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Political Activity in Social Networks is Subject to Manipulation

Political activity in social networks is often the result of professionals skillfully manipulating the information space, groups, and users. Consumers tend to vote for the current government, while those dissatisfied with everyday problems tend to vote for the opposition, and only nationalists are active supporters of their own ideas – such are the findings of Galina Gradoselskaya, Associate Professor of the HSE Department of Sociological Research Methods

The influence of social network activity on real social and political processes in different countries is becoming increasingly apparent. Political groups have become the main tool for organizing user political activity in social networks, particularly Facebook. The HSE research and educational group Network Methods and Models in Text Mining, supervised by Galina Gradoselskaya, and the independent research company Digital Society Laboratory tried to find out how these groups are connected with each other and how they function. Thus, using the method of grain clustering, the researchers managed to identify three clusters of politically active communities: pro-governmental, nationalistic, and oppositional. As an outcome of the research, these three communities’ individual, unique mechanisms for recruiting and regulating activities and information exchange were defined. In addition, a typologization of information waves, communities, and participants in Facebook political groups was conducted.

During an HSE workshop, Galina Gradoselskaya presented the report Clusterization of Politically Active Communities in Facebook, Using the Method of Grain Clustering, in which she set forth her main research findings.

The topic of social network analysis is rather popular now, says Gradoselskaya. However, the view of social network analysis is limited both technically and informatively. It was very interesting to study the structural aspects – the way users’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions influence the structural display of their behavior in social networks, remarked Gradoselskaya.

To analyse groups of politically active communities, the researchers conducted formal and informative clusterization, if they identified communities’ and users’ (actors’) connections with political groups. According to Gradoselskaya, the connection between groups was determined by analysing the similarity of the participants. Two or three original grain groups were isolated from all the groups selected, and a cluster started growing from those few.

Politics in an Everyday Context

Not all groups in the political cluster turned out to be connected with politics. The researchers defined 10 types of groups whose participants had ties to political communities. These are those political groups created in support of the president, the opposition, or nationalism. These are also groups with hobbies typical of followers of particular political views – for example, the nationalist group Drevnerusskaya religiya (Ancient Russian Religion), extremist groups calling for active protest actions, a group called Politicheskiy vinegret (Political Salad) that publishes a flow of informational links, garbage groups with ads, pyramid schemes, MLM (multi-level marketing companies), closed groups, and those calling for everyday common problems to be solved.

Many of the groups listed above were created artificially and filled in by up to five professional authors with similar nicknames and posts. Their aim is to recruit users to one political group or another via their hobbies and associations, with the goal of solving everyday problems.

Nationalists are More Active than the Opposition

According to the research, the oppositional cluster turned out to be the largest. It included about 80 groups and 20,000 participants. The pro-president cluster included 80 groups and 7,000-8,000 users, the nationalist group – about 60 groups and 7,000-8,000 participants.

At the same time, a substantial portion of the political groups turned out to be artificially created and filled. About 50% of politically active groups are subject to manipulative practices.

The mechanisms for replenishing politically active groups greatly depend on the type of cluster, clarified Gradoselskaya. However, she noted, professional manipulators of the information space and groups are present everywhere.

For example, the pro-president cluster takes a formal approach and recruits by means of ‘garbage groups’. The opposition cluster counts on the recruitment of activists and the preliminary markup of the information space for possible future social conflicts.

The nationalist cluster turned out to be the most active and ‘pure’. The vast majority of its user sare real people, who share nationalistic ideas and are ready to fight for them. Thus, we can draw conclusions about the growth of extremism and the elevated importance of extremist groups on the web, concluded Gradoselskaya.

 

March 21, 2014