A few days ago, when I graphed the network of Twitter posts mentioning Americans Elect, one of the immediately apparent features of that network was the central role in tweets issued by representatives of the mainstream news media, in varying degrees of connection to the communications of Americans Elect itself. Click on this image for full detail, including the names and roles of central players (almost all of them reporters for mainstream media news networks):
Stamping this finding with a big label of “obvious” was visitor thehipi, who wrote:
“Wow! You mean to say that larger, more mainstream outlets get more attention and retweets than regular joes? That’s clear proof that Americans Elect is a vast and awful conspiracy!”
You don’t have to imagine that the network is evidence of “a vast and awful conspiracy!” to find it of interest, and it’s not true that mainstream media outlets will necessarily have greater involvement in a twitter network of mentions and retweets. As Brandy Aven of Carnegie Mellon University concluded in a study of collusion at Enron, the structure of online connection can be highly variable and indicate varying degrees of cooperation by participants in discussion.
As an example of this kind of variation in political networks, let’s take a look at the set of people making Twitter posts mentioning Jill Stein over the past week (from December 22-29, 2011). As with the Americans Elect network, dots indicate individual posters and ties represent mentions of other Twitter users or retweets of other posts about Jill Stein.
The most central communicators in the Twitter network having to do with Jill Stein are not mainstream media reporters; the central contributor coming closest to a mainstream news outfit is the AlterPolitics Blog; all others are individual activists not associated with professional journalism. Of all 122 Twitter accounts making posts about Jill Stein in the last week, one and only one was made by a traditional news outlet. That was the Winnebago County News, which posted on December 28: “Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein: America Deserves More Than A Choice Between Two Wall Street Candidates.”
When people talk about movements spreading by the grassroots, Jill Stein’s candidacy fits the bill. Americans Elect’s movement, spreading from the top downward through prominent media mention, is not what “grassroots” means.