Spread of Ideas in Social Networks

Social networks have existed for millennia. In schools, fraternities, clubs and associations form various networks within the campus. In job hunting, networking is essential. Ideas spread across various academic circles, while within a school of thought people have some common ideas. Various intelligence agencies study extensively a terrorist organization by understanding their network structure.

Recently, Damon Centola from University of Pennsylvania studied how social networks form and what that means for the ideas that will spread across them. [Centola 2015] It is based on a study by social theorists Peter Blau and Joseph Schwartz in 1984, who argued that a society with eliminated group boundaries enjoys the greatest level of social integration. [Blau & Schwarts 1984] These group boundaries are due to differences in cultures, races, religions, income, levels of education, hobbies, political party etc. Their study implied that a totally mixed society has the greatest level of social integration. However, Centola’s study built on this idea and developed further. He found that a society with completely eliminated boundaries ultimately reduces social integration.

In a diverse society like America, we wish to achieve total social integration to allow the widest spread of complex ideas. However, Centola’s finding indicates that while a total segregation is not desired, a moderate boundary is needed for social integration. Associations that are based on cultures, races, hobbies etc. are actually essential for the development of societies and spread of ideas.

There are many other similar studies in the past. In a celebrated paper authored by Mark Granovetter, the impact of “weak ties” are strong on the diffusion of influence and information. [Gravovetter 1973] The study by Thomas Schelling, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, also studied that the complete tolerance does not mean social stability. [Schelling 1978]

Analytics researchers can study the social network computationally using the Python package networkx.

(Taken from Phys.org)

  • D. Centola, “The Social Origins of Networks and Diffusion”, American Journal of Sociology 120, 1295-1338 (2015). (Introductory articles by Katherine U. Ballie on PennNews, titled “In social networks, group boundaries promote the spread of ideas, study finds”)
  • P. M. Blau, J. E. Schwartz. “Crossing Social Circles”, Academic Press (1984).
  • M. S. Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties”, American Journal of Sociology 78, 1360-1380 (1973).
  • T. Schelling, “Micromotives and Macrobehavior”, Norton (1978).
  • networkx
  • M. Tsvetovat, A. Kouznetsov, “Social Network Analysis for Startups“, O’Reilly (2011).

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