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Multirelational organization of large-scale social networks in an online world

The capacity to collect fingerprints of individuals in online media has revolutionized the way researchers explore human society. Social systems can be seen as a nonlinear superposition of a multitude of complex social networks, where nodes represent individuals and links capture a variety of different social relations. Much emphasis has been put on the network topology of social interactions, however, the multidimensional nature of these interactions has largely been ignored, mostly because of lack of data.

Here, for the first time, we analyze a complete, multirelational, large social network of a society consisting of the 300,000 odd players of a massive multiplayer online game. We extract networks of six different types of one-to-one interactions between the players. Three of them carry a positive connotation (friendship, communication, trade), three a negative (enmity, armed aggression, punishment).

We first analyze these types of networks as separate entities and find that negative interactions differ from positive interactions by their lower reciprocity, weaker clustering, and fatter-tail degree distribution. We then explore how the interdependence of different network types determines the organization of the social system. In particular, we study correlations and overlap between different types of links and demonstrate the tendency of individuals to play different roles in different networks. As a demonstration of the power of the approach, we present the first empirical large-scale verification of the long-standing structural balance theory, by focusing on the specific multiplex network of friendship and enmity relations.


M. Szell, R. Lambiotte, and S. Thurner, Multirelational organization of large-scale social networks, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107 (2010) 13636–13641

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