An exploration of social identity: The structure of the BBC news-sharing community on twitter

Aug 22, 2013
Network of Twitter users who tweet BBC online articles. User nodes are colored according to the topic or language of articles they share the most. Network edges have been omitted for clarity.

Where do people get their news, and how does information spread through social networks? Researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) analyzed how BBC articles are shared through Twitter, and discovered how the BBC successfully reaches multiple audiences. Mapping social networks, especially around the dissemination of news, makes it possible to forecast—with a growing degree of accuracy—social and political movements, technology adoption, and economic behavior.

The report, "An Exploration of Social Identity: The Structure of the BBC News-Sharing Community on Twitter," by Julius Adebayo, Tiziana Musso, Kawandeep Virdee, Casey Friedman, and Yaneer Bar-Yam, looked at almost 500,000 tweets sharing BBC links over the course of six days, and created a map of the network of who is following whom.

The BBC is unique in that it provides local news in multiple languages around the world. This is apparent in the study, as there are substantial separate audiences for Russian, Spanish, Arabic, and English coverage, with connections within each language group but very few connections between them. The authors attribute this linguistically and geographically widespread influence to the BBC's historical role as the provider of trustworthy news in countries with histories of press restrictions, including Chile, Egypt, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and Venezuela.

Twitter users who share BBC articles in English can further be divided into four subgroups. One is primarily focused on sports; two other clusters are mostly interested in UK news—one apparently associated with the Conservative party (with the frequent keywords being "business," "marketing," and "financial") and one with the Labour party ("politics," "student," "science," and "labour"), reflecting the of the British electorate. The fourth group is primarily focused on the Middle East. While the first three are mostly composed of users from the UK, the last group is closely linked to many Arabic speakers from the Middle East. Unlike previous research conducted by the same authors using stories from The New York Times, the analysis did not show any overarching cosmopolitan group.

"We know that social media is playing a role in revolutionary events in the world and therefore knowing how people interact with each other can help us understand or even anticipate social events" said Bar-Yam. "Science is giving us the opportunity to map these global social interactions."

Explore further: A social-network illusion that makes things appear more popular than they are

More information: Adebayo, J. et al. An Exploration of Social Identity: The Structure of the BBC News-Sharing Community on Twitter. NECSI Report 2013-08-02 (08/20/2013).

Related Stories

Study twitter-maps new world order

Feb 19, 2012

( -- A new study of tweets spreading news from The New York Times finds that the Internet, while creating an open line of communication across continents, may at the same time be strengthening walls that separate ...

London's tweets are mapped to see who speaks what, where

Oct 26, 2012

(—A doctoral student and a lecturer in spatial analysis have collaborated to deliver a London diversity map via Twitter based on 3.3 million tweets in the city over the course of this year's summer ...

Study examines how news spreads on Twitter

Jan 09, 2013

Nearly every major news organization has a Twitter account these days, but just how effective is the microblogging website at spreading news? That's the question University of Arizona professor Sudha Ram set out to answer ...

A new model of social class

Apr 04, 2013

The BBC has published the results from the 'Great British Class Survey' which has revealed a new model of social class with seven categories ranging from the Elite at the top to a 'Precariat' at the bottom. ...

Recommended for you

EU open source software project receives green light

Jul 01, 2015

An open source software project involving the University of Southampton to extend the capacity of computational mathematics and interactive computing environments has received over seven million euros in EU funding.

Can computers be creative?

Jul 01, 2015

The EU-funded 'What-if Machine' (WHIM) project not only generates fictional storylines but also judges their potential usefulness and appeal. It represents a major advance in the field of computational creativity.

Algorithm detects nudity in images, offers demo page

Jul 01, 2015

An algorithm has been designed to tell if somebody in a color photo is naked. launched earlier this month; its demo page invites you to try it out to test its power in nudity detection. You ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.