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Internet Not Egalitarian

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" those who start discussions do not nec­essarily bring new content to the net"

The social scientist, Himelboim, ana­lysed discussions among more than 200,000 participants in 35 newsgroups over a six-year period. He focused his analysis on political and philosophical newsgroups on Usenet, the oldest Inter­net discussion platform, and is currently exploring patterns of communication in newer social networking services, such as Twitter.

The results showed that only two percent of those who start a discussion attract 50 percent of the replies. How­ever, only 12 percent of the content that these popular people posted on the net presented their own comments and opinions. Most of the time, they sim­ply imported content from other news sources or blogs and personal sites. 15 percent of posts used content from on­line-only news sites, and six percent of posts used content from government and nonprofit organizations. Hence, those who start discussions do not nec­essarily bring new content to the net. Furthermore, Himelboim found out that as the discussion group be­came larger, just like in offline life, they also became more hierarchical. People exhibit what’s called a preferential at­tachment toward those with many con­nections, which suggests that having many connections makes it easier to make more connections. For those hav­ing fewer connections, making new con­nections will be more difficult. Hence, the internet seems to foster inequality.

Himelboim, I., Gleave, E., & Smith, M. (2009). Discussion catalysts in online political discussions: Content importers and conversation starters Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14 (4), 771-789 DOI: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01470.x

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