The Effect of Collective Attention on Controversial Debates on Social media
We study the evolution of long-lived controversial debates as manifested on Twitter from 2011 to 2016. Specifically, we explore how the structure of interactions and content of discussion varies with the level of collective attention, as evidenced by the number of users discussing a topic. Spikes in the volume of users typically correspond to external events that increase the public attention on the topic – as, for instance, discussions about ‘gun control’ often erupt after a mass shooting. This work is the first to study the dynamic evolution of polarized online debates at such scale. By employing a wide array of network and content analysis measures, we find consistent evidence that increased collective attention is associated with increased network polarization and network concentration within each side of the debate; and overall more uniform lexicon usage across all users.