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Revealed: How Twitter shapes public opinion
Wednesday March 12, 2014 12:22 PM, IANS

With its over 240 million users tweeting out more than 500 million messages daily, Twitter is shaping public opinion like never before and a new research reveals how these viewpoints are evolved.

Dominant, majority viewpoints emerge quickly on Twitter and once stabilised, these opinions become difficult to change, it said.

Moreover, Twitter users are more likely to work to change the opinions of others than to admit to changes of their own.

"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," explained Fei Xiong, a lecturer at Beijing Jiaotong University in China.

Once public opinion stabilises, it is difficult to change, he added.

To understand how public opinions are evolved on Twitter, a group of researchers gathered about six million messages that were tweeted over a six-month period.

They ran these messages through computer algorithms that sorted them by topic and they analysed the underlying sentiments of the authors as they evolved over time.

"The new revelations may shape how political candidates run their social media campaigns or influence the way companies market their goods and services," Xiong noted.

Xiong, along with professor Yun Liu, discovered that public opinion on Twitter often evolves rapidly and levels off quickly into an ordered state in which one opinion remains dominant.

In true social media form, this consensus is often driven by the endorsements of larger and larger groups which tend to have the most influence.

The work also revealed that when dominant opinions emerge, however, they tend not to achieve complete consensus.

When Twitter users who hold minority views are faced with overwhelming opposition, they are still not likely to change their opinions, said the study described in the journal Chaos.

"By focusing on a 'network application', candidates or companies can analyse the characteristics and behaviour patterns of their supporters and protestors to explore whether the measures they take can influence public opinion and which opinion may succeed," Xiong said.

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