Competition for attention in social networks - An ecological approach

Magiera, Marius-Jascha (Advisor: Meloni, Sandro)
Master Thesis (2020)

The perceptual and cognitive abilities of humans are not infinite but limited resources. Today, the widespread use of social media has intensified the competition among ideas for our finite attention. There is a competition for visibility among actors (institutions or individuals) and among ideas; and at the same time the social stimulus of visibility leads to a mutualistic interaction of actors (individuals, institutions etc.) with specific memes that strive for the virality of their messages. Using an analogy between informational and ecological ecosystems, previous studies were able to indicate that contents are driven by selective pressure, i.e. the chances to persist and reach widely are tightly subject to changes in the communication environment. Following this analogy, the presented work is aiming at reproducing trends regarding meme dynamics that were found in a Twitter data analysis. For this, an ecology-inspired modelling framework is proposed and modified by introducing speciation, a data-based choice of the growth rate and intrinsic (dis-)advantages for different species. With the named modifications, the presented new framework, built on the main driving factors - competition, mutualism and environment -, is able to reproduce some of the empirically found behaviours and trends. The empirical foundation of the presented work is a big data analysis on Tweets that include more than 220 million hashtags, representing memes. It brought to light interesting patterns and behaviours regarding the creation and extinction of different memes during external events.

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