that the users need to be quick and short in their narrative. Being quick and short is rewarding on Twitter. Here’s how.

The effort needed to put in to type a Tweet is relatively less. And, that makes it imperative for people who want to be heard to be quick. It pays to be quick and break news/ideas/stories on Twitter.

Character limit limits you character

Being short and quick is not necessarily a good thing in live debates. But on a medium like Twitter, where hundreds of millions take part, the right tweet at the right time can trigger a massive debate, especially, if you’re influential.

The power of Twitter is in its 140-character limit. Shorter messages are generally prone to distortion. The lack of details allow users to perceive it in a manner they wish to. As a result, it tends to polarize opinions. And, it happens quickly. There is scientific evidence to back that.

Researchers have found that public opinion on Twitter evolves rapidly and levels off quickly into an ordered state in which one opinion remains dominant. It also found that consensus is often driven by the endorsements of larger and larger groups, which tend to have the most influence.

The public opinion for each topic fluctuates in the early stage, and then the dynamics is extremely slowed down after a short time. Ultimately, the public opinion evolves into an ordered state and one opinion predominates absolutely, but a state of complete consensus is difficult to reach. At first, one opinion takes a slight advantage, but this advantage gradually grows toward the initial majority opinion in the evolution process. Photo: F.Xiong/BJTU


Since public opinion levels off and evolves into an ordered state within a short time, small advantages of one opinion in the early stages can turn into a bigger advantage during the evolution of public opinion, author Fei Xiong said.

“Once public opinion stabilizes, it’s difficult to change,” he added.

Quick to share than read

Another research indicated that people are quicker to share, than read, news discovered on Twitter. Given the nature of medium, of rewarding quick and short Tweets, people also tend to get a ‘closure’ to their ideas quickly. That may explain why public opinion quickly stabilizes on Twitter.

“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” said study co-author Arnaud Legout. “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”


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