Social Networks

Power networks in Congress, Twitter’s crystal ball and iPhone contagion in news from an MIT workshop

Information and Decision in Social Networks, MIT workshop in Cambridge, Mass., May 31–June 1, 2011

Twitter’s a lousy soothsayer
If you’re ditching your crystal ball for the oracle of Twitter, think again. Despite analyses suggesting that the volume and content of tweets can predict the outcome of political elections, research using the same techniques finds the social media tool is more like a hazy Magic 8 Ball. Predictions of six 2010 Senate race winners based on Twitter chatter volume and sentiment were correct only half the time, Eni Mustafaraj of Wellesley College reported June 1. Manipulation of social media by spammers and propagandists and the skewed demographics of tweeters are probably to blame, she says. With better sampling and algorithms, mining Twitter may one day provide more meaningful information. —Rachel Ehrenberg

Apple product fever
Mapping the contagious spread of Apple products in a communication network reveals that Macolytes constitute a “social network monster.” Using datasets from the telecommunications company Telenor, Pål Roe Sundsøy of Telenor and colleagues examined user adoption of the iPhone handset, the iPad 3G, a videophone product and the Doro handset, a cell phone favored by the elderly. The team found that people are 14 times more likely to have an iPad if they have one friend who has one. With two iPad friends, that probability jumps to 41 times more likely and with three friends, to 96, Sundsøy reported May 31. Doro users, however, were not highly linked. —Rachel Ehrenberg

Senate’s super six
A gang of six wielded power in the U.S. Senate before people even talked about a “gang of six.” Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York designed a computer analysis that sniffs out influence in social networks and discovered that there were six super-influential senators in the 110th Congress, which spanned from January 2007 to January 2009. When six particular senators voted yes (Bennett, R-Utah; Sessions, R-Ala.; Enzi, R-Wyo.; Kerry, D-Mass.; Rockefeller D-W.Va.; and Lautenberg D-N.J.) their collective influence overwhelmed their network and the legislation always passed, Mohammad Irfan reported May 31. —Rachel Ehrenberg

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