The Message or the Messenger? Inferring Virality and Diffusion Structure from Online Petition Signature Data
To appear in Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Afra J. Mashhadi, and Taha Yasseri (Editors), Social Informatics: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference, SocInfo 2017 (Oxford, UK, September 13-15), Springer LNCS, 2017
19 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2017
Date Written: July 25, 2017
Goel et al. (2016) examined diffusion data from Twitter to conclude that online petitions are shared more virally than other types of content. Their definition of structural virality, which measures the extent to which diffusion follows a broadcast model or is spread person to person (virally), depends on knowing the topology of the diffusion cascade. But often the diffusion structure cannot be observed directly. We examined time-stamped signature data from the Obama White House's We the People petition platform. We developed measures based on temporal dynamics that, we argue, can be used to infer diffusion structure as well as the more intrinsic notion of virality sometimes known as infectiousness. These measures indicate that successful petitions are likely to be higher in both intrinsic and structural virality than unsuccessful petitions are. We also investigate threshold effects on petition signing that challenge simple contagion models, and report simulations for a theoretical model that are consistent with our data.
Keywords: petitions, virality, broadcast, diffusion
JEL Classification: C55, C63, Y80, Z13, Z18
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