60-Second Science

Twitter Opinion Quickly Stabilizes

A study of millions of tweets found that public opinion quickly solidifies, even without an overwhelming concensus. Allie Wilkinson reports


All rise, the Twitter court of public opinion is now in session.
And the next case on the docket will reach a quick verdict. Because public opinion solidifies rapidly on Twitter. That’s according to a study in the journal Chaos. [Fei Xiong and Yun Liu, Opinion formation on social media: An empirical approach]
Researchers collected almost 6 million tweets during a six-month period. They sorted the tweets for either positive or negative sentiments, then focused on three topics related to electronics.  
At first opinions fluctuated, with one side gaining a slight advantage. This advantage grew gradually and then quickly leveled off, leaving one opinion in a stable and dominant position—but without an overwhelming consensus.
And once public opinion is established, it is unlikely to change. Only those who see a large number of dissenting opinions among the people they follow on Twitter will reconsider and examine the opposing viewpoint.
These results may offer a valuable lesson for companies, candidates and anyone else in the spotlight. If you plan to sway the jury, be sure to make your case early. Because once public opinion stabilizes, the jury is dismissed.
—Allie Wilkinson
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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