Examining Untempered Social Media: Analyzing Cascades of Polarized Conversations

Arunkumar Bagavathi, Pedram Bashiri, Shannon Reid, Matthew Phillips, Siddharth Krishnan

Online social media, periodically serves as a platform for cascading polarizing topics of conversation. The inherent community structure present in online social networks (homophily) and the advent of fringe outlets like Gab have created online "echo chambers" that amplify the effects of polarization, which fuels detrimental behavior. Recently, in October 2018, Gab made headlines when it was revealed that Robert Bowers, the individual behind the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre, was an active member of this social media site and used it to express his anti-Semitic views and discuss conspiracy theories. Thus to address the need of automated data-driven analyses of such fringe outlets, this research proposes novel methods to discover topics that are prevalent in Gab and how they cascade within the network. Specifically, using approximately 34 million posts, and 3.7 million cascading conversation threads with close to 300k users; we demonstrate that there are essentially five cascading patterns that manifest in Gab and the most "viral" ones begin with an echo-chamber pattern and grow out to the entire network. Also, we empirically show, through two models viz. Susceptible-Infected and Bass, how the cascades structurally evolve from one of the five patterns to the other based on the topic of the conversation with upto 84% accuracy.

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