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Group threat, political extremity, and collective dynamics in online discussions

Collectives adapt their network structure to the challenges they face. It has been hypothesized that collectives experiencing a real or imagined threat from an outgroup tend to consolidate behind a few group members, and that network structures in which a few members attract most of the attention are more likely in politically extreme groups. These hypotheses have not been tested in large-scale real-world settings.

We reconstruct networks of tens of thousands of commenters participating in comment sections of high-profile U.S. political news websites spanning the political spectrum from left to right, including Mother Jones, The Atlantic, The Hill, and Breitbart.

We investigate the relationship between different indices of inequality of attention in commenters’ networks and perceived group threat associated with significant societal events, from elections and political rallies to mass shootings.

Our findings support the hypotheses that groups facing a real or imagined outgroup threat and groups that are more politically extreme are more likely to attend to a few high-profile members. These results provide an extensive real-world test of theoretical accounts of collective adaptation to outgroup threats.

N. G. Bacaksizlar Turbic, M. Galesic, Group threat, political extremity, and collective dynamics in online discussions, Sci Rep 13 (2023) 2206.

Mirta Galesic, faculty member at the Complexity Science Hub

Mirta Galesic

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